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SA has skills to challenge global software market – Tax CIO

By   |  May 24, 2005

\”Can South Africa compete with China and India in the software market and tackle large software projects? No we can\’t, we just don\’t have the scale,\” SA Revenue Service CIO Ken Jarvis said this morning. Speaking at the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering colloquium on The State of Software Engineering in SA, Jarvis said that SA developers should rather be focusing their energies in finding the right niches and developing dominance in those sectors.

\”I\’m not here to run the South African software industry down. Far from it. There is a work ethic in the South African ICT sector that is the best in the world,\” said Jarvis. \”If there was anything good that came out of the Apartheid,\” said Jarvis, \”it is that South African\’s were isolated and had to help themselves.\”

Lack of research and development

Luci Abrahams, Director at the Wits Link Centre said that one of the challenges facing the software engineering sector is the need for greater innovation. \”As Ken has said, we are able to develop our own knowledge. But this is not just about IT and the software packages at the end of a value chain. It is about innovation.\”

Abrahams said that South Africa spends just 0,81% of its gross domestic profit on research and development. In contrast, in Europe the average Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD) is around 2%. In the USA GERD is 2,82%.

\”South Africa exhibits many of the elements of a knowledge economy … but there is still very little bespoke software engineering in the country.\”

\”We had to read the manual,\” he joked. As a result, \”South Africans [in the technology] sector had to be self-starters and they had to become experts quickly. It is a work ethic that endures to today.\”

He cites the example of Saswitch in the early 90s saying the real-time switching services of Saswitch \”were five years ahead of anyone else.\”

Jarvis did, however, highlight a few key challenges to the software engineering community. Among these is the need to increase the number of women in the sector and those enrolling at universities and technikons. \”Today there are fewer women enrolling for IS courses at universities. How do we attract more women into the sector?\”

Part of the problem, he says, lies in a long-held belief that women are not seen as being up to the challenges of the demanding software engineering sector. Another problem he says is that the so-called dot-bomb has dissuaded women (and men) from pursuing a career in ICT. Both of these reasons he says are baseless and it is important that women coming into the sector should be encouraged.

Jarvis said that there is no doubt, however, that members of the software engineering sector locally work extremely hard. \”How many of you work an eight hour day?\” he asked to a round a laughter. \”Here software engineers work 12 and 14 hour days.\”

Anther challenge that faces the sector, said Jarvis, is to encourage developers to work from home. \”In the US and elsewhere working from home is commonplace but in South Africa it is not. It is something we need to encourage.\”

Finding the niche is important he said, citing the growing call centre market in South Africa. \”We are ideally placed to play in this sector. We have the position (similar timelines as Europe) and we have the language advantages.\”


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