THE Computer Society of Zimbabwe held its annual ICT Summit where a number of issues came under the spotlight, including infrastructure sharing and the impending Cyber Bill. Our deputy group business editor Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) this week caught up with the society’s president, Allen Saruchera (AS, pictured), to discuss issues affecting the ICT sector. Below are excerpts of the interview:
KK: Tell us about the Computer Society of Zimbabwe.
AS: We are a professional body focused on championing the ICT industry in Zimbabwe through independent professional counselling based on our wide skills base, through our membership and driven by the various partnerships we have. Our work is not just for the benefit of our membership, but also for government, industries and society in general.
KK: What was the focus of the summit?
AS: The focus of the summit was to discover practical ways of leveraging, to the greatest benefit possible, technologies that are existing now. The year 2020 started on a very interesting note.
We thought things were going to continue as normal until the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
In the 2019 edition of the summit, we focused on discovering the fourth industrial revolution and innovating around them. On the backdrop of the pandemic, this year, we sought to bring our minds together and use these technologies to find new ways of thriving in it. It’s a complete shift from thinking theoretically.
So, the conference facilitated exchanges around these issues.
KK: What resolutions did you come up with?
AS: From the conversations we had, a couple of big-shift themes and ideas came up. One of the most impressionable ones came in the form of legislation. That is setting up the right framework of operating safely through the Cyber Bill that is currently on the table. Participants exchanged ideas on the need for all sectors of the economy to own the Bill and participate in the input and review processes, especially where the Bill comes short. Collaboration was also another big theme, which came in the form of infrastructure and ethical data sharing.
Players in the economy can only move faster by riding on each other’s steam. Ideas around how the data we already have can transcend the competitive silos were deliberated and the building blocks to achieve the same were put on the table.These sentiments were echoed by Minister of ICT (Jenfan Muswere) who spoke on both issues — particularly on the urgent need for all players to find each other. A water-tight Cyber Bill, as he explained, remains the superstructure on which an all-encompassing digital operating environment can be efficiently and safely operationalised.
KK: There have been fears that the Cyber Bill will infringe upon the human rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution. What is your view?
AS: Certainly, and the inclusive nature of the conference in having legal experts gave us the insights we needed to see through to address the blind spots in the Bill. We like to view the current consultative and constructive process as work-in-progress because of the evolving nature of technologies. The influence that is there is predominantly pro-rights and completely tuned to robust legal and ethical considerations, hard-wired into law.
That balance has to be struck and that’s key. We are headed in the right direction.
KK: How has the ICT sector fared with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic?
AS: Many enterprises in Zimbabwe have been jump-started to increase the use of emerging technologies. All this is in the backdrop of a new way of doing things that has been demanded from all of us. This is not only for the ICT sector but the demand is being driven by all kinds of industries. The obvious question enterprises are asking themselves is: “How can we meet our goals in the age where there is significantly less physical contact, where there are so many more new dynamic variables, and where operational challenges have doubled owing to the pandemic?” To a great extent, that answer is ICTs. Covid-19 has pretty much scrapped all the four-year plans. It’s about the “now” at this point.
KK: One of your speakers spoke about the significant revenues made by ICT companies since the outbreak. Was this felt across the sector?
AS: Phenomenally, yes! Like I just explained, the driving force is increasing demand. All of a sudden, everyone needed better connectivity. At the office, at home and at school — you name it. Those who were already connected went for better connections to cater for the increased transactional volumes. That’s the best alternative to still get things done. The robust growth of online conferencing platforms such as Zoom says it all. At one time, these were nice-to-haves. But today, who isn’t using virtual meetings? It is not just connectivity. Related services and products in that ecosystem have benefited.
KK: What is your view on infrastructure sharing?
AS: Infrastructure sharing is a strategic imperative. We feel that in many instances, we are losing opportunities through wastage. As the participants from the ministry explained at the conference, the sheer potential being channelled into independently owned and controlled equipment in the telecoms industry can be redirected to focus on delivering better experiences as well as research and development. We agree with this notion, 100%. Without being blind to the fact that in cases where some level of competitive advantage exists, there is also an alternative view that says, “how do we all win by focusing where it really counts?” Infrastructure sharing is not a new concept; it is happening elsewhere, and the gains are massive. I suppose the big issue is around setting up the right framework which fosters collaboration but still promotes open competition.
KK: What are your plans for 2021 as the Computer Society of Zimbabwe?
AS: Our mission is to champion the practical development of ICTs in Zimbabwe. Our country has gone through all the industrial revolutions and the gains are visible. However, more can be done and we need to embed ICTs in all the gainful ways possible.
KK: How exactly do you plan to achieve this?
AS: We are of the view that real gains will come in us working hand-in-glove with all entities to harness the potential in ICTs. Through marrying all the moving parts, and aligning with the Smart Zimbabwe campaign being driven by government, our collaborative actions will pay dividends. The big idea is bringing emerging technologies in the spirit of national self-determination through home-grown technologies. Coupled with working with learning institutions and the youths and riding on partnerships locally and internationally, we believe we can build a thriving and competitive nation.