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October 24, 2016

Transparency? It’s in the system.

A MANUAL LEGACY

The City Council of Tshwane is responsible for urban management and the provision of all municipal services, including water and electricity.

“The Mayor of Tshwane is the ultimate accountable official of the city and when things go wrong, he’s the one people look to,” says Pule Mmutlana, Executive Head of Governance in the Office of the Executive Mayor.

“The mayor needs to be able to co-ordinate all urban management issues and obligations. It’s his task to establish a cabinet and assign responsibilities to other politicians. This cabinet sits every two weeks with the task of considering reports.

“The nature of these reports is varied – from approval to undertake a project to status updates and news. Through these reports, the mayor stays informed about what the issues are on the ground that he needs to pay attention to,” Mmutlana says.

Back in 2010, when a report was submitted to the mayoral committee for consideration,

a department official would sit and author a report, get it approved and give it to a messenger to be sent to the Secretary of Cabinet’s office to be placed on the agenda.

“Sometimes we would put the report on the agenda but the head of that department would say ‘this is not the final version I worked on’, so there wasn’t consistency and reports weren’t always up to date.

“Sometimes because of tight deadlines, they would rush it and the report might not have all the necessary approvals, and it would be denounced at the cabinet meeting,” Mmutlana recalls.

FINDING AN ANSWER

It was clear that the department needed a customised system that allowed for version control of reports, as well as an approvals process that couldn’t be circumnavigated. Report routing needed to ensure that all the approvals necessary came from the various supervisors and department heads in an automated process, so that no one could say that they had not seen a report and refute its contents.

“So we took our problems to Boxfusion, showed them what our system was like and they customised an automated workflow system to our requirements. As the Executive Head of Governance, such a system helps me to manage the workload.

“From where I am sitting I can see at any given time what the delay is and I can also anticipate the agenda for each cabinet meeting,”Mmutlana says.

A SOLUTION THAT FITS THE USERS

It was a lengthy discovery process and the department took Boxfusion through all of its internal workings. The main concern for Mmutlana and his colleagues was for the users – it was essential that the system not feel different to how they were accustomed to working.

A three to six month pilot period was implemented in one unit, and this period was used to iron out issues.

“Already in the pilot we were seeing results and we were happy with what we were seeing. Even though there were a few glitches it was doing what we had intended, so we were pleased from day one,” Mmutlana recalls.

RESULTS THAT MATTER

“We found there were unexpected benefits – more than we anticipated. Where previously an official could say ‘the report is under way’ while failing to do the job, this is no longer possible. Each head of department can now check on the system,” Mmutlana explains.

Aside from accountability being easier to enforce due to automated processes, another big benefit is improved collaboration.

“Our system processes state that whenever a report is placed before the mayoral committee, stakeholder departments – those likely to be affected by decisions – must comment on the contents of the report to ensure various units are not working against each other,” he says.

FUTURE PROSPECTS

The City of Tshwane has plans to:

  • Enhance system speed
  • Improve its use of data
  • Improve interoperability with other systems, like finance and city planning
  • Add electronic signature management
  • Tweak the workflows for other departments

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