By Jessie Taylor


Unlocking potential: How digitisation can transform the public sector

Digital transformation has become a necessity for almost all sectors, and government services are no exception. Globally, governments and companies have looked to digitise their processes, cut costs, increase revenue and become more accessible. The shift towards digital solutions has also been prioritised in service delivery by the South African government.

Although the pandemic has highlighted the need for more remote access to various public sector services, the government has been developing its digital platforms for the last five years.


Turning to technology for transformation

e-Government – the innovative use of communications technologies – is considered a pivotal enabler for governments to deliver better services, more efficiently, while improving their relationship with businesses and citizens. A digital government uses ICT services and digital technologies to make government processes more efficient, strengthen public service delivery and enhance participation by citizens in governance matters.

But digital transformation is about more than just making government services accessible: South Africa could add over R2 trillion to society through digitisation, according to research. Accenture and the World Economic Forum (WEF) developed a framework to measure the impact of digital technology on government services, business and society. This framework can be used to look a decade ahead at the value these technologies can create. Using the framework, Accenture established that using digital technology in government services could add over R2 trillion in value to the South African economy. By comparison, digital technology across industry sectors has the potential to add around R3 trillion.

The framework’s measurements estimated that the government sectors that could house the biggest change through digitisation were public infrastructure maintenance, public administration and healthcare – these three sectors alone had the potential to add over R1.2 trillion to society over the next decade.

“Digital transformation of South Africa’s government services is likely to create the highest value for society through its impact on economic activity, productivity and service delivery,” the Accenture report found.


A people-centred approach

The government’s strategy to digitise services aims to create a people-centred, development-orientated and inclusive digital society. This was expanded on in the National e-Government Strategy, created to guide the digital transformation of public service in the country, in so doing creating an inclusive digital society. The strategy identified around 150 government services that could be considered for digitisation.

Digitising the public sector is such a priority for the government, that the National Development Plan for the country states that by 2030, the government will make extensive use of ICT to engage with and provide services to citizens. The rollout of this strategy is already underway and several government services have already been digitised. This includes the South African Revenue Service (SARS) e-filing platform, a sophisticated system for tax management that has shown good results on tax collection; the Department of Home Affairs’ Smart Identification Card System for citizens, rolled out in partnership with the banking sector, which boasts better security features for identity documentation; and the integrated National Transport Information System (NATIS), which allows for the national registration and renewal of licences.

These are all examples of ways the South African’s government is making its services more accessible to the public – a need that has been highlighted by the restrictions on movement generated by the Coronavirus and lockdown regulations. In a world where physically queuing to access services has become a last resort, the move to digitisation has become a key focus for changing the way citizens interact with the public sector.


SARS e-filing: A study in the effectiveness of digitisation

The main function of SARS is the collection and administration of all national taxes, duties and levies. However, the annual submission of a tax return previously involved the tedious completion of paperwork. The introduction of e-filing changed how South Africans interact with SARS, by creating an electronic tax return.

In 2006, SARS started developments to expand the e-filing system to include tax returns, initially only processing 40 000 returns. In 2007, the process was updated to allow citizens to file their own returns. This saw close to one million electronic submissions in the first year. This number has continued to increase year on year, with around 12 million returns (over two thirds) filed via e-filing or mobile platforms.