Friday, November 24, 2006

Hlengiwe Zondo-Kabini

The SITA Regulations came into force on 3rd October 2005. These mandates SITA (‘the Agency’) to (i) in conjunction with other stakeholders, develop a strategy regarding the convergence of information systems and other systems for departments, and to (ii) demonstrate the value added by a private telecommunication network or value added network service provided by the Agency in terms of section 7 (1) (a) (i) of the SITA Act. The Agency is now left with an unenviable task charting a way forward on the convergence strategy (for information systems) for government.

The term ’convergence’ could be used to mean different things to different people. Convergence for government should, amongst other things ‘move beyond the borders of automation and embrace communication of such systems with one another, from content creation, distribution as well as consumption. The riders ought to be the Government IT House of Values namely: elimination of duplication, achieving economies of scale, interoperability, systems security and promotion of BBBEE.

The Agency has aptly identified IFMS (Integrated Financial Management System) as one of the priorities in terms of the convergence for all government departments. Simply put IFMS is a government wide enterprise resource system that will integrate from a single database all government departments’ human resources, procurement, finance, sales and projects.

This is welcome seeing that it will enable government to operate sans silos and provide departments’ accounting officers with an efficient and state of the art tools to enable them to comply (without hassles) with the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act which states that accounting officers must, inter alia, collect all money due to the department and settle all contractual obligations and pay all monies due within the agreed time frames.

As part of the Convergence deliberations, there are conundrums that the Agency must unravel which have a potential of affecting government service delivery, if not implemented or delayed. We wish to say ‘Go on, my friend, and fear nothing; you carry Cæsar and his fortunes in your boat’. However, we wish to whisper to the Agency whose belly has ears that ‘the boys have been throwing stones at frogs (Home Affairs) in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest’.

An individual can only be a citizen through Home Affairs who define identity and eligibility to be a citizen. It is Home Affairs that can grant a status and declare a person a refugee. Without proper identification, one is denied access to hospitals, to a death certificate, to opening of bank accounts, claiming lottery winnings, registration of a company and allocation of an RDP house, for example.

Sans Home Affairs, the department of social development cannot allocate grants, the department of transport cannot allocate drivers licenses, ports of entry cannot monitor movement control, the department of education cannot admit pupils in schools and institutions of Higher Learning, the department of justice cannot pass a conviction, how does correctional service imprison people without this information? By the way Home Affairs is not only located in the Republic of South Africa, it has over 100 missions abroad which fall under the department of Foreign Affairs.

Home Affairs ought to be government’s thee glass house no wonder it is such a great place to throw stones. If convergence has to be meaningful, Home Affairs ought to be on the top of the list, more so that there are projects identified that should be able to capacitate it fully. These include: Track and Trace; Who Am I Online? i EDMS and Smart Card Technology.

Track and Trace is a wonderful tool in that it incorporates clever functionality that can track and trace status of the identity application, where the application is located (i.e. Sandton or in Centurion) and who within the business unit has possession of the application and who is responsible for the issuance of such application.

Home Affairs is expected to roll out a full i EDMS (Electronic Document Management System) which will scan all existing physical documents, from marriage birth and death certificates into an electronic format. This system will enable provinces, regions and branches to do their own scanning and not wait on the Head Office which is already stretched beyond capacity. Furthermore, missions will also be granted access to this system to enable them to perform their functions from the comfort of their locations.

The good news is that all fingerprints have now been converted into an electronic format. HANIS has done exceptionally well indeed as the custodian of all fingerprints. HANIS could be used to grant banks access (by means of a finger print reader) for the purposes of verifying that the individual is he who he claim to be.

Currently Home Affairs runs close to 60 systems and these include HANIS (fingerprints); Population Register (verification of citizens); Deportation Systems (for all deported); refugee Systems (for all refugees); Movement Control Systems (for ports of entry); Quota Systems (for all skilled people recruited to RSA); Penalty System (for all airplanes that bring people who do not have proper documentation to RSA). What ‘Who Am I online’ (a name of s project) seek to do is to integrate all these systems and ensure that they can ‘talk to one another in real time’ with proper interface without going into different departments within Home Affairs to try and achieve the same objective.

Thee most important project ought to be the introduction of the smart card technology to convert all existing identity books into a smart card format. Presumably the embedded technology will be biometrics. The rationale for a smart card is that the current identity book has no security features that would make it stand by itself. Smart Card would presumably incorporate overt and covert security features.

Home Affairs is an enabling department and if it is properly capacitated, automated and converged it should assist both the public and the private sector in expediting service delivery. Again, duplication will be eliminated in that departments would be alleviated from the task of operating their own databases, security will be enhanced by a single secure system, interoperability will be achieved and economies of scale would be realized by the consolidation exercise.