I recall some years ago the Director General of the Department of Social Development made a passing comment to me about his workload. He said that, since he could work from remote locations thanks to the recent automation of systems within that department, he could now sign almost double the number of documents and requests than he used to.
This is just one of the tangible effects that comes with automating government processes but there are many more. As an IT professional and a passionate advocate for digitising the public sector, I often come into contact with government departments during the course of my work. Due to my close interactions with the public officials, I’ve witnessed first-hand at least four benefits that come from automating government processes. These are that it increases performance and service delivery, improves compliance and reduces levels of corruption.
IMPROVING PROCESSES AND MORE
As my former Director General indicated, through automating government processes the output and performance of departments and officials increases dramatically. Technology has improved the way we now interact with our office, because you can take your job anywhere you go. The same is true for public officials working in digitised departments. Because they no longer have to be office-bound to work through piles of documents and requests on their desks, they can provide approval while in meetings or on the road. This improves turnaround time and ultimately service delivery to the citizen.
Besides enabling public service officials to work remotely, digitised or automated systems also improve the visibility of documents. The obvious benefit to this is an improvement in turnaround time, as I’ve already mentioned, because you can see where a document is sitting, and officials can view what is queued up for their approval. But visibility comes with a second benefit, and that is improving compliance and reducing levels of corruption.
Because the enforcement of a particular system is digitised, there is no room for someone to skip due process or feign ignorance. Because you can track the document from start to finish, and the rules of the system remove room for error, you reduce both unintended non-compliance on the part of officials, and any potentially malicious activity.
BUT THERE ARE MORE BENEFITS…
Automating the core functions of government has been critical for some time. While some officials have struggled to accept the mental shift that digitally-authorized documents are both secure and valid, we are starting to see a mind-shift in government. More people are starting to realise that technology is not just for the geeks, but that it is an enabler which allows government to make access to services simpler and quicker for citizens.
Indeed, it is essential to move the digitisation of government from purely internal processes to citizen-facing functions. Primary departments that would benefit from automation would be those in the social cluster, such as education and health, and those in the justice sector that deal with issues of crime and rehabilitation. Because these departments deal directly with South Africa citizens, the electorate will be able to see the value in government services and delivery.
Digitising citizen-facing services means South Africans would immediately feel and experience the change, and see the benefits of an automated government. This would also help to close the gap between the voters and their elected officials, providing government with the opportunity for political leverage.
Increasing adoption of ICT systems in government has plenty of other benefits that I will only briefly touch on here. These benefits include directly stimulating growth of the local ICT industry by inspiring innovation with the opportunity to make proposals and solutions for government. A compatible software solution like those created by Boxfusion, can also serve to upgrade outdated (we’re talking three decades’ old) legacy systems with ease. This makes integration and implementation easy, with a seamless user experience.
The time for automation in the public sector is now. In fact, it may even be overdue. There’s no longer any excuse for continuing to put off the digitisation of government, because an automated government is an efficient government capable of empowering its officials and serving its citizens.
~ Julius Segole, Independent IT Consultant at Marang Consulting, a Former Board Member of the Public Sector ICT Forum and the Former Chairperson of the Government IT Of cers Council