Sunday, 29 November 2015

Unearthing the Open Source Software ‘Lone Rangers’

When asked to speak at the #SoftwareFreedomDay2015 in Pretoria regarding the South African government’s progress on the implementation of the Open Source Software Policy, I painted four scenarios  regarding OSS implementation by government departments:-

Scenario 1:   ‘Johny Walkers’

These are departments/institutions that have embraced the adoption of open source software and led the implementation thereof on core applications,   OSS  finds expression in their ICT plans/business  strategy,  Dedicated resources to support such initiatives, Have sound relationships with OSS industry players, They will continue to impliment as they have seen the  benefits. 

 Examples:- Department of Science and Technology (DST),  Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), National Library of South Africa, Department of Women

Scenario 2:  Lone Rangers

These are individual FOSS proponents and geeks within institutions/departments. They use FOSS to experiment and supplement their work tools and for their daily lives. The  challenge is lack of support from ICT leadership and  line of business in the department, hence they feel lonely and misunderstood in their FOSS  efforts. Efforts will remain limited to their areas of work without progression to business wide impact.

Scenario 3:  Talk Right, Walk Left

Characterised by ICT leadership that apparently ‘supports’ FOSS. They have established a lab – two desktop computers at most, there is no progress beyond the lab into enterprise wide implementation. Suffers from FOSS Phobia in private hence the support for FOSS in public and the fear in private. Could be converted to full proponent with time and support

Scenario 4:  Outright Opponents

These are diehard proprietary solution supporters. They are wired to proprietary solutions due to academic background, certification and experience. Difficult to persuade otherwise. Will not support any FOSS initiatives in an environment hence no reflection of FOSS initiatives in enterprise plans

Having reflected on the above, I concluded my talk by saying that we need to unearth all the ‘lone rangers’ and persuade the ‘talk right, walk left’ category.  

Therefore I was quite excited when approached by the Drupal Association of South Africa (DASA) to host the inaugural meeting of Drupal users in Government and NGO sector which was held at the Department of Arts and Culture on 16 October 2015. Subsequent meetups will be taking place quarterly in 2016.

With the successful inaugural meeting done, the plan is to hold a DrupalCamp in collaboration with DASA at the DAC next year (2016). A DrupalCamp is a national conference and the aim is to gather more people.

In conclusion, it is initiatives like this that can really get like-minded open source proponents in government work together on common problems towards finding long-term solution.  This will encourage even the fence sitters to start taking notice of open source and cross to the OSS side. The journey continues ….

Monday, 1 December 2014

Soldiering on and championing the cause for Internet Governance

As we land at OR Tambo International Airport on our return from Mauritius, I cannot help but feel as big as a Baobab Tree.  We left from various parts of the African continent as just seedlings but now we were all taller and bigger. We were not big from the food we have been eating at Tamassa Resort, but we are bigger because we are all pregnant with more knowledge acquired from the African School of Internet Governance.

The seeds were planted by the call for applications to participate in the 2nd African School of Internet Governance. Out of the more than 600 applications from all over the continent, only 45 of us were selected ( ), who had varying degrees of knowledge and understanding of Internet Governance.  We are the ‘chosen ones’, the flag bearers for the various countries and institutions we come from.  The Tamassa Resort in Mauritius provided the fertile soil on which the seedlings of Internet Governance were watered. 

To be in the same room as, and listen to Mr Nii Narku Quaynor, ‘the father of Internet in Africa” who is a living and human library of knowledge, was really empowering. Same goes for an experienced faculty of thought leaders in the field of internet governance that walked the journey with us.

By the second day of the school, we could already see a difference in our reasoning as well acronyms, vocabulary and terminology use.  We have learned big concepts like:  Multistakeholderism, Net Neutrality, Internet rights amongst others.

As we bid each other farewell with other Fellows who will be catching connecting flights to their countries, the saying; ‘a mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions’ started making a lot of sense.  We have an obligation to soldier on and champion the cause for Internet governance.

As for me, I already have some fundamental questions that I need to shape the answers thereto:-

1)   Why does a developing country like South Africa, which is a member of BRICS, not have a National Internet Governance Forum?

2)   Does the current ICT Policy gazetted by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services address all the pertinent Internet Governance issues I have just learned about?

3)   Why is the Internet Governance debate not featuring on annual events like the GovtTech conference as well as the annual programme of the Government IT Officers Council (GITOC)?

As a Fellow of the 2nd African School on Internet Governance, the onus is on me and my South African Fellows to help our country in answering these questions and many more as well putting Internet Governance on the national discourse.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Technology everywhere except where needed by the majority

The year 2013 is gone and everything that happened during the hours, days, weeks and months in that year will be referenced by historians as part of history. 

To wrap up 2013, I spent almost the whole month at my home (Mamphokgo Village) in Limpopo. The December month was very eventful with lost of braaing and partying.  However, I also realized a few things about the challenges of connectivity in our not-so rural village.

·      Whereas most people are now using smart phones and tablets in the surrounding areas, these smart devices end up being used just to take pictures at weddings and parties due to connectivity challenges.

·      You have a better chance of getting a 3G connection by travelling about 20km to the nearest towns of Groblersdal or Marble Hall.  What is worrying about this, is that the residents of these two small towns are much fewer than the communities of Moganyaka combined.

·      This raises the question about the numbers punted about by the telco companies playing in the mobile space in terms of their number of subscribers.  Is the interest in the number of sim cards purchased or real value derived by the subscribers from getting the same connectivity by everyone else in South Africa?

·      In these areas, I noticed that you can only get better connectivity by going to the nearest mountain if you cannot drive. Initially I thought our community were enjoying the beauty of nature and the shades provided by the mountain trees, but I realized that most people were going there for better signals on their cellphones. Things have really changed.

On another note, I also picked up that my Limpopians just love their expensive clothes.  Every second youth in these parts had on their Carvella, Rosmotta  and Arbiter shoes (don’t blame me for the wrong spellings) for the not so young. I could not help but notice all the latest fashion labels that i was not aware of e.g Columbia clothes.  Hopefully one days Mzansi will also be a clothing label.

This might be an indication that there is more buying power for data bundles in these parts than the telco companies realize.  Otherwise, what will be the point to purchasing these expensive pieces by my fellow citizens if they cannot show them off on Facebook, WhatsUp etc.

Perhaps there is another Mark Shuttleworth waiting to be discovered in this place only if there could be more data for the people!  Hopefully one day Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Cell C will make this happen as I am certain that this applies to most rural areas in the country …..

Sunday, 24 November 2013

My Govtech 2013 Review

My Govtech 2013 Review

This morning I found myself reminiscing about some of the biggest events that were on the ICT calendar in 2013.  One of the events that I attended was the annual government ICT pilgrimage, viz; Govtech 2013 which was held on 21 – 23 October 2013 in Cape Town.

I was trying to remember as to how this year’s Govtech fared compared to the previous years.

What went well?
Marketing:  I believe SITA’s marketing unit did well this year. The event was well marketed with newspapers and TV ads, social media and web presence.

Trevor Manuel speech:  The keynote address by Minister Trevor Manuel was one of the highlights, with him outlining what he saw as focus areas for government.  From his speech he indicated that we need to tackle the following challenges:-

e-government, education systems, bandwidth challenges, identity management and security, health care systems, billing challenges, use of GIS, matters of dignity and rights as well as most importantly, open source software.

Attendance:  Without knowing the numbers, at face value, it looked like we had more attendance this year than the previous year.  Impressing was also the attendance of sessions by candidates.  Perhaps the unfriendly Cape Town weather had something to do with it.

The cultural programme:  Govtech will no be Govtech without entertainment.  Whereas parties were in short supply this year, Dimension Data and Vodacom had the geeks occupied until the early hours of the morning.

What went wrong?
The programme:  there was last minute shifting of the dates of the conference. This created confusion as even private sector candidates attended the Techniclick workshop which precedes the official conference every year. Techniclick is only reserved for government employees.

No show by the premier and MPSA for the opening:  I still don’t know the reasons for failure to show up as per the programme to open the conference, but I believe this was very disappointing to the candidates.

Minimal role played by the GITOC on the main plenary programme:  Seeing that Govtech is a collaborative effort between GITOC, SITA and the DPSA, I feel the GITOC Chairperson should have been given a chance to address the conference at the main plenary, outlining our achievements since the last Govtech and also setting the scene for our plans going forward.

What can be improved?
Entertainment lineup: We must acknowledge that most candidates attend Govtech to have fun, distress and network.  Perhaps the lineup of artists that will be performing at Govtech should also be advertised as part of the marketing strategy.

An African ICT Programme:  The next conference should perhaps have speaks predominantly from the African continent.  There are plenty of great ICT case studies that we can learn from.

I am sure there are other brilliant suggestions from other attendants, and if SITA calls for them, then we will have a better Govtech next year.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

ARTivists by FOSS

 My employer, the Department of Arts and Culture (South Africa) recently launched a new and interesting publication called the Artivist which has a nice ring to it.  This got me thing as to what will we call someone who is a technological activist.

Reference was made to the Wikipedia definition of the term Artivist which according to M K Asante Jr writes:-
"The artivist (artist +activist) uses her artistic talents to fight and struggle against injustice and oppression—by any medium necessary. The artivist merges commitment to freedom and justice with the pen, the lens, the brush, the voice, the body, and the imagination. The artivist knows that to make an observation is to have an obligation."
This prompted me to also look at the definition of an Activist/Activism on Wikipedia:-

"Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis as captured in the Wikipedia."

For me, glaring in both definitions is the fact that technological change and/or activism is not captured.

However, I love the words 'by any medium necessary' in the definition of the artivist as this could also include activism through the use of technology as seen by the use of  social networks during the Arab Spring.

This brings me to the activist role we have assumed through the implimentation of Free and Open Source Software.  The South African government approved a Policy on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)  in 2007.  The FOSS policy states:-
  1. The South African Government will implement FOSS unless proprietary software is
    demonstrated to be significantly superior.
  2. The South African Government will migrate current proprietary software to FOSS
    whenever comparable software exists.
  3. All new software developed for or by the South African Government will be based on
    open standards, adherent to FOSS principles, and licensed using a FOSS license
    where possible.
  4. The South African Government will ensure all Government content and content
    developed using Government resources is made Open Content, unless analysis on
    specific content shows that proprietary licensing or confidentiality is substantially
  5. The South African Government will encourage the use of Open Content and Open
    Standards within South Africa.

Our department is one of those that assumed an activist role through the use of technology.  We are vigilantly pushing for the adoption of the Free Open Source Software and moving away from prorietary solutions.  In this regard we are among others, currently busy with the following FOSS projects:

Alfresco ECM:  we are on the verge on going live with our enterprise content management system.

Drupal:  We have just launched our new website ( developed on Drupal.  Our Intranet has also been finalised on Drupal and will be launched soon.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS) is a system used to search for archival material held by the National Archives of South Africa.  We are currently busy customing the ICA Atom in order to migrate the data currently on the NAAIRS into a new system.   

Interesting to note is that following successful implementation of our ECM system, it will be rolled out throughout South African government departments who have similar requirements as ours. The State Information Technology Agency  (SITA) will be leading this initiative and will be calling the system IzizweDoc ECM System.  The Customised ICA Atom (NAAIRS) will also be rolled out throughout Provincial Archives in South Africa.

As can be deduced from the above, the two systems will be implemented beyond our department.

We  previously implimented the following open source software systems:-
Terminology Management System
KOLAB email server
Suse on desktops and OpenOffice
GLPI as our Helpdesk system
Could it be that the Department of Arts and Culture is also a Technological Activist and by so doing we bring to being an extension of the definition of the ARTivist to include the struggle to bring about technological change for service delivery in government?

The journey of discovery continues!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


One of the perks of the job of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) involves attending various ICT events in the form of summits, seminars, workshops, conferences etc. which are IT get-together(s) by any other name.  Obviously this will only happen when the busy schedule of one is open to do so. Whilst informative and enlightening, such events also provide an opportunity for networking for the professionals in the field.  Of late they also serve as beauty contests for the latest IT gadgets in the offering.

Interesting discussions more often take place during the tea and lunch breaks where you find geeks competing about the powerful functions of their gadgets and the latest free and not-so-free apps they have downloaded from the app stores.

In this events, being known to be an open source proponent, I am often approached by various people who will tell me how open source software will never work in South Africa for various reasons. However, I always laugh when I am alone because the very same people will be taking pictures, tweeting, facebooking and posting videos on YouTube using the latest Android tablets and smart phones.

Interesting to note is that while most of them are diehard proprietary software lovers, they spend 24/7 hours of their lives with Open Source Software as they not only use it, but they take it to work, to lunch, dinners, to the gadget beauty contests and also to play lullaby songs when they have difficulties sleeping at night.  Such people I call the Unconscious Open Source Software fanatics because when they wake up one day, they will realise that they have been using Open Source Software and not only do they love it, but it has performed better that the proprietary software that they always promoted and defended!

This is my first post and will be keeping you clued to your screen with more!

I hope you enjoyed the read.