The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) says that it is changing the way it does its business in South Africa, with a bigger focus on its mobile unit operations.
Presenting to the portfolio committee on home affairs on Tuesday (8 November), the department said that it is in the process of rolling out more mobile units to serve remote and rural communities in the country.
Over time, it said that this fleet of mobile units will outnumber its static offices and will become the department’s biggest service channel.
Currently, there are 110 mobile units across the provinces. These units focus on rural communities that often have to travel far to get access to DHA services. There are 106 units deployed to these areas, while four units are at head offices for special projects and testing new initiatives, it said.
20 more mobile units will be deployed in the current financial year, with plans to procure even more in the future. The department said that there is a need for 800 service points across the country – although it noted that this does not mean it will have that many units.
The department is also upgrading its fleet with Flat panel VSAT units for better connectivity, as there are areas where there is no 3G connection. This feeds into the department’s other changes around connectivity and network capacity.
The push for more mobile service points in the country comes as part of the DHA’s wider goal of tackling long queues and long periods of downtime at offices.
Tackling network downtime
Over the last few years, the department has been trialling several initiatives to deal with these issues, but they persist. It told the portfolio committee that it had identified key hurdles, primarily revolving around the State Information Technology Agency’s (SITA’s) core infrastructure.
SITA’s core network is under severe stress, and both the DHA and SITA are hampered by ageing infrastructure, the DHA said. In an assessment of the department’s technology, it found that of DHA-owned Wide Area Network infrastructure, 61 of 398 sites are obsolete. Of 450 Local Area Network devices, 398 are obsolete.
Other key issues identified are that data centres are fragmented, increasing latency; back-ends are bloated with software applications; and bandwidth is severely limited, causing bottlenecks.
Bandwidth has become a significant issue, it said. with increased use of video conferencing and growing datasets adding unprecedented demand to the networks. Bandwidth at some sites is below 1Mbps, the DHA said. While the department is busy upgrading to 2Mbps, it wants to go as high as 1Gbps to 10Gbps because the demand for bandwidth is huge.
To address this, DHA and SITA have contracted Broadband Infraco to upgrade infrastructure to assist with network downtime. SITA has embarked on a R400 million project to overhaul its core network over five years – R159 million has been spent so far.
Dealing with network downtime will not only reduce queues and frustrations at Home Affairs branches but will also satisfy banks, allowing the department to expand its services to more bank branches in the country.
Appointment booking system
The department is also rolling out its Branch Appointment and Booking System (BABS) to more sites in the country.
The system is currently active at 162 front offices in South Africa – up significantly from the 24 pilot offices that were running it earlier – but is limited to Smart ID and passport applications only, so the department is operating on a hybrid model.
Customers using the system have reported great success and ease of use, with wait times reduced significantly and services being rendered in under 30 minutes. Over 200,000 people have used the system since June 2022.
The department said that 34 more offices are currently in process of implementing the system, with these sites going live by the end of November 2022.
Further developments for the BABS include expanding the system beyond applications to also include collections and providing tablets to sites that use the system so that South Africans with no access to a computer to make the bookings online can also make use of the system,
The DHA said it is also investigating zero-rating access to Home Affairs websites so that users aren’t charged for making use of the systems.
Read: New bank branches where you can get your Smart ID and passport in South Africa