Analysis: KALENGO SIMUKOKO
ONE of Zambia’s Vision 2030 aspirations is to become a country served by a modern, productive, efficient and performance-oriented public service.
This vision, operationalised through national development plans (NDPs), is expected to position Zambia as a private sector-driven, competitive, self-sustaining and dynamic economy, resilient to any external shocks and free from donor dependency. Attaining these aspirations requires an accelerated economic diversification process. However, this process remains constrained partly by underdeveloped market information systems and economy-wide co-ordination failures due to low levels of ICT connectivity and the high cost of providing wireless data and voice services in the country. In order to address these constraints and accelerate ICT development, which is an important enabler of innovation and economic development, Zambia has launched the Smart Zambia Project aimed at deploying new technology— in particular, the cloud—to effectively and affordably deliver public services. The project encompasses the development of ICT common infrastructure like data centres, establishment of innovation parks and expansion of broadband infrastructure, all of which have a number of implications for businesses and the economy as a whole. First, the government’s E-Governance agenda aimed at modernising and automating payment and revenue collection processes and the ongoing transformation of public service delivery from the traditional face-to-face to online channels will likely reduce the cost of public service delivery. Digitalisation also presents Fintechs and financial institutions with an opportunity to collaborate with Government in the development and deployment of online solutions which will impact positively on their bottom lines. Probase, a local technology outfit, seems to be leading the pack in this space. Smart organisations including commercial banks, which have already embraced this government initiative, are cutting their capital expenditures (CAPEX) by outsourcing some of their ICT requirements such as data storage, hosting, back-up services, et cetera, and also boosting their green initiatives by embracing the cloud services offered by the Zambia National Data Centre which are typically designed for maximum efficiency in power usage and cooling. Where an organisation has challenges in growing its revenues, cutting costs through outsourcing can be a wise option to remain afloat and competitive which is why many are partnering with the Zambia National Data Centre which also serves as a reliable business continuity partner. In the unlikely event that an organisation’s primary IT link fails or it suffers cyber-attacks resulting in loss of data or the national electricity grid fails, the National Data Centre has capacity to operate for several days using its own power sources. Having its own back-up and recovery sites located in different cities further assures its customers of both the safety of stored data and business continuity. The initiative is also expected to deploy tele and video-conferencing facilities in various government departments which will eliminate both the need for routine face-to-face meetings and costs associated with frequent travels as many issues can now be resolved without the need to travel. Savings from these measures can be applied towards other needs including debt repayments. A broadband network is also being deployed across the country connecting organisations and households to the National Data Centre. A computer assembly plant will also be established. These measures will increase ICT access, reduce the cost of doing business and contribute to the growth of entrepreneurship as it will make it easy for those wishing to take the plunge to access the tools, best practices, legal and regulatory information, marketing and investment resources online. MSMEs will also be able to improve their online presence, build virtual businesses at lower costs and will be provided with new ways of reaching out to customers and competing for market share in the global market space. Through the establishment of the Zambia ICT College, the project is not only helping to increase the pool of ICT talent necessary to modernise the public service and to drive the innovative activities in the economy but is also helping to reduce operational costs for information and communications technology players. Simplifying compliance, improving the flow or sharing of information among government departments which will facilitate quick decision-making and enhance overall government efficiency and helping to plug revenue leakages in the public sector are the other benefits the current automation under Smart Zambia Initiative is likely to yield. Improved revenue collections, if supported by controlled government expenditure, will not only help to lighten the burden for the current few tax-payers but also will help to reduce the fiscal deficit. As a result, the country’s debt sustainability position will improve, investor confidence will be bolstered resulting in improved foreign direct investment inflows. Improved FDI flows, if supported by proper policy frameworks, not only add to investible resources and capital formation, but also act as a means of transferring production technology, skills, innovative capacity, and organisational and managerial practices into the country. Public sector business, as we know it, is changing and for the good. An ICT enabled economy is fast emerging as the country migrates towards cloud computing to reduce IT costs, modernise systems and accelerate development of new applications and services. How well-positioned is your life, career and business for these changing times and emerging opportunities? Be smart.The author is finance and economic commentator, certified financial Consultant and a director at United Bank for Africa (UBA).