The Department of Home Affairs is reviewing its IT architecture to improve customer service and reduce overall dependence on the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), says minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Responding in a written parliamentary Q&A, Motsoaledi said the department is in the process of evaluating its internal skills with a view to ‘creating the necessary capacity for its work’.
“A review of its enterprise architecture is also underway. This will allow it to better plan its systems in line with the government-wide enterprise architecture framework while pointing out areas where the dependency on SITA can be managed,” he said.
Motsoaledi said that SITA had submitted a R700 million plan to the department to improve its IT infrastructure.
While the full plan will not be implemented, Motsoaledi said that several critical parts from the plan will be adopted, including:
The upgrading and maintenance of the dilapidated network equipment – routers and switches – at Department of Home Affairs offices.
SITA will also expand its core network to reduce regional network outages.
A proof of concept will also test an upgraded ‘gold’ and platinum network package, with the Department of Home Affairs currently only paying for ‘bronze’ features.
Motsoaledi has previously pinned the blame for the state of Home Affairs’ systems on SITA – pointing to other government services such as the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which rarely experienced downtime because it procured its services from private companies, which government departments were not allowed to do.
In response, SITA boss Luvuyo Keyise hit back, pointing out that Home Affairs had bought the cheapest possible IT services with the lowest service level agreements, which led to prolonged downtime.
The bronze service used by many of Home Affairs offices provides only a single 2Mbps copper-based ADSL connection with no backup in place, Keyise said.
SITA wants Home Affairs to consider upgrading to a platinum-tier service to give the department the redundancy it requires and a far more stringent service-level agreement.
Keyise said that, with a platinum service, SITA or the designated service provider must resolve problems within an hour. However, due to the redundancies, the service problems that come with any outage is usually mitigated within minutes.
A lack of backup network links and outdated equipment are the real reasons Home Affairs branches’ systems are often hit by long downtime, said Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Adrian Roos.
Roos said it was alarming that only 35 out of 691 Home Affairs branches had a backup link. Home Affairs was the only major government department without dual communication links to all its offices.
“This means that if one form of the network goes down, then the system cannot be accessed,” Roos said. He cited data presented in parliament, which showed that 90% of Home Affairs systems downtime incidents was caused by issues inside Home Affairs offices due to 88% of network equipment being obsolete.
Home Affairs has also announced more direct measures to improve service delivery at its branches – including a new booking system.
Presenting to parliament at the end of August, the department said that the appointment system has been finalised and will be deployed in selected offices in the current financial year.
The system is integrated with the national population register to allow clients to use their ID number to book a slot. This will prevent agents illegally operating in home affairs offices from blocking slots to sell them on, it said.
A brief presentation of the new system shows a mobile app that will allow South Africans to enter their user details and schedule appointments.
This includes options to book an appointment at a specific home affairs office in each province, as well as an expected start and end time.
Users are also expected to fill out a declaration regarding their health and Covid-19 status for health and safety regulations.