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March 14, 2017

Digital transformation across the land

TURNING DISASTER INTO OPPORTUNITY

Defining and conceptualising a framework for rural development is no easy task. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is responsible for implementing the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP) aimed specifically at remedying the affliction of poverty by creating equitable and sustainable rural Communities.

“In a nutshell, the Department looks to improving productivity in land reform projects through the implementation of our recapitalisation and development program. Another key aspect of our mandate is to expedite and finalise land claims,” explains Ava Misra, Director: Administration, Office of the Director-General.

In line with the CRDP, the Department is also expected to improve corporate governance, ensure enhanced service delivery and enhance the efficiency of information management systems, which is particularly fitting, given that a total information management system disaster that led the Department to working with Boxfusion.

“In the Director-General’s office we used to work with an electronic document recording system, called ‘Magic’. One day it simply disappeared as if by magic. The server crashed and we were unable to access that database any longer,” recalls Misra.

Key to the workings of the department, that database held all incoming documentation and recorded the movement and progress of all documents within the Department, as well as copies of all signed-off documents. “When we lost that database, it literally crippled our office. There was unfortunately no backup or disaster recovery plan in place, so we needed to look very quickly for a replacement.

“I must emphasise,” she says, “when we put a tender out, what we were looking for was something to replace what we lost, along the lines of an electronic register to track and trace our documents. That’s what led us to Boxfusion. They tendered for the business that was advertised and were awarded the tender because they presented a very innovative solution, well beyond what we were looking for.”

AUTOMATION ABOVE AND BEYOND EXPECTATIONS

The Department has taken on a number of Boxfusion’s SmartGov modules, including eSubmissions, DG Tasks, Parliamentary Questions and Presidential Hotline Enquiries and these modules were carefully customised and integrated for use across a large department of more than 3000 users, with a national footprint throughout all provinces.

Further complicating the customisation requirements were stringent security obligations. It was necessary for the Department to have Cloud 4 digital certification to enable the use of Advanced Electronic Signatures, by means of multi-factor authentication. “This helps protect the individual working on documentation,” Misra explains, “When
documents are changed or amended after sign-off, the signature is rendered invalid, to protect the signatory.” Once these security concerns were ironed out, the system took about eighteen months of work because “we wanted the system very extensively customised to our specific needs,” she says.

“Once customised it needed to be tested by our IT experts and then it also needed to undergo testing by us as the owners. Through such a double-testing process we were able to work out the kinks and streamline it to our requirements. Although it was a lengthy process, the hard work has paid off now that we are using it,” Misra says.

MOTIVATING IMPLEMENTATION

It is human nature to resist change but this is generally worse when it comes to technology, as the Department discovered.

“We realised that if we didn’t force implementation and usage, we’d just have people continually making mistakes. So we decided to issue a cut-off date to say we would no longer accept documents in hard copy, which forced people to go onto the system and learn how to use it,” Misra comments.

Given the scale of the project in terms of numbers and geographic spread, the Department tasked Boxfusion with the training and roll-out to all the different provincial offices. Results have been visible almost from the beginning, which Misra attributes to the immense support received from the Director-General, who she says was fully on-board with all the technological advancement hitting the department.

“Since people have started using it, I have personally received a lot of positive feedback. To such an extent that on the odd occasion that we ask someone to make a manual submission, they actually complain. “The system is so easy to use that nobody wants to go back to the old-fashioned way of doing it,” Misra says.

GOODBYE TO ADMINISTRATIVE NIGHTMARES

“Our experience of working with Boxfusion has been extremely positive. They are professional, dedicated and diligent. The word ‘no’ is not in their vocabulary. They’ve never refused us anything and I’ve seen that we can give them the most outrageous idea, and they’ll simply look for a way to make it happen. That’s what we appreciated the most – the innovation that Boxfusion brought,” Misra effuses.

“Working with Boxfusion, we got more than we expected. We expected an electronic register where the document comes in and the date is recorded, as well as the approval and re-issue of the document. “What Boxfusion has given us is is not something we could have ever imagined was possible. It’s not just the automation of submissions, it’s being able to refer a task to the right individual. It’s being able to refer parliamentary questions and get the responses back, being able to refer Presidential Hotline Enquiries and being able to get a response in return.
“Best of all, everything is electronic and paperless,” Misra concludes.

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