IT leadership ... by exampleBy ANITA MATTHEWS
IT WAS an unusual sight -- a group of middle-aged men tapping away on their palmtop computers during morning meetings at the Perak State Secretariat.
Most of us probably think of civil servants as grindingly slow paper pushers, yet the department heads at the State Secretariat who meet every fortnight would defy this stereotype.
The group, led by State Secretary Datuk Abdul Habib Mansur, are purveyors of technology hoping to lead the civil service community in Perak into the information age.
"It's strange at first (to use technology), but we got used to it. To create a culture, we must show by example," says Habib.
Learning about technology is one thing, but inculcating a culture is another matter entirely. Yet after more than a year's experience handling nifty hi-tech gadgets, checking e-mail messages, scheduling appointments and retrieving information; such high-tech tricks are quickly changing into habits among the department heads.
Clueless no moreThe Perak State Government's vision to embrace technology was riddled with obstacles, but Habib was determined that members of the secretariat and the civil service community become IT-literate.
According to Habib, the move was led by Perak Mentri Besar Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib's vision to modernise state policy through the use of technology.
"Our MB's mission was to enhance the state machinery to provide services to the public and its clients through electronical means," Habib says.
An information systems (IS) team led by State IT director Mohd Nor Hassan began laying out the foundation to achieve that vision nearly four years ago.
"We hope to see the sharing of information through electronic means as we build and update department databases, design and implement local and wide area networks.
"Our mission is to ensure that the State Government's administration is in tangent with the national policy to meet changes and (foster) the technological development required for now, and the future," Habib says.
He says the state wants to be proactive and receptive towards technology in order to develop an administrative culture that makes use of information and technology.
"This would go a long way in improving processes and services, and in meeting organisational targets," he adds.
Using a "top-down" approach, the Secretariat began by introducing technology among its management staff, and those in other departments.
For instance, head of departments were required to carry a disk to back up minutes of meetings, instead of keeping printed copies.
"Our meetings were fairly paperless -- we projected the minutes onto a big screen. Members had no choice but to get used to checking the minutes on their PCs, and later, their notebook PCs," says Habib.
After the officials achieved a certain level of comfort in using computers, they were given notebooks computers and palmtops to further enhance their use of IT.
Today, an estimated 36 notebook computers and 17 Hewlett-Packard palmtops have been distributed to all department heads and officers. Another 52 state assemblymen trained to use PCs now carry notebook computers complete with Internet access.
Although Habib admits that not all officials were quick to catch on, he says the IT department at the secretariat provided hands-on guidance sessions that were held prior to the meetings.
"With that, we were able to sharpen their PC appreciation skills and tackle simple problems like mouse manoeuvring or operating correct function keys," he says.
On the whole, civil servants are also being encouraged to use PCs for at least half an hour in the mornings and evenings to further reinforce the IT culture, he adds.
All in all, Habib believes everyone at the Secretariat benefited as they were able to improve productivity and decision-making processes.
"Furthermore, this is all in line with the Government's aim to develop a paperless administration and electronic government," he adds.
Moving aheadThe Perak State Government has drawn up IT plans up to the year 2002, aimed at also achieving the Federal Government's vision of an electronic government.
"Our aim is to equip each officer, chief clerk, stenographer and typist with a PC. The target ratio of PCs to administrative assistants is set at 1:2," says Habib.
He adds that by 2002, the State hopes to have a wide area network linking the Secretariat to all district and land offices up and running smoothly.
"We are updating the databases at all departments, and will link them so the information can be shared," he says.
The State also intends to introduce tele-information services and kiosks for the public.
"Our aim is to serve the general public; by equipping ourselves with the right skills we can serve them better and promptly. And we would also like to make things easier by introducing kiosks to help them communicate with us," he adds.
For this year and the next, the State's IT efforts will focus on enhancing its wide area network and applications development work, building databases for information sharing, networking and training more personnel in IT.
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