Turning around the big ship of government

XOLILE NDLANGANA, IAN HOUVET and the Boxfusion team (supplied)

 Boxfusion helps drive smarter government. 

Remember when any dealings with the government involved laborious paperwork, endless waiting and frequent frustration?

In recent years, some government departments around the country have managed to improve the situation, starting in their back offices, and citizens, suppliers and service providers are beginning to enjoy faster, more efficient service and prompt payment as a result. Many of these improvements are the result of efforts by forward-looking government departments and Boxfusion, a Pretoria-based specialist software development company.

First launched by Ian Houvet as a CC in 2006, Boxfusion develops solutions specifically for the public sector. The company has been helping automate and transform government administration, e-services and citizen services, with its solutions now used by over 50 departments and state-owned entities.

“The government is a big ship and it’s slow to turn. But we are starting to see our solutions becoming a standard in South Africa, and this is probably our biggest achievement,” says Xolile Ndlangana, Boxfusion marketing director.

With a lengthy background in the public sector, Ndlangana joined Houvet as a director and shareholder of the company in 2008. At the time, government departments were notorious for delays in service delivery and payment. Houvet and Ndlangana studied the Auditor General’s reports and spoke to scores of public sector CIOs to identify the biggest pain points affecting service delivery and developed their `SmartGov’ solutions suite to address them. These are grouped under SmartGov for Administration, SmartGov for Citizens, SmartGov for eServices and SmartGov for Committees.

In the early days, the company encountered many barriers, says Ndlangana. “As a small black company, we found there was a bias towards multinational corporations, so it was difficult to break into the market. We did a lot of live demos and small deployments, and focused on excellent service to win departments over. What helped us grow was word of mouth, our strong partnership with Vodacom and association with Microsoft.

“We’re unique in that we offer locally developed solutions, designed for the way processes are run in our own public sector and many developing countries, and because SmartGov for Administration is pre-integrated with key systems like Treasury’s PERSAL and BAS,” says Ndlangana. This integration with Treasury systems had never been attempted successfully before, he adds, partly because public sector CIOs assumed it would not be allowed, which was not true. “We said, ‘why not?’ and pushed ahead, and the move has made life easier for Treasury and government departments.”

Milestones and highlights

Recently recognised as Microsoft’s Emerging ISV Partner of the Year, Boxfusion’s solutions portfolio is built on Microsoft technologies and works well on Azure. Boxfusion also won SITA’s Service Delivery Award for Large Companies in 2019, and the SITA GovTech Award for ICT Service Delivery and Transformation in Local Government in 2017 for their SmartGov for Citizens app.

Among the company’s milestones are implementing its full SmartGov for Administration suite in the Department of Higher Education and Training – a scenario Boxfusion had been hoping for since inception. “We typically start our engagement with one or two modules, and grow from there. This department is the first to be using all our administration modules,” he says. Another milestone was achieved when the Mpumalanga provincial government contracted Boxfusion to roll out leave management and invoice tracking solutions to all its departments.

In partnership with Vodacom, Boxfusion also successfully launched the 2021 Gauteng School Admissions system – a fully digital schools application and placement system – within only two months of being awarded the contract. Over 100 000 applications were handled within the first few hours, with over 1 000 applications a minute at peak processing.

Other products for citizens include the Mpilo mobile app released late last year, which connects citizens with the Gauteng Health Department to provide them with information and the ability to call ambulances or report service delivery issues. The app was used to support the department’s Covid-19 efforts this year, enabling tracking and tracing, disease spread monitoring and PPE inventory measurement. The citizen engagement app MyJRA allows citizens to report issues such as broken traffic lights and potholes, and the MySAPS app provides an easy way for citizens to access police services and information. These apps also enable simplified reporting and management for department heads.

Beyond the accolades

With about 75 employees, a growing customer base and a wealth of opportunity to explore, Boxfusion appears to be just getting started. The company is now setting its sights on transforming government processes in provinces, the wider country, and continent.

For Boxfusion, success is measured in more than project milestones and numbers.

Says Ndlangana: “Ultimately, what we are doing makes life better for employees and South African citizens. For example, in the Eastern Cape, the provincial government has offices in Matatiele – 400km from the headquarters in Bhisho. Before we automated their administration systems, people had to drive 400km for one signature. Now they save days and weeks in decision-making processes, and everyone is happy.

“When we look back, we think, ‘what a journey!’ It makes us feel good that what we do ultimately benefits the people of South Africa. If the government is digitised and efficient, it translates into services they provide,” he says.
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