What impact could the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) have on public service delivery? It’s a question that governments around the world are confronting. Digitalisation represents a silver bullet for the advancement of nations and industries. As companies have transformed themselves with digital technologies, people are calling on government to follow suit.
South Africa could add over R2 trillion to society through digitalisation, according to research by Accenture and the World Economic Forum (WEF). By digitising processes and making organisational changes, government can enhance services, save money, and improve citizens’ quality of life. Digital technologies can make government processes more efficient, strengthen public service delivery and enhance participation by citizens in governance matters.
One person who is enthusiastic about the application of 4IR technologies in the public sector is Naledi Liphapang, a second-year Chartered Accountants Academy (CAA) trainee at National Treasury. ‘Digital technology is already integrated with our lives and it’s there to make everything easier,’ she says.
Her interest in innovation led her to complete a certificate in 4IR perspectives for accountants at the University of Johannesburg. The course focused on how financial professionals can create value when they understand the impact of 4IR technologies.
‘There are many ways that these technologies could enable the public sector to better serve the citizens of the country,’ Naledi says. ‘E-Home Affairs branches in South Africa are already letting banking customers get their smart ID card or passport without having to stand in long queues or face the “system is offline” issue that plagues many Home Affairs branches. This has improved service delivery and efficiency.’
A key example of digitalisation success is the South African Revenue Service’s (SARS) e-filing platform, which has shown good results in tax collection with e-filling accounting for 76,8% of all tax payments during the 2020/2021 fiscal year. SARS is now looking to speed up further digitalisation of the process to enable businesses to pay taxes quicker, easier and on time.
Naledi imagines a world where the Department of Health, which deals with large amounts of data in the form of confidential patient records, can back these up and encrypt them in the cloud. Big data could be managed by quantum computers able to process large data sets at remarkable speed and provide meaningful insights once analysed, such as providing information on future virus outbreaks and monitoring trends to determine possible needs for hospitalisation.
The Post Office’s parcel delivery and banking services could benefit enormously from automation, particularly when it comes to communication with customers. The payment of Sassa grants could be revolutionised. Fraud could be eradicated.
The advantages of fully integrating business and financial processes are manifold, Naledi says. ‘The issue is that there are still mixed reactions to technology in the public sector. Until recently, the leave system at National Treasury was manual. But there are improvements, especially in the accounting division.’
TRAINING AT NATIONAL TREASURY
A Thuthuka Bursary Fund beneficiary, Naledi graduated from Wits University and chose to complete her training in public sector financial services at National Treasury. ‘I’m keen to make an impact while I develop my skills,’ she says. ‘My interests lie in the economy and how we can better serve people. The training environment is not perfect, but I am learning a lot. I have worked with the most competent and intelligent black professionals who have relayed a great deal of knowledge to me. The organisation manages the finances of the country, but we don’t only deal with public entities; we also engage with the banks and other organisations. From an exposure point of view, this is an incredible place to work.’
Her experience at National Treasury has ranged from financial reporting, internal audit and corporate governance to working in risk management and strategy. ‘My work is rewarding because I get to advise and work on controversial issues that affect society daily.’
Currently, she is working as a trainee accountant at SANParks, in financial reporting and financial management. ‘I am the first National Treasury trainee to be seconded to SANParks and this is really an exciting opportunity, as I get to work in the travel and tourism industry while contributing towards the conservation of our fauna and flora.’
As the chair of the National Treasury CAA Trainees’ Forum, Naledi has a lot on her plate, but it seems that nothing is too much for her. ‘I have many ideas on how we can improve the business of National Treasury,’ she says. ‘I’ve had discussions with managers about how we can better manage our workload, especially after what we learnt from the COVID crisis.’
The training programme focuses on financial management and management decision-making as the main electives. Trainees also rotate through several divisions, including the office of the Accountant-General, the Corporate Services Internal Audit unit, and the Assets and Liabilities Management division. They have the opportunity to work with the South African Reserve Bank where they get to understand what is happening in the economy.
‘One of the few disadvantages is that there are not many CAs(SA) at National Treasury,’ Naledi says. ‘Our line managers are specialists in their field, but it can be difficult to get them to understand what the expectations are in terms of the training programme. SAICA expects us to meet certain competencies, but our work is not always directly related to these. For this reason, I lead my own development and I am proactive about ensuring that my work is in line with the competencies I need to achieve. Excessive red tape and admin are also issues that graduates need to be aware of.’
In her position as Chair, her role is to help shape the direction of the programme, ensure that it runs smoothly and that it delivers what is expected. Much of her time is spent communicating with trainees and the SAICA administrators, and keeping trainees up to date on meetings, upcoming events and training.
Naledi is set to complete her articles in early 2024. Looking to the future, she is open to working in both the public and private sectors and is developing a growing interest in public finance and investment. One thing is certain – the move to digitalisation will remain a key interest of hers as she seeks to change the way citizens interact with the public sector.