Julius Businge/All Africa Global Media

In a bid to expand Internet access, the government is considering to introduce “cloud computing,” which will act as a data centre where the public can access all the information from government ministries, agencies, departments whenever they need it.

Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients. The solution entrusts services with a user’s data, software and computation over a network. The National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) is spearheading the initiative, which the body says promises more affordability, security, features and accessibility in a sea of devices.

Sector experts said that as the government moves into e-government, this is the right time for it to join the platform. They also say that using the solution helps government do away with paperwork, which is said to be riskier than other modes of information storage.

NITA-U together with CIO East African, recently organized a breakfast meeting with IT Managers from all government ministries, agencies and departments, the private sector and civil society to discuss cloud computing and shared services.

Speaking on the sidelines of the function in Kampala on July 19, James Saaka, the executive director of NITA-U, said the timing was right for the government to implement the platform.

“It is important in that it supports infrastructure sharing and access to information, which is a key to development,” he said, adding it would lower the cost of access to information since information would be in a central place and that means there would be no more walking to different government agencies in search of information.

“Once we implement this, you will just hold your equipment, which has internet and then access whatever you want,” he said.

The process of determining how much it would cost is still ongoing, according to Saaka.

IT experts say the age keeping documents on computer hard drives are gradually coming to an end with the coming of cloud storage. They say that cloud storage has helped in solving the pressing need for more storage space to hold all the digital property.

Currently, some government agencies already have a solution related to this. For instance Uganda Revenue Authority has the e-tax system where tax payers can use the internet in any place they are located to access, apply for any license online. The revenue authority says this has succeeded because many people are now using the platform.

Internet access

Experts however, urged the government to ensure that internet access is scaled up countrywide if the full benefits of cloud computing are to be realised.

Crispus Ombogo, the partner systems engineer for sales at Cisco Systems Management B.V, an IT firm in Kenya, said Uganda needs to develop its internet infrastructure if the population is to benefit from the platform.

Uganda is currently implementing the National Backbone Infrastructure and e-Government Infrastructure project (NBI/EGI) but the project is behind schedule due to complaints over mismanagement and substandard cables. The project, whose objective is to take the Internet access to major towns across the country, is being implemented by NITA-U at a cost of about $106 million (about Shs250 billion).

“A poor backbone infrastructure cannot support this solution,” Ombogo said at the breakfast meeting.

Government currently spends Shs 6.3 billion on internet per year, Shs 25 billion on operating systems and Shs 290 million on anti-viruses for its computers. Saaka said once the new solution comes on board the costs would come down significantly.

Indeed figures from the Internet World Status [IWS], an international website that features up to date world internet usage, puts Uganda far behind in terms of internet penetration. Uganda is at 4.2% compared to Kenya (10.5%), Tanzania (4.9%) and Sudan at 4.2%.

At regional level, Rwanda is in the final stages of completing its cloud data centre and according to Ombogo, come June, 2013 the data centre will fully be operational. Works for a similar project are underway in Kenya.

Hacking risks

An IT expert at Uganda Institute of Information and Communications Technology told The Independent that as NITA-U plans to push for this solution, it should think of the would be risks involved like hacking. “This is becoming a dirty game and it is worrying ICT users,” the expert, who declined to be named said, adding that this could lead to huge financial losses if not checked.

Saaka said they are aware of the problem but argued that they would try to monitor the system and ensure adequate safeguards to protect the system. “We will ensure that people only get the information they are supposed to get and they will not access the one they are not supposed,” he said.

Experts say the security issues arising out of cloud computing are of two varieties. The first relates to security issues confronted by cloud providers that include the software suppliers and platform providers, while the other relates to security issues encountered by the customers or users.

Recently Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) reportedly lost over Shs 2 billion after fraudulent transactions involving hacking of their tax management system.