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April 2, 2020

Functioning when the unforeseeable happens

When everything grinds to a halt, how do you keep essential operations moving for citizens? This was the question the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) in the Eastern Cape faced in 2019, when their premises were shut due to an unforeseen gas leak. 

“We shared a building with the Department of Social Development,” recounts Ayanda Dlomo, Senior Manager for IT at the DEDEAT. “So, the gas leak affected both departments. We were evacuated and were put in a temporary space. It was so temporary it couldn’t accommodate all of us. Some of the staff were in King Williams Town, some were in Bhisho, others were in the regional office in East London, we were scattered all over the place.”

Preparation is key

Fortunately, DEDEAT had partnered with Boxfusion to automate their daily back-office processes long before disaster struck. “It had been quite a journey to get to where we are. We kept adding modules, and we worked with Boxfusion to develop some of the modules we needed, like payment and invoice tracking, quotation management, SMT claims and travel requests,” says Dlomo.

Prior to automating their paper-based procedures, the department faced a mountain of challenges when it came to enforcing due process. “Because the system was manual and paper-based, there’s always the human element to contend with. Sometimes leave forms were approved but not captured on PERSAL, or a submission would have to be physically driven from a regional office to the head office, a distance of about 400km.” Similarly, invoice tracking and procurement processes were difficult to trace, and were particularly challenging when the Auditor General came to assess the department. 

“We envisaged an organisation that was not limited to four walls, an organisation where we could work anywhere,” says Dlomo. “I’d already documented the processes that we wanted to automate but I was looking for a partner that would assist us.”

Enter Smartgov for Administration

Boxfusion’s automation suite, including eSubmissions and eLeave, won the tender to digitise the department, but it went beyond increasing turnaround times and improving efficiencies. 

“We wanted the system to be accessible whether you were in the office or not, whether you were at home or overseas. A process shouldn’t stall because I’m off sick or in a meeting. We wanted 24/7 online availability, as long as the security was adequate,” says Dlomo.

Boxfusion is a Gold Partner with Microsoft, and one of the few public sector ISVs in their South African marketplace. Keeping in mind DEDEAT’s goal of 24/7 access to their systems, and with the launch of the local Azure datacentres, it made sense to move DEDEAT’s operations into the cloud. 

“At the time, our physical servers were located in King Williams Town. But because of different load shedding schedules, regional offices were unable to continue operating when the servers were offline, even if they didn’t have load shedding. So, we decided to move to the cloud.” 

The move took place within two weeks, and according to Dlomo, it hasn’t been down since. 

DEDEAT’s foresight in automating essential processes through Boxfusion’s Smartgov for Admin modules and moving into Azure meant that when disaster struck in the form of a gas leak, the department was ready to keep operations going.

“All we needed to do was provide our staff with laptops and adequate 3G, and they could work wherever they were.”

One of the major benefits to having automated all their processes prior to the crisis, and moved them into the cloud, was that when the Auditor General came to assess the department during this unsettled period, they could download all their documents and now-traceable processes, and give them to the Auditor on a memory stick. 

Facing new challenges daily

With the current national, and global, shutdown facing governments around the world, there’s never been a more critical time to ensure that essential operations continue unhindered. 

“They say necessity is the mother of invention, and I see a lot of innovation taking place in government right now, for example using Whatsapp as a communication platform between government and citizens,” says Dlomo.

“Our goal is to make government accessible,” he adds. “To do so, government needs to be online 24/7, 365 days a year so that people can access us. Citizens should not be inconvenienced by things like load shedding or gas leaks. Those government departments that have implemented systems like these can truly say they are in control of their environments.”