Automation – better service delivery?


Automation continues to have a positive impact on the private sector locally and abroad, increasing productivity, customer and supplier satisfaction, and revenue as a result of massive cost savings and efficiencies gained across many industries.

While the issue of implementing solutions that are perhaps more suited to the private than public sector has been an issue previously, it is perhaps time to look at automation solutions that could translate successfully into the public sector, helping to streamline daily operations, and free up time for skilled staff to address the more important aspects of service delivery says Khutso Sekgota, Supply Chain Associate Director, Deloitte South Africa.

Understanding requirements

On the 30 March 2017, Statistics South Africa released their report: “The state of basic service delivery in South Africa: In-depth analysis of the Community Survey 2016 data”.

The report focused on four basic services that are fundamental to improving quality of life for all South Africans – water, sanitation, refuse disposal, and electricity. The biggest challenges that faced the smaller, poorer municipalities were large service delivery backlogs, and limited financial and human resources. These challenges also occurred in the larger, wealthier municipalities, but not as frequently, and these municipalities faced the additional challenge of often having to cross-subsidise services to poor households as well.

While progress has been made, solutions that will address the disparities between municipalities need to be focused on with greater urgency. Automation of business processes is one such approach that can offer cost-effective, efficient solutions based on best practices, and appropriate governance structures.

Addressing automation

Back in November 2015 in his keynote address at the Gauteng e-Government and ICT Summit, Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, Minister Jeff Radebe, MP, reiterated the National Development Plan’s belief in the importance of the ICT sector for economic growth and development, particularly through the ability to enhance communication and information flows that improve productivity and efficiency.

Minister Radebe said that while positive progress had been made in the implementation of e-government, future efforts will require capacity building, and that public servants will need to receive continuous part development and training. He highlighted that improved access to e-government was needed “especially in rural areas where infrastructure may hamper the ability of citizens to access service through the conventional modes of delivery.”

If you look at the metropoles that show the highest rate of delivery success in Statistics South Africa’s report namely; the Western Cape, Free State, Gauteng and parts of Northern Cape, you will see that automation is being implemented in the form of E-Services.

E-Services make it easier for citizens, business and government to register for and manage their municipal services and applications in one convenient online location, reducing the need for travelling, queuing and office hours. This automation has seen an improvement in service delivery and a reduction in associated costs and manpower hours to both the public and the municipalities. And it’s not just about connecting and paying for your water and electricity, in March 2017, the City of Johannesburg announced it will be using an automated Smart Traffic System to remotely monitor traffic signal systems to ensure that faults are quickly repaired by the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA).

Plans in place

Minister Radebe also highlighted additional areas where e-services could offer improvements, such as the eradication of corruption in the procurement system, and the increase of transparency and thus increased confidence in the government by its citizenry.

He said improved ICT and automation of processes would improve on cumbersome and frustrating, poor business processes. Implementing e-services will also improve the quality of data available for decision-making and will result in better planning, monitoring and evaluating allowing the government to be more responsive, with evidence-based policies.

Additional services which have been identified for e-enabling include; e-Education, e-Justice, e-Health, and e-SAPS. By enabling such automated systems, the public sector will see a continuous reduction of operating costs, and a reduction in the backlogs across the entire sector. This will enable the reallocation of valuable human resources to more key roles, which in turn, will result in better service delivery, all within the municipalities’ limited budgets.

The success of automation however, is dependent on numerous factors including; the implementation of the automation process, and the willingness of all the players to adopt the processes as a positive step. Greater access to broadband, which is currently free in parts of the City of Tshwane and City of Jo’burg must be a priority, and more cities need to work towards extending similar services to their residents as citizens without broadband access cannot access e-Services.

Honest public/private sector partnership must be forged and investment in ICT must be made. Connecting all provincial government institutions is also critical for the whole country, particularly in the rural municipalities where access to broadband is limited and the ability to automate and successfully provide e-Services is limited.

Khutso Sekgota | Supply Chain Associate Director | Deloitte South Africa | |