Microsoft, SITA open innovation, skills development hub | ITWeb

Upskilling and enabling public sector employees, as well as small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), is critical to the digital transformation of the state.

This was one of the takeaways at yesterday’s official unveiling of the Microsoft State Information Technology Agency (SITA) Ndivho Innovation Centre.

The centre is a collaborative effort betweensoftware giant Microsoft SA and SITA, following the memorandum of understanding (MOU) entered into in 2019. As part of the MOU, the organisations committed to the digital transformation of government services in SA.

This “strategic partnership” journey between the entities led to the opening of the Microsoft SITA Ndivho Innovation Centre, said Microsoft SA MD Lillian Barnard.

Ndivho in Venda means knowledge, and the centre has been positioned as a knowledge-sharing, co-creation and testing hub of solutions for SITA and government; in partnership with industry partners, SMMEs, research institutions and students, as well as SITA employees.

It aims to spur innovation and global competitiveness, as well as build the ICT capability and skills development of local and provincial government departments.

Furthermore, through the centre, Microsoft will make available cloud-enabled solutions in the areas of critical infrastructure, public safety and justice, and defence and intelligence.

Collaboration across sectors is key, noted Barnard, stressing the centre will focus on modernisation and innovation, as well as upskilling programmes for SITA employees and SMMEs.

“Partnering with SITA and investing in the centre and other initiatives is a vital part of Microsoft’s commitment to leverage cloud and emerging technologies to accelerate growth through innovation, work across sectors to better serve citizens’ needs, empower individuals and SMMEs with critical future-ready skills, and create broader societal impact.”

Luvuyo Keyise, SITA interim MD, encouraged SMMEs to make use of the innovation facility: “The centre that we have is not for SITA, it is for you. We will also use it so that we can hone our skills and provide thought-leadership to government.

“The centre is a key component of the bigger plan to support modernisation, SMME development and ICT-enabled service delivery that will deliver inclusive growth for the country.”

SITA interim MD Luvuyo Keyise and Microsoft SA MD Lillian Barnard unveil the plaque for the Ndivho Innovation Centre.

Ntutule Tshenye, SITA national and provincial consulting services executive, previously stated the innovation centre will develop and incubate SMMEs, encourage research and innovation development and testing of various proofs of concepts and innovative solutions, while also boosting the development of much-needed ICT talent within the public sector.

Barnard highlighted that skills are an important part of the innovation centre. “It’s no secret that we have a shortage of skills in the country, whether it’s cloud, security, artificial intelligence or machine learning.

“We want to make sure we do play a role in developing those skills, and that’s where Ndivho comes in – making sure we invest in SITA employees as well as our SMMEs.

“For SITA employees, they will have an opportunity to upskill and reskill themselves, with the focus being on the technical component.”

Come one, come all

Located at the SITA Centre in Centurion, the innovation hub is able to accommodate between 40 and 50 people at a time.

Sabelo Dlamini, senior manager for research and innovation at SITA, said the centre will be open to the public, who will need to use the external-facing booking system to engage and access it.

“Anyone can log into the system, put in their details and specify when they’d like to come to the centre. They must also say whether they are an SMME, or from a national or provincial government department or municipality.

“Once we receive the booking, we’ll be able to allocate the right people that will interact with them.”

Dlamini said the centre is a space for real-world experiences, online classrooms and meetings with SMMEs or SITA account managers, with free internet access, devices for demo purposes and connection to Microsoft Azure cloud.

“The centre focuses on three areas; namely, exposing how technologies like the cloud work, our internal talent development, and engaging SMMEs that want to understand more about government and the technology here.

“For example, an SMME might have a solution it believes is ideal for government; this centre will provide the space to interact with SITA, which will unpack the issues facing government and determine if the solution is fit to address those.”

Microsoft is the key investor in the development of the facility. Barnard wouldn’t disclose the value of the investment, but said it is part of Microsoft’s investment commitment in SA and on the continent.

“Investing in this country is a priority for Microsoft; we will continue to do so. This is not just a once-off event where we’ve opened the centre; we’re looking at this as an evolution rather than a revolution.

“Most importantly, we want to make sure South Africa participates in the digital economy and we will make sure we continue to partner with SITA and government for that to happen.”