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The half year challenge: Counting the gains in ICT

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Added 20th February 2019 10:05 AM

Sometimes in the hectic maze of the now, we forget to pause and objectively reflect on far we have come.

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Sometimes in the hectic maze of the now, we forget to pause and objectively reflect on far we have come.

OPINION

By James Ssaka

A 10-year-old picture and a current one of the same thing laid side by side. The 10-year challenge took social media by storm.

Aside from, the discourse on the ability of OTT service providers to use free user submitted data to enhance their facial recognition data capabilities, and what it means if they share this data, a welcome discussion by the way. 

Much as it was it meant to be a light affair, it got me thinking about what great insights we can get about progress by looking back to points in time. 

Sometimes in the hectic maze of the now, we forget to pause and objectively reflect on far we have come. Our endeavors should be littered with week, month and year challenges in the same mold.

It is an old message. The saying, we can only know where we are headed if we know where we've come from is as old as they get and yet it is a message I echo at the National Information Technology Authority, where we are charged with leading Uganda’s ICT revolution.

While we fretted about our mid-year plan and how best we can serve the Ugandan people, it gave me pride to recall that in the last six months we, among others, upgraded the National Data Centre to a Tier 3 Data Center grading, the first of its kind in Uganda which now has the capacity to host all Government applications and Data.

Hosting Data locally and centrally will continue to improve security, cost and boost efficiency. Plus, the country is in charge of its own data as opposed to international hosting which comes with security risks.

In this same period, the Government of Uganda through NITA-U rolled out UMail; a Unified Messaging and Collaboration System. This system integrates a variety of typically disparate communication systems, fixed and mobile, so as to enhance government-wide collaboration.

To date, UMail has been rolled out to eight Ministries Departments & Agencies (MDAs) with a total of 2,400 users.

MDAs are now able to enhance collaboration among their teams by providing data, voice and video communication across a range of devices, across the nation, thereby facilitating more informed decision-making and increased productivity whilst saving considerable travel time and costs.

This period also saw us launch a Government IT Service Desk. It has been established to be the Single Point of Contact for IT service delivery to all MDAs and Local Governments.

With this service desk, operations are streamlined and there’s efficiency through tracking and timely resolution of requests, incidents and problems relating to the services provided by NITA-U.

Yet another highlight, a milestone in its own right, in September 2018, Uganda’s cyberspace was ranked as the most secure in Africa, according to the National Cyber Security Index 2018.

Uganda made significant strides in cyber threat analysis and information management, protection of digital services, education and professional development and fight against cybercrime, among others. The ranking is testimony to our efforts in ensuring that all digital transactions are carried out securely.

It was in this same period that the Parliament of Uganda passed the Data Protection and Privacy Bill. The law provides the much-needed protection for personal identifiable information which is key in this digital age. 

It provides important safeguards that will protect Ugandan citizens as they use online services.

This law also provides many avenues to facilitate growth in the IT sector. A good example is the BPO industry where the law makes it possible for Ugandan players to comply with international standards, improving credibility and customer trust, which inevitably leads to more business.

The BPO industry has created more than 11,000 jobs since 2013 and the numbers are set to improve in the higher percentiles with this law in place.

Also, the Ministry of agriculture animal industry and fisheries, with the support of NITA-U, launched the e-Voucher service, a mobile based system that will be used by farmers to purchase critical farm inputs with support from government.

The beneficiaries include 450,000 famers, across 6 districts that are drawn from approximately 300 Area-based Commodity Cooperative Enterprises representing about 3,000 Rural Producer Organizations. Still in pilot phase, the eVoucher service will eventually be rolled out across the country.

How’s that for a six-month challenge?

Looking forward

Before the end of the financial year NITA-U, together with the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development will launch UGPay, a National e-Payment gateway.

This gateway will enable online payment for Government services seamlessly, securely, conveniently and instantaneously. A citizen will for example no longer have to physically move to a bank to effect payment for services such as passport fees following the implementation of the gateway.

After connecting 39 districts, 400MDAs in four regions of Uganda, New regions – West Nile and Karamoja, and new border points – Oraba, Vurra and Mpondwe will be connected to the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI), opening up new international routes to neighboring countries of South Sudan and DR Congo.

100 MDA offices in the areas of West Nile & Karamoja are to be connected. The NBI is an optic fiber cable that connects the internet to all regions of Uganda. By the end of 2019, the current number of connected sites on the National Backbone Infrastructure fiber is anticipated to double. This will not only have economic benefits but will bring public services closer to the Citizens in those areas.

Additionally, NITA-U will integrate all public information systems so that data can seamlessly be shared across Government in a rational, secure, efficient and sustainable manner.

The initiative shall help to unlock the potential of data seated in various systems of Government, reduce client fatigue since no Government entity shall be allowed to ask a client for details which have already been provided to another public entity.

This will go a long way to create efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of public services to the people of Uganda.  

Looking at the present and what the future holds, these are truly exciting times.

The writer is the Executive Director, National Information Technology Authority- Uganda

 

 

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