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Public sector digitalisation builds on legacy

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It is common knowledge that digitisation is the logical next step for the public sector. Consequently, we are seeing governments around the globe take steps towards delivering digital e-government with varying levels of success.
Mohamed Cassoojee, vice-president and country manager for Software AG South Africa, says that one of the most prominent hurdles in the digitisation of public sector functions is how to take existing systems, which were not designed to cater for the volume of service delivery we are currently seeing, and fairly quickly implement upgraded systems that can deliver services more efficiently.
Cassoojee says: “This integration-focused approach to upgrading and digitising service delivery systems has seen the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality (EMM) receive global acclaim and accolades for its outstanding innovation and progress in the field. This is extremely encouraging to other sectors of government, as it is a great case study to illustrate the potential of a correctly rolled-out solution.”
He adds that government decision-makers should look for a crucial differentiator when comparing potential digitisation solution suppliers. “This vital element is a supplier’s ability to allow government to use existing systems and infrastructure, in which they have already invested heavily over the years, analyse the platform, and strategise a way to enhance and extend it. This is preferable to overhauling the entire system.”
According to Cassoojee, vendors too often advocate for a complete revamp of systems, and the process of replacing a service platform in its entirety can be extremely time consuming and costly. “In addition, it also renders any previous work and developments made on the system no longer useful. This can also mean that services are completely offline during the installation period, and the backlog contributes further pressure to a system which is not yet even guaranteed to function correctly.”
The fact that a vast portion of existing government systems – such as payroll, HR, financial systems, home affairs and social services – are run on Software AG’s platforms gives the company a unique advantage and insight into existing processes.
“This background makes it far easier for us to integrate new features and improvements into the back-end of these systems, working closely with all existing elements and suppliers, as opposed to new entrant vendors who are not familiar with the current processes.”
Cassoojee, a strong advocate of public sector advancement, says that government officials should not be discouraged by other unsuccessful projects. “We are not advising that these upgrades should be avoided – in fact, they are a crucial and much needed development aspect for South Africa’s public sector,” he says. “However, we do advise that government works closely with vendors during the transition phase to make sure that as each phase is driven out, they are seamlessly integrated with the current operation, which will avoid disruption of the existing investment and backlog of any kind.”
He points out that the lengthy and complicated procurement process required for the realisation of government projects is a major challenge facing the public sector. This is despite the fact that South Africa has seen a massive uptake in general government interest and opportunities in digitisation, especially considering its potential to save taxpayers billions of rands. “It takes a strong and consistent approach to effectively complete this process, and a solid commitment by decision makers in government is crucial to a project’s success.”