#263Tech: Why Zim Govt Is Failing To Adopt New Technologies?

Shingie Lev Muringi

, Tech

Government of Zimbabwe has dismally failed to move with the times as far as technology is concerned. Out of interest 263Chat visited quite a number of government departments websites and discovered that most if not all of them were last updated more than a year ago and in some cases, they still bear names of Ministers who were either moved to other ministries or have since left government. An attempt to search on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter proved that technological developments especially in the ICT sector do not make sense to the government that is still reliant on bureaucratic form of leadership.

Modern governments across the globe have managed to adjust to the demands of the digital generation characterized by their daily updated websites which simplify access to information for the common citizens.

When Max Weber developed the Bureaucratic Management Theory to look for ways to bring a more formalized structure to organizations, he certainly had no idea on how many problems this system will create for the future generations.

Weber created the idea of bureaucratic management where organizations are more authoritative, rigid and structured, something that seem to resonate with the Zimbabwe government. While Weber saw this as a brilliant way of controlling the chain of command, it certainly killed the rate at which governments including organizations would adopt technology to eliminate red tape (gross and unnecessary paperwork) in order to integrate efficiency in their operations.

Imagine what can happen with a e-application for passports and birth certificates among other documents people still queue up for at the Registrar General’s office.

With automated payment systems being ushered into the country a decade ago, the passport offices still use the hand and papers model when receipting applicants, a very grueling process which every citizens dread since the queues move at a boring tortoise speed.

If a computerized payment system was to be established at those offices, surely the efficiency rate will increase by 200% and more people will be saved in a very short period of time. But one of the major resentment towards embracing technology by our government officials is the matter of creating a loophole for corruption and extort money from citizens.

There’s been lot of fighting in the Zimbabwean parliament in the past few years as castigated by former ICT Minister and current Kuwadzana MP – Hon. Nelson Chamisa about the sheer ignorance of those in government on technology issues. In some cases, elected officials are gleefully, willfully ignorant in fulfilling their mandates by simply adopting technology to improve efficiency in their areas.

Some of them are just out of touch (or old, old-fashioned and have no desire to be in touch). Others, however, do seem to want to keep up on the latest technology.

But the problem is in the much larger group outside of the “tech native” people. It’s in the group of folks who want to know about and understand technology, but don’t follow it closely. And the big problem here is that the government makes it exceedingly difficult to get new technology in front of these people.

Clay Johnson from the techdirt.com recently had a great post about how this became clear, quite graphically, among techies in the federal government. They’d have two computers on their desks, an ancient one that the government gave them (with a screensaver showing, because it wasn’t actually being used) and a late model Macbook that they bought personally to bring into the office to actually do some work.

Johnson found out that just the process of buying an official new computer through the government procurement system required at least an 18-month wait. That may seem like a typical “cobbler’s children have no shoes” issue, but the implication for those making our laws is tremendous:

I think this “two computer problem” is a symptom of a much larger issue. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Moore’s law, it’s general principal is that technology gets twice as good every 18 months. So if it takes government about 18 months to do anything expensive (by expensive I mean: something that costs more than a few thousand dollars) with technology, we’ve built in that government must be at least one cycle behind the private sector when it comes to Moore’s law. Compounding this is the sunk-cost fallacy: In order to stay just one cycle behind the rest of society, government would have to begin the purchasing process again as soon as new computers hit desks. But they won’t do that, because “you just got a new computer!”

Thus, a great gap has built up, not just with the pace of work, but in the access to technology. But the thing that makes this frightening is that Moore’s law isn’t linear, it’s exponential. With every cycle of Moore’s law, the difference between two points on the curve doubles. Being one cycle behind the curve 18 months from now is twice as bad as it is today.

This is a big problem. Understanding where innovation is heading is a difficult enough business when one is deeply immersed in today’s technologies. But it’s ridiculously more difficult when one base his/her understanding of where technology will be tomorrow… on a knowledge of technology that is, in all reality, multiple generations out of date.

This can only be understood by knowing that budgets and spending limitations that the government has to deal with  take time and have to be checked, double checked, triple checked, sent out for bid, quadruple checked, etc.

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