GovChat will soon officially launch its tailored technology platform that will enable millions of citizens to communicate with all arms of the South African government.

GovChat has been appointed as the official citizen engagement platform for such purpose. The platform will enable citizens to inter alia, report and rate government service delivery, record service faults and weaknesses and enable service providers, civil servants and ward councillors etc, to track such claims and complaints and follow-up on remedial actions.

About two months ago, Synthesis commenced the development of the  platform on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Using scalable services from AWS ensures that the platform will meet the expected demand and growth in adoption, enabling the country’s 50-million citizens to extract maximum benefits and satisfaction through its use.


The challenge

The GovChat vision was to create a cloud-based, chatbot-assisted platform that would cater for multiple communication channels for government, its citizens and for broader society, but without the development skills and capacity, GovChat sought qualified partners to appreciate the value and agree to build the complex and hi-tech application.

In May 2019, GovChat not only received R20-million in funding from Capital Appreciation (Capprec), and Synthesis was assigned to design, and develop the required systems and technology applications. To drive the growth and impact, the GovChat team wanted to build out the functionality and leverage the most advanced technologies, through the use of “cloud” and machine learning, in order to make its services more user friendly, easily accessible and functionally resilient, in anticipation of a growing userbase.

“We were delighted that Synthesis were willing and able to help GovChat fulfil its vision,” explains GovChat founder and CEO Eldrid Jordaan.

Synthesis was commissioned and its mandate was to design and build a cloud-based platform that offered chatbot-driven capabilities to capture and report on citizen-reported issues. An additional requirement was to create a management portal for municipalities to view details on logged service requests and to be enabled to track and manage these citizen requests from initiation to closure.

For obvious reasons, the platform needs to apply the use of geo-coordinates (location services) to record the exact location and source of the service requests that are being logged. This requires an accurate overlay of all government facilities on an interactive map, so that government/municipal officials are able to view areas of recorded high levels of citizen interactions and activity.


The solution

Synthesis has accordingly built a chatbot driven by natural language interactions, leveraging deep cloud expertise on AWS and powered by machine learning. The chatbot guides the user seamlessly through the communication process, from selecting the nature of the query through to flagging the issue by dropping a pin on a digital map.

Naseem Ahmed, the Synthesis project leader, records: “The Synthesis team used AWS’ agile progression methodologies and cloud provisioning to produce the solution. We simultaneously ran development, test and production environments, using cloud computing capabilities. This allowed us to quickly move from “idea” to “minimum viable product” and get a first functioning iteration of the platform within the tight deadline.”

Naseem further explains: “The GovChat service needs to cater for all citizens – people with different levels of literacy and language proficiency and who will use mobile devices of varying sophistication. Synthesis designed a chatbot that will provide a consistent and simple interaction experience across a variety of communication channels”.

From a technical viewpoint, the Chatbot architecture is designed to cope with high volumes of usage, minimising operating costs, but able to handle functional variance across different end-user devices. The Synthesis team are on track to meet the tight deadlines set by GovChat and its stakeholders for the development and early implementation of the solution.


 The benefits

The GovChat citizen reporting solution is currently in pilot at two South African municipalities and will likely go live nationally early in 2020. The municipality management portal, which will include workflow reporting functionality, is already in development and a live version of the technology will also be enabled during 2020.

Jordaan says: “What Synthesis’ brilliant tech team has achieved is quite incredible, they have taken our GovChat vision and made it tangible. Synthesis took the idea, ran with it and what they have achieved is simply amazing. You don’t find that kind of diligence and commitment that often.”

“Synthesis is proud to be part of this important initiative. We look forward to helping GovChat achieve its exciting objectives in 2020 as more municipalities subscribe to the portal,” says Naseem.

GovChat is in the process of establishing additional access agreements with various social media platforms (Facebook messenger, Telegram, etc). These channels will become available for GovChat citizen reporting in due course.