Information Technology Services - Technology, IT Solutions
Samuel Mugabi is Director of Information Technology Services at Makerere University, a leading research-driven university in Africa. The University recognises Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a critical enabler of higher education and over the last 20 years has invested substantially in creating an ICT-enabling environment for research, teaching and learning as well as other business processes.
At present, the university has one of the largest university backbone networks on the continent, spanning over 40 kilometres of optical fiber.
This Award recognises your excellence in holding the most improved ICT service offering at a university in Sub-Saharan Africa. How do you feel about receiving the award?
I am enthralled and equally humbled by the award. It is a recognition of hard work by the ICT staff at the Directorate for ICT Support (DICTS) at Makerere University. It is their award.
Please tell us more about your roles at Makerere University.
I work as the Director of ICT and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Makerere University. I lead a team of over 35 ICT professionals who work tirelessly to create an ICT environment that enables Makerere’s core strategic-objective of being a leading research-driven university.
However, all is not roses! We operate in the developing global south, where the unit cost of bandwidth remains very high in comparison to the global north and far east. We encounter numerous optical fiber-cuts due to roadworks, building construction works etc., as well as an unreliable power supply and other issues.
The government of Uganda has made efforts to reduce the import duties on ICT equipment to 10%. However, additional taxes such as VAT of 18% and an excise duty of 12% translate into a taxation cocktail on digital services and ICT imports which suppliers and service providers pass onto consumers like Makerere University, thereby aggravating the affordability challenge.
In spite of all the aforementioned challenges, the University ICT service portfolio has continued to grow and enable Makerere University to remain one of the leading research-driven universities in Africa and beyond. This is partly attributed to the astute leadership of the University Vice Chancellor, Professor Barnabas Nawangwe, whose efforts have enabled ICTs to thrive at Makerere.
How is Makere University preparing itself and its students for the digital future?
Makerere University operates within an ecosystem or national framework created by the government of Uganda, which recognises that the future is digital and has thus established a number of statutory instruments such as the Digital Vision Uganda which underpins 4IR as its core enabler.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will take us from automation of processes to data-driven autonomous systems and machine learning. Africa as a whole still lags behind the rest of the world in the adoption of 4IR
and is currently going through a rapid digitalisation phase which is a precursor to 4IR.
The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted the traditional work culture in all spheres of life, including higher education, where some ivory tower procedures are deeply entrenched. The pandemic ignited the pace of digitalisation at Makerere University and the rest of Africa. Through the University’s Digital Transformation Strategy, a number of business processes relating to student academic management, financial management, research grants management, library management, digital learning, university hospital management, human resources management and estate management have been automated and integration of these information systems is underway in order to improve service delivery across the board.
The university has also introduced smart classrooms for recording and disseminating multimedia eLearning content. Additionally, the core ICT infrastructure is also being upgraded in order to accommodate the growing user needs for digital services. Besides this, the university has introduced a number of courses in artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain technologies, cloud computing and cybersecurity in order to ready students for the digital data-driven future.
Through its National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U), the government of Uganda has also developed and established national e-government frameworks for integrating cross-cutting national Information systems and sharing resources amongst government agencies. Through its National backbone project, the government has installed fiber to all government agencies and district headquarters around the country, established a redundant core national fiber link and founded multiple data-centres across the country, among other measures.
The aforementioned national statutory instruments and ICT infrastructural projects as well as institutional measures at Makerere (policies, automation, ICT infrastructure and training) are collectively enabling the rapid digitalisation of business processes at Makerere and the country at large.
It is through the current trend of digitalisation and ICT infrastructural investment in Uganda’s higher education sector, government and the private sector that Uganda will transition into the 4IR era of business intelligence, data-driven decision making, big-data analytics, robotics, the Internet of Things and AI-powered autonomous technologies.