Information Management, IT and Government Transformation: Innovative Approaches in the new South Africa

Michael Kahn and Russell Swanborough


Governments worldwide are faced with the challenge of transformation and the need to modernise administrative practices and management systems. South Africa presents an archetypal example, given its need to transform a state apparatus that was not only racist but arguably dysfunctional as well. This paper considers problems with existing government processes in South Africa, and presents a generally-applicable framework for analysis of existing government information systems prior to transformation. It argues that a central theme of government transformation is development of a culture of information management to ensure that information systems fit the task for which they are procured. Two innovative solutions are described that address obstacles to this transformation: the Swanborough Information Grid that helps senior public managers control user requirements specification, and the Request for Solution approach to public information technology (IT) procurement. The paper concludes by analysing the pressing need for such innovations given the broader context of structural responsibilities for government IT in South Africa and the recommendations of the recent Presidential Review Commission.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. How and why is the South African state transforming itself? [part A]
  2. What are the current deficiencies of information systems in the South African government? [parts A & B]
  3. What is the Swanborough Information Grid and what are its potential benefits? [part C]
  4. What is the Request for Solution procurement method and what are its potential benefits? [part C]
  5. How might information systems issues in other countries be similar to and different from those in South Africa?
  6. Which is more important in government: information or information technology? How can each contribution to government transformation?
  7. If you are familiar with a public sector organisation, would the Swanborough Information Grid and the Request for Solution method be applicable in that organisation?
  8. Is it better to have a centralised or a decentralised approach to information systems in government?