Information technology is now an everyday part of the efficient running of major corporations. These days most operations involving listing, compilation, calculation or record-keeping will have used a computer somewhere in the process, and government operations are no exception. Most government offices in PNG have computers.
The National Computer Centre, part of the Department of Finance and Planning, was first set up in the early 70’s, at a time when big mainframe computers were the order of the day. These computers were the size of rooms, hugely expensive and only for the initiated, but gradually systems were developed on them for various Government departments. The processing of payrolls, the annual national accounts, the preparation of reports and the presentation of data in the form of tables were all things they could do well.
As communication links were established, it became possible to extend the power of the computer to regional centres, allowing government officers in the provinces to connect directly to the mainframe. Criminal records, for example, held centrally, can now be accessed by a police officer in the regions.
As information technology developed, computers became more manageable. Confidence increased and eventually some users felt that they were able to take control of their own systems. The National Computer Centre then helped them to select appropriate equipment and to transfer systems from the mainframe to their own machines.
A proposed centre of excellence, the National Centre for Information Technology, operating under the Information Technology Board (ITB) will take on the role previously performed by the NCC, while NCC will be given a more focussed role of providing computer services to the Department of Finance in order to strengthen its role in financial accountabi-lity, planning and budgeting.
Certain functions, though, will remain with the NCC, such as the massive task of processing the seven different government payrolls. Every fortnight the salaries for more than 6,000 people working in the government sector, including Finance, Defence, Civil Aviation, Village Courts and Education, together with the payrolls for the University and the NCDC, are processed by the National Computing Centre, so far without fail.
Another centralised function is that of managing the submissions and allocations of the National Budget. Every March preparations for the following year’s Budget begin. First a circular is issued giving details of the size of the allocation to each budget holder, for them to itemise and – inevitably! – contest. This they do by returning the itemised budget by the month of June. The government then comes to a decision about the final allocations, which then become available for the financial year commencing in January. The advent of computers has greatly increased the decision-making powers of financial planners. With NCC’s computer programmes they can issue spread-sheets, draw graphs, do calculations and forecasts, and apply as sophisticated an analysis as they like – all at the press of a button. The only thing the computer does not supply is wisdom – that still has to come from human sources.
The future shape of computing within the PNG Public Service is still being refined. The advent of Open Systems, the move to small server-based technology, the increasing trend towards data manipulation rather than number-crunching, the availability of off-the-shelf packages, the distribution of control to end users, the explosion of interconnectivity and networking, means there is obviously a need to continue to supply policy advice and training to all users. The transformations that have been caused by the information technology revolution are such that no-one can escape or remain unaffected. Literacy now, especially for a public servant or government officer, includes computer literacy.
According to Francis Ko’ou, General Manager of the National Computing Centre, the NCC sees a permanent and expanding role for itself in training. For in the end computers are only as useful as people choose to make them. So, effective Information Technology management is just as important as hardware and software and it will be a major task to educate all users, from keyboard operators up to Ministers, how to best make IT work for them.