OPINION | Service delivery issues: Robotic Process Automation can help

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
An old South African Identity book. (iStock)
An old South African Identity book. (iStock)

The biggest stumbling block to implementing Robotic Process Automation is that so many of the processes at government level are manual and paper-based, writes Adrian van der Merwe.

The most common perceived problem in the public sector at the moment in South Africa is service delivery.

Our progress as a country is being hampered by inefficient processes, controls and transparency that constantly delay the rollout of infrastructure and necessities. The major issue is that a lot of the service delivery chain is dependent on manual processes – and I believe that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can sharpen this up dramatically and improve delivery in critical areas for communities, across the board.

The first port of call would be targeting manual, inefficient processes that can be automated, rather than eliminated. I’ve said plenty of times that RPA doesn’t cost people their jobs – it frees up valuable employees to focus on creative tasks like problem solving, rather than getting bogged down in repetitive processes which can be automated in an instant.

Procurement process

Look at procurement processes at municipal level. To acquire something for the operation of a municipality, an RFP (Request for Proposal) needs to be issued to a pre-selected or approved number of registered vendors. Those vendors then submit their proposals and someone needs to assess them for cost-effectiveness and application, award the contract and then acquire the product.

This process can take weeks, while the affected area sits without an essential service like water, sewage, waste or electricity. Automating the process can solve the problem in a fraction of the time, speed up service delivery and save money. It’s about addressing the heart of the issue – delivering services to the people who elected the officials that made promises, in the first place.

The second problem is that, because these processes are currently manual, there’s a human element to them, over which it’s hard to exert control and oversight. This is where corruption enters processes and affects how, when and to whom contracts are awarded, and at what cost.

Automation can add controls in the procurement process to gauge cost, identify potential risks and identify connected persons before deals are awarded. Look at the R300 million plus in PPE corruption that’s currently under investigation – RPA could have minimised, if not negated, those opportunities that allow for liberties to be taken within the system, at such a crucial time for our country. 

Eliminate paper

The biggest stumbling block to implementing RPA is that so many of the processes at government level are manual and paper-based. Automation assumes a level of digitisation has already been done. But fundamentally, for a variety of reasons from the environmental to adaptation to new ways of working, the objective should be to eliminate paper-based systems anyway.

Some government elements are getting digitisation right – SARS, and the option to apply for ID cards and passports in bank branches with a minimum of paperwork, for example. The next level to this is automating these processes to speed up delivery – and rolling that tech out to other spheres, all the way down to local government – to deliver vital services to the people of South Africa, much faster.

- Adrian van der Merwe is Chief Executive Officer at North Wind Digital

*Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to opinions@news24.com with your name and town or province. You are welcome to also send a profile picture. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers' submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
Will you continue to use WhatsApp following the company announcing a change terms of service which would force users to share personal data?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, the terms of service do not bother me enough to switch
52% - 6874 votes
No, I will be switching over to a new service
44% - 5884 votes
I've never used WhatsApp
4% - 540 votes
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo