Transforming Public Sector with Digitization

Patrick Shields is Software AG’s firebrand and Chief Technology Officer. His vision of transforming the public sector with digitization and creating digital government in Africa, is underpinned by the “paperless office” movement of the recent past brought into the high tech present.

Software AG’s process redesign proposition is steering the change that drives the enhancement of socio-economic value chains in national, provincial and local government, re-engineering management, operational and supporting public service processes using lean management principles.

“For us, digitization means committing what human beings know as their work responsibilities into graphical models that can be computerized and automated. So, instead of depending on humans to remember what they’re supposed to do, diverting attention from the actual work, the idea is to free up workers to that they can focus on the quality of service delivery and offer a sentiment-based, human approach.

“For example, a citizen in a municipal office, rather than being captivated by all the forms and paperwork they have to fill in, can receive proper service from the person on the other side of the desk or counter. Technology should be able to do that for them. ICT should enable democracy,” says Shields.

Traditional workflow emphasizes the sequencing of activities – like the filling in of forms – but ignores the informational perspective – in this case the citizen. An artifact-centric process model, on the other hand, represents an operational model of organisational processes in which the changes and evolution of data – the citizen’s story or information – is considered the main driver of the process.

In this model, citizens – stakeholders in statals and parastatals – become the artifacts themselves, the catalysts of ‘events’. For example, an event here could mean lodging a complaint with a municipality or bringing an issue to a ward councilor’s attention. Enablement occurs for citizens when this ‘event’ is transformed from a passive to an active element in an event-driven process chain.

“Let’s say someone in a rural area or a small village has an opinion about service delivery – how does that person get their voice heard by their ward councilor or minister? Web access requires a PC or smartphone. Africa has the highest per capita figure of cellphone use anywhere in the world, but only a third of those users have smartphones. So in terms of inclusion, of getting my voice heard, unless my minister can hear my opinion via my text-based phone, there’s no chance of communication, other than face-to-face.

“Yesterday’s tools – like paper or phone calls – aren’t always effective today. In order to enable democracy with ICT, we have to take advantage of things like USSD – the *100* or *141*# functions that are on all cellphones. I would love to see the government’s various departments have those numbers available, and that facility flighted on a radio and TV. Then we can automatically collate that information, recording which cell company, tower, location, date and person that particular message came from,” explains Shields.

“Once that message is aggregated into actual information, then a minister or manager can respond quickly, assigning the information to a particular department, creating a ticket or work order number, sending an official to that village or rural area to go and see the person and attend to them. Public service issues are similar all over Africa. Kenya, for instance, ensures all their citizens have access to banking facilities using text-based mobile devices. The lowest common denominator of technology serves the highest function: getting citizen comments, thoughts and actions into data format so that the right people can action it and be held accountable to it.

“For example, the original person sending the query can be contacted three days after sending the message and asked if their query had been attended to yet. This uses today’s technology for today’s problems. In 20 years we’ll have another set of problems so technology has to be able to adjust to enhance the lives of ordinary people. The challenges of doing this are, if its call centre based, to properly log and assign the information,” Patrick Shields maintains.

Africa demands its own homegrown ecosystem: 25 million South Africans live in metro areas, the rest in rural. Shields predicts a convergence in the way metro and rural operations operate, with the text-based phone the common denominator.

“One of the key concepts in digitization is ‘events’. An event is a piece of data that has a date/time stamp. In the case of the rural person sending the inquiry, the event is the fact that they’ve reached out, with the date and time attached. Once something becomes an event it can have other information associated with it,” Patrick Shields clarifies.

“Events are also triggers for activity, in this case getting the citizen’s story to the right person in the public service, which then triggers the appropriate action, like getting the official to follow up on the inquiry. This can help the country immeasurably by contributing to organisational maturity, strengthening the response to inquiries by making them consistent every time. In business terms this is known as the continuous maturity model (CMM), measuring how well an organisation executes its internal processes.

“If all the processes are in the minds of the workers, they can’t be measured. If the processes are digitized, it can determine if the event triggered the right chain of activities. Did that official follow up on the citizen’s complaint? If not, a manager can intervene and trigger a new chain of activity, enhancing public works by holding the workers accountable,” avers Shields.

“When government departments get their budgets there are always performance plans that state the objectives and actions to be followed in spending the money – the measurements. The big challenge when it’s time to give the reports, is the big scramble for information and figures to give to the Auditor General (AG), for example, how many water leaks were actually fixed.

“The challenge for monitoring and evaluation is that there needs to be documented activity. For example, funding in itself is an event that triggers activity, distributing services to the citizens. We should be able to measure that, rolling that spend up into dashboards to show audit-readiness, well before the AG arrives. Extended into granularity, digitization can enable future activity and spend – for instance, recording that at a future date, specific areas and water leak fixtures will be attended to, and at what estimated cost, using real time monitoring,” Shields states.

“Process, events, measuring and monitoring are the factors underlying digitization. Ekurhuleni’s goal is to be a “digital city” that even smaller municipalities can come to, to be provided with ICT support. When Software AG unpacked seven of their “citizen facing” processes, we discovered that there were 138 inner processes. It was interesting in that the seven processes were horizontally structured while the 138 were top-bottom. Software AG started at their value chain – ‘create, service and retire the customer’ – their three highest-service levels as a municipality, then went into specific department functions like electricity & water services, waste collection, rezoning, building plans, property alienation, and then further into services such as indigent support, such as disadvantaged citizens applying for relief on their rates.

“Ekurhuleni’s anti-fraud measures for Indigent Support were enforced by manual checkpoints, causing the process to be delayed and the citizen in dire straits to wait for relief. According to Ekurhuleni’s legislation they needed to have a response to potential indigent citizens within 21 days. So we modeled the process the way it was with all the manual checkpoints and then we adopted a “To Be” (redesign) framework, rearranging the process to make it more efficient. Software AG helped the Ekurhuleni Indigent support team shave over 70 days off an indigent citizens’ waiting time for a response to their applications,” Shields notes.

“Software AG is not an expert in indigent management. The real experts are people like Ekurhuleni’s indigent support clerks, indigent finance clerks and accountants, so we empowered them to design their own process. We asked them the relevant questions about their processes, then designed the software to support the processes they designed, letting their ideas and expertise organically inform the software build. When Ekurhuleni updates their Indigent legislation, their Indigent processes can be quickly updated and re-deployed. We call this “Agility”, or the ability to quickly adjust to change.

“Digitization is a journey and you can see immediate value in it, but the real value comes in year two and as the organisation matures. It services the front line people because they have ownership; and executives using our system can steer their organisation though process objectives,” concludes Shields.

Software AG offers internal and external internship programmes, and there are plans to take unemployed indigent people with the right competencies and teach them the technology, for placement into the Ekurhuleni metro and private corporations. The company also trains small businesses to use the technology for job creation.

The majority shareholder of Software AG is the Software AG Foundation. Dividends from Software AG stock are used to fund the company’s educational and community service initiatives. Software AG is implementing partnerships with innovation hubs and universities in South Africa to give them free access to learning technology software; Shields is the local executive sponsor for this programme.

Patrick Shields and Software AG make a robust, formidable case for public service digitization enhancing government’s organisational maturity into new and exciting paradigm shifts.

About Patrick Shields

A seasoned business technology executive with over 38 years of industry experience and a decade in international executive roles, he excels in global and regional technology go-to-market initiatives. His extensive expertise spans strategy, solution sales, and multiple technology domains. Based in South Africa, he’s also an influential public speaker, coach and advisor.
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