Without changes to policing, Safaricom’s cameras may struggle to deliver

What you need to know:

  • An organization's processes need to be reviewed in order to reap the benefits promised by new technologies.
  • The change must also be extended to include public prosecution and Judiciary which should be ready to understand and interpret new types of digital evidence not previously used in court. 

The Parliamentary Committee on Administration of Justice and National Security is concerned about the procurement procedures that led to the Sh15billion tender that Safaricom got in record time.

The bigger concern, really, is whether our police service is ready for the digital world. Also, the rate at which government is throwing technology at every problem is itself a bit worrying.

Technology has, of course, proven time and again to be a way of enhancing performance and improving transparency in most organizations. But for technology to be successful there is usually a prerequisite in terms of business process re-engineering.

What this means is that an organization's processes need to be reviewed in order to reap the benefits promised by new technologies.

Think about what ATMs did to the banking business processes in the 1990s.  Prior to the advent of ATMs, the banking procedures revolved around serving customers who belonged to a particular branch, during the morning hours. 

All the back-office operations, office-plans, staff complements, business strategies amongst other items were hard-wired according to this one-customer-to-one-branch, morning-hours paradigm.

Technology in form of ATMs successfully disrupted this thinking. Today's banking revolves around the “any branch is your branch” paradigm, with the additional benefit of 24-hour banking. But behind this success, those in the banking industry will tell you, was a very serious and time-consuming business re-engineering process, accompanied by the usual strikes and the inevitable retrenchment exercises.

Eventually, the banking industry pulled through, and Kenya is currently enjoying the status of the largest and best financial hub in East and Central Africa.  Would we have attained this status if we threw had thrown ATM technology at our banks without undertaking any corresponding business re-engineering procedures?  Definitely not.

WHITE ELEPHANT

Throwing technology at problems without a corresponding re-organisation of the business procedures is at best good money for the supplier and at worst another big elephant in the making.

This seems to be the same challenge we face with the Laptop project.  A great idea, but thrown at a teaching organisation whose procedures are hard-wired to traditional chalk-and-talk approaches.  Again, this leads to good money for the supplier, a big technology challenge, and potentially a white elephant for the client.

Should we therefore avoid technology in our public service systems?  Of course not.  We have to embrace technology to improve services, but services will not improve unless they are restructured and aligned to reap the benefits of technology.

Despite his court-cases, the Transport cabinet secretary, Eng. Michael Kamau, seems to have got this right when he re-defined the business process for night-transport, before "forcing" technology on the transporters in terms of new digital speed governors.

If he had focused only on the new digital governors, the old business procedures would automatically have found a way around the technology.

This, unfortunately, is what the police service will do with the Sh15billion security system.  They are likely to find a way around it, precisely because their old-way of policing has not changed. For the technology to be useful, the whole ecosystem must change, and be aligned to it.

The change must also be extended to include public prosecution and Judiciary which should be ready to understand and interpret new types of digital evidence not previously used in court.  It must include the fast-tracking of the Data Protection Bill, since now Kenyans will be under 24-hour surveillance, which comes with its own privacy risks.

These are some of the areas the Parliamentary committee should be looking at, rather than merely focusing on whether someone somewhere ate someone else’s “goat”.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.

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