UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
2.2.1 The Establishment of the Congolese Computer Department (OCI)
As far back as 1952, the Governor General of the French Equatorial Africa (FEA) established a data processing workshop with traditional IBM equipment for the processing of civil service payroll, the FEA customs statistics and other statistical data.
Following the signature in 1959 of the convention establishing in the conference of Equatorial African Heads of States, the workshop became the For Equatorial African States Data Processing Center (CMEAE) still located in Brazzaville.
With the dissolution of the FEA federation, CMEAE was decentralised with new data processing workshops located in Libreville, Bangui, N'djamena and in the second largest Congolese city of Pointe Noire.
Following the installation in 1964 of the first computer in Brazzaville, a card-based IBM 1401 the consultancy firm located in Brazzaville was asked to design new applications including payroll revision, taxes and tax recovery, capital expenditure, foreign trade statistics (customs). As soon as these applications were completed, they were introduced to each State.
In 1969, the CMEAE became the Trans-Equatorial Computer Center (CITE).
CITE was the end result of two projects:
1/ The establishment of a processing system with a central computer located in Brazzaville and connected by short waves to other satellite computers in other countries.
2/ Opening of an Inter-State school for the training of computer technicians for Central Africa.
The second project gave birth to the African Computer Institute by the decision of Heads of State, members of the Joint African and Madagascan Organization (OCAM).
However, the second project - too ambitious at that period - never took off the ground.
The parent body finally folded up leaving each country with its owm computer centre in 1972.
For its part, Congo established in April 1972 the Congolese Computer Department (OCI) which inherited all the staff members and equipment left behind in Congo.
Established on 10 April 1972 by a presidential order, OCI was an industrial and commercial institution with civil personality and financial autonomy whose initial objectives were to:
- Conduct a study on processes to be mechanized
- Carry out information processing
- Train technical staff
- Create an enabling information environment in the country
- Diversify information sites, in the public and private sectors
AN INSTRUMENT OF INFORMATION DEVELOPMENT AND
DISSEMINATION IN CONGO
The history of information technology in Congo coincided with that of OCI as the latter was the only company in charge of information in Congo since its emergence in 1973 up to date. Although it lost its monopoly in 1988, it remains a privileged government instrument for the implementation of the national information policy.
This chapter aims at reviewing OCI's contribution in popularizing the use of information technology in all facets of national life and the human, material and financial resources put at its disposal for the achievement of its mission.
220.127.116.11 A brief Background of OCI
As mentioned earlier, OCI was established by an edict No. 14/72 of 10 April 1972 following the withdrawal of Congo from CITE, the institution which first introduced information technology to Congo and the entire Central African region. OCI was placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance and Planning, which was also responsible for economic planning and reforms. In the first three years, OCI was a service company competing with other similar companies, like SINORG, in the same sector.
The Congolese Government gave OCI political support and assistance in order to maintain its sovereignty and have a control over its administrative and accounting data processing; foreign exchange savings through rational use of effective processing equipment. It helped the company to find its feet on the national market by giving it, through an Edict No. 19/76, the monopoly to import, use information equipment entering Congo and the monopoly to conduct studies and develop information applications.
Under this arrangement, no company operating in Congo could deal with any organization other than OCI; the latter was thus insulated from competition with the private sector with some resultant social, economic and financial risks.
Consequently, OCI's level and scope of activity expanded. Apart from equipment supply, staff and information processing system, it also controlled exclusively all activities pertaining to information technology.
However, OCI was limited in its services and activities in the sense that:
- After-sale services were provided by authorized manufacturers in Congo
- Some sectors such as banks and petroleum companies, by a special waiver, handled the bulk of their own information system
- Micro-computers emerged on the market while OCI conveniently ignored its existence in preference to big information equipment.
Over the years OCI concentrated its activities on the public sector and parastatals and to a lesser degree on the private sector.
Ministries which benefitted from computerization included:
- Ministry of finance (budget, civil service payroll, taxes, customs, treasury, etc)
- Ministry of public service (civil service files)
- Ministry of planning (statistics)
- Ministry of education (school enrolment files, baccalaureate results, school statistics)
Beneficiary parastatals included:
- The national electricity company (SNE) (electricity bills, staff account and management)
- Hydro-Congo (petroleum products marketing process)
- Congo's insurance and reinsurance (ARC) (policy and disaster)
Nonetheless, in June 1980 OCI was affected by the first restructuring programme conducted by SINORG at the request of the government in readiness for the conference of government corporations in August 1980. During that conference new mandates were given to OCI, namely:
_ To improve the quality of services
- To put in place an analytical accounting system for an improved tariff structure
- To strengthen foreign technical assistance in support of current and future important activities
- To train senior officials who would eventually take over the technical assistance
- To reorganize its structure so as to carry out the new mandates given by the government.
Once again, OCI obtained its monopoly as a privileged State instrument for the promotion of information technology.
In 1982, undre a ten-point information plan, the Congolese Ministry of Planning embarked on a gradual computerization programme of the entire nations focusing on:
5. Extension services
7. Administrative maturity
9. Basic technology
10. Implementation methods
The Congolese Government provided OCI with huge financial resources for the achievement of the information plan objectives and OCI experienced its widest expansion within that period.
There was subsequently a massive purchase of HP 3000 Hewlett Packard computers to the deteriment of the IBM's which OCI installed in dedicated sites. OCI also sent keyboard operators to run these sites.
Information applications were handled by the OCI consultancy offices which had then only analyst-programmers and programmers. For its design and analysis studies, OCI had to approach SINORG which had the skilled manpower.
Information technology was eventually decentralized only in terms of operation with the new dedicated sites still remaining under the OCI.
The information plan recorded only a 55 per cent implementation rate; reasons for this failure will be considered later.
In 1988, with pressures from the big companies displeased with OCI's performance and especially with the emergence of the micro-computers, the Congolese Government had to put an end to OCI's monopoly of information technology. This decision resulted in the massive withdrawal of some customers who promptly set up their own computer centres and hired staff members sacked by OCI.
Since the withdrawal of monopoly was not accompanied by any support measures, OCI went through a difficult financial period because only the government continued to subsidize it. It also faced a stiff competition from other service companies seeking to take from OCI its few remaining customers.
OCI was faring so badly that in 1990, it came under a second restructuring plan conducted this time by CENAGES which recommended the following measures:
- A complete reorganization of OCI
- A redefinition of its mandate geared mainly towards the public sector using the big information equipment and towards the parastatals and private sectors using micro-computers.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to implement this plan as Congo went through a serious political crisis.
18.104.22.168 Available resources
In view of the monopoly enjoyed by OCI, it employed the majority of information technology staff in Congo and had under its control the overall information potential.
(a) Human resources
OCI currently employs nearly 300 people responsible for:
- Consultancy 55
- Operation 86
- Administration 66
- Data collection 61
It was observed from this list that:
1. The consultancy staff which were supposed to implement the applications accounted for only 20 per cent of the entire staff;
2. Skills for project design and implementation were still inadequate.
Thus, OCI had to approach SINORG in order to meet its own requirements in terms of design and organization staff.
(b) Financial resources
In 1982, the Congolese Government provided a significant subsidy to enable OCI achieve the objectives laid down by the conference of government corporations.
OCI's budget is currently estimated more than FCFA two billion of which more than 55 per cent is earmarked for staff salary while little is set aside for investment; Moreover, revenues continue to dwindle for two reasons:
- The loss of some important customers
- Reduced government contribution
(c) Technical resources
Technical resources comprise:
1. Development programme consisting of:
- One Bull DPS-6
- One HP-3000 installed at OCI
But the bulk of the development is done directly on customers'sites. A crying need for development tools and the lack of working standards and methods were also noticed.
2. An operational environment comprising:
- Six HP-3000 computers installed at the customers' sites the majority of which are government offices
Since some customers have now acquired their own equipment, all OCI does is to supply staff to operate such equipment. It should be noted that these computers are directly maintained by their respective manufacturers, and there is no network connecting all these computers.
OCI's progress report
The bulk of OCI's activities were implemented between 1972 when it was established and 1988 when its monopoly was withdrawn.
Indeed, with the monopoly it enjoyed from 1976, OCI concentrated its efforts on a comprehensive computerization of the public sector and the parastatals and to a lesser extent the private sector. Dedicated sites were established while OCI supplied equipment and operating staff. Demand for computerization was then very high and OCI had to hire massively mainly graduates of IAI and approach SINORG for assistance in designing new applications. Information technology thus increasingly assumed prominence in the Congolese administration.
Although it has largely contributed to the introduction of information technology in Congo, OCI was seriously criticised. As a privileged government instrument with its own characteristics, it was criticised among other things for:
- Its inability to chart a consistent information policy for the government
- Taking undue advantage of its monopoly
- The lack of initiatives in diversifying the use of information equipment
- The delay tactics by the management and their inabiligy to implement a gradual but consistent computerization of the Congolese society
- Inability to satisfay the growing demands for computerization
- Marginalizing information technology training
- Inability to involve the authorities in information technology
That is why the government withdrew OCI's monopoly when it was observed that it could no longer play its role but was rather an impediment to advanced technology.
Since OCI was not ready for such developments, its managers did nothing to meet the challenge of a coming information revolution. Meanwhile its old customers were withdrawing either by setting up their own computer centres or by seeking the services of other more competitive companies.
Thus, OCI was limited to maintaining old applications pending the time when the authorities would take the initiatives for a fresh reorganization.
2.2.3 THE INFORMATION PLAN
It will be recalled that the first information plan was initiated by OCI, which was also the executing agency thereby acting both as the judge and the judged. It was also observed there was no independent neutral body to assess objectively the implementation of the plan.
Nevertheless, the preparation and implementation of the information plan was a significant progress in the rationalization policy for the use of information technology.
We will attempt to review only the main objectives of this plan and the highlight of its implementation high points.
22.214.171.124 Objectives of the information plan
The plan was initiated at a time when computerization was expensive. In a bid to save costs it was necessary to define a consistent policy for the gradual implementation of a computerization programme.
The following objectives were laid down under the information plan:
* The design of a strategy likely to curb the unbridled explosion of processing equipment
The objective on one hand was to curtail the mushrooming of incompatible equipment and on the other, to achieve economy of scales and a reasonable mix of technical and financial solutions.
Faced with competition from manufacturers and their systematic sales policy, goverenment decided to make OIC the sole owners of computers. Only OCI could rent out computers, hardware and software.
* Popularizing the information technology tool through a sound training policy
The success of a computerization programme depends on a good understanding of the equipment used and services it offers to administrations and policy-makers alike. Thus, information planning in Congo consisted in providing the largest number of users with the required technology. The objective is to have an extensive promotion through information and public awareness programme.
* Decentralization of equipment
Big organizations' management information systems should be decentralized by setting up smaller computer centres with light equipment to replace, with time, the big centres.
However, a good accounting system should be kept for these equipments for a better data integration and equipment inter-connection in the automated administrative units.
* Developing, managing and centralizing projects
Resources required at the national level will be determined and centralized for the standardization of the equipment and methods used. Pooling of resources will help speed up the rather expensive training of top level technical staff required for the implementation of projects and increasingly sophisticated systems.
Uniform methods should be applied in order to facilitate training, maintenance, documentation and project coordination. OCI should have programming or data system management software. Programme products should be developed or updated as they are in great demand by users.
* Setting up of infrastructures including data transmission
Users and managers alike need information. A general policy for the harmonization of files should be applied in order to have a better data integration and equipment inter- connection. Efforts should be concentrated on equipment that can process data remotely for custumers and make possible rapid exchange of information between policy makers by connecting nation information systems to bigger international networks.
* Initiating a training and information policy
The objective here is to speed up an independent national information technology so as to avoid, using external resources where a good domestic resource mobilization would have solved several problems.
Thus, a training institute should be set up for a speedy training of information technology and maintenance staff.
* Development strategy
Information technology is so important that it will be unrealistic to give it a neutral role in the development process.
Thus, policy makers should have economic and financial data banks. This important objective should be reflected in programming information projects bearing in mind their contributions to such banks.
It will be noted that the objectives of the information plan were laudable and ambitious. Progress made in information technology in Congo will be determined by the extent to which the plan is implemented.
126.96.36.199 The information plan implementing organ
The information plan was entrusted to OCI as a privileged government institution and managers of the plan.
OCI had to be reorganized functionally and officially, in order to successfully implement this plan.
OCI's functions are of two types, namely technical and administrative.
The technical structures should be developed not only to meet requirements of the government and those companies wanting to use modern equipment such as the computers but also to adapt to the continuous advances made in information technology.
(a) Issues addressed under project consultancy and implementation include:
- Organization and methods
- Analysis and programme
- Personnel training
(b) In terms of equipment operation and maintenance, structure development will make for:
- Increase in the number of installed equipment and their maintenance
- Increased production
- An assistance system
Administrative structures should develop alongside technical structures in order to have a good administration of the entire organization.
Reorganization should make possible the implementation of the plan at the national level which involves the standardization of management tools, harmonization of installed equipment and coordination of information technology training.
Information output will be organized around the "General Centres" processing applications for several administrations and companies. Working sessions should be organized between OCI and the users where sectoral technical issues will be addressed. There is also need for information technology correspondent among the users whose task will include:
- Evaluating information processing requirements
- Designing the required information systems with computers
- Providing the necessary information for the processing of data
Implementation of the information plan
OCI implemented the applications under the plan for most of the administration's computerization projects. This resulted in the establishment of several computer centres for:
- Civil service
All the centers were provided with the same equipment, namely the H.P. 3000 for compatibility reasons. These equipment were supplied and owned by OCI.
Several public and private companies benefitted from the OCI computerization programme. They include Hydro-Congo, SNE, ARC, OFNACOM.
But this was not enough though, as a whole category of companies were voluntarily or involuntarily left out. These are the SME and SMI which OCI did not reckon with in its daily operation. Other areas voluntarily overlooked by OCI for lack of adequate manpower include office automation and information technology training. Thus, users are at the receiving end of information technology without knowing that it could be used in other areas.
The information plan implementation rate was estimated at 55 per cent. OCI should be given the merit for disseminating information technology in Congo even if the rate falls short of the plan's objectives.
188.8.131.52 Monitoring the national plan implementation
Since there was no institution handling information policy in Congo it was suggested in the information plan to put in place an information plan monitoring mechanism, CEPI, otherwise known as the Information Evaluation and Planning Unit.
CEPI's role was to closely and continuously monitor all aspects of information technology development in Congo. It was also responsible for the technical monitoring of the plan.
The permanent monitoring of an information plan entails carrying out a set of periodic assignments with specific methods and techniques requiring the use of indicators which will enable CEPI to:
- Have a set of qualitative and quantitative data comparable to those in the plan
- Examine information development in Congo
- Suggest amendments to the plan where recommended measures can not be applied
CEPI should therefore have basic and monitoring logistics required to put in place and develop its guidelines.
Basic logistics include:
- A supply system (contact network and questionnaires)
- Data bank (information collection)
- A set of models and mechanisms (for the processing of information and setting of objectives)
- Inter-office questionnaires (for formalizing OCI's position). This will enable CEPI to:
- organize its data bank on the basis of the analysis carried out
- complete the bank after collecting data from questionnaires
- formalize the set of models and mechanisms according to the plan's objectives.
It is meant to update information collected through basic logistics and involves:
- A supply system (network and external questionnaire shorter than the basic logistics questionnaire)
- Inter-office questionnaires (shorter than the previous ones)
Information thus gathered will be distributed into the basic logistics data bank files for analysis on the "dash board."
The "Dash board"
The "dash board" provides the actual stage of development in terms of the achievement of objectives and possible action to bridge gaps if any, by formulating new objectives.
They are no more no less than measuring instruments and should therefore be simple, precise, reliable, meaningful, easy to understand and apply. Examples of selected indicators are:
2.2.4 The balance sheet
From the foregoing, it could be said that the information policy in Congo has presented a mixed picture. As one of the first African countries to use information technology, the level of computerization in Congo remains very low. The finding of the information technology study on Congo is that it remains marginalized quantitatively and qualitatively in terms of dissemination to the sectors in spite of the government effort to promote information technology.
Congo's estimated information potential is still below the average. Information equipment account for only 0.4 per cent of the GDP whereas the average in most of the developed countries is over 3 per cent.
There was also a low quality of information applications. The operational level is on average similar to what obtains in other developing countries. It would have been difficult to have an ultra-modern information technology such as intra- active and remote processing systems with the available limited resources and the weak telecommunications network.
There was however, some advanced applications such as the computerization of the government budget which also served as a reference for future applications in the administrative sector.
Some companies like CNSS, ATC and SNE have taken their information technology development seriously.
However, information technology has neither had a significant impact on the smooth running of the national economy nor improved the national information system for the following three reasons:
1. The low information dissemination rate does not bode well for communication between the computerized systems in terms of data preparation and transmission;
2. Virtually all current computerized systems were designed solely for users without taking due account of economic management information requirements;
3. The lack of an information policy think tank and follow up mechanism in Congo.
Three areas of concern are addressed under the current information technology situation:
- Information structure
- Human resources
- Designing a development plan for the information sector
In terms of structure
It was noted that OCI was virtually the only institution to address information issues in terms of design, implementation and operation. Although this was quite understable and realistic at the beginning, there are currently two limiting factors:
- End users are now more aware of information technology
- Information advances in information technology have made it more user-friendly, more accessible especially with the emergence of personal computers
The current structures as they stand constitute a disincentive and an impediment to information technology development of the sectors.
Personnel training was also neglected while information technology in Congo heavily depended on foreign assistance. However, a few Congolese citizens were trained at the IAI as analysts/programmers and engineers, but the number was insufficient. Information technology was not extended across the national territory to other sectors such as education; it was limited to the initiated.
Designing a development plan
Only one information plan has been designed hitherto and dates back to 1981. Ever since, developments have been haphazard with no supervisory body and leaving the door open for a proliferation of merchants of computers of all sorts and more or less credible computer service companies.
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