by Dumisani Sondlo
“Impressive!” “The online registration platform has made it all so easy.” “Saved us time and effort.” These were some of the reviews from delegates who attended the Meeting of SADC Ministers Responsible for Communications and ICT which was held in Ballito (KwaZulu Natal Province) from 4 to 7 September 2017.
As Chair of SADC, the South African Government through the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) and the Department of Communications (DOC), in collaboration with the SADC Secretariat hosted this meeting at the prestigious, beach-facing Fairmont Zimbali Resort.
This high–level meeting was attended by government players, people from the implementing agencies and ICT industry players from the Region. Among the key issues discussed were; how to prepare the region for the 4th Industrial Revolution through ICTs, an Integrated Broadband Infrastructure, a Signalling Hub for Cross Border Traffic, Digital Object Architecture, a SADC TV Bouquet to stimulate local content, postal service to support of Trade and e-Commerce, and also capacity building on emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnologies, Net Neutrality and others.
The DTPS’ E-skills Innovation unit staff at Strand office in Cape Town developed the online registration platform for this meeting in response to a request by the ICT International Affairs and Trade Branch. “To demonstrate the digital revolution, we decided on a paperless, secure, online process where Ministers and their delegations from all across the SADC region would seamlessly register and have their logistics coordinated centrally,” says Ms Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, DDG International.
The Branch found a willing and capable internal partner in the form of the DTPS’ E-skills Innovation staff who are based in Strand. These are formerly ISSA (Institute for Satellite and Software Applications) staff who are now working on ICT innovations as part of the ICT Information Society Development and Research (ISAD&R) Branch.
“We wanted a platform that would provide meeting, accommodation and logistical information to delegates before they arrive. One which would automatically allocate each delegate their appropriate protocol services, choice of sessions to attend, and even provide the venue’s restaurant with the dietary requirements of each and every delegate,” adds Ms Jordan-Dyani.
Having met with the Strand office staff, the teams decided on the specifications and the design of the platform. “For the online registration platform, we agreed on a responsive design which could morph into any smart device,” adds Mr Derrick Sonamzi, a developer in the E-skills Innovation unit who was instrumental in the architecture design and development. He adds, “we used multiple programming platforms; HTML5, PHP, MySQL and others, to give it a sleek look and feel, and to make sure that its functionalities are robust.” Using the blue and white colours of SADC, the development team at Strand also added a touch of the colours of the South African flag to the platform.
The E-skills Innovation team has been raving about the professional support that they received from Mr Sydney Malada and Ms Eugenie Mawoko of the IT unit in securing a hosting solution for the platform. With the platform ready, the International Branch then sent a registration link to each of the delegates throughout the Region. A total of 366 delegates registered online. And their information was then seamlessly shared with the State Security Agency (SSA) for vetting, and with ACSA for appropriate services to be provided to each delegate on arrival, at immigration services and upon departure.
Ms Regina King of the International Branch adds, “The SSA people were absolutely impressed! Remember they have seen online systems crash in other department’s events previously. And with this one, there were no hiccups at all.” The same data was further used to appropriately allocate delegates for the transport systems to take each of them to and from their respective hotel accommodation.
“Kudos to the development team” says Mr Tebogo Lekubu of the International Branch. “The platform is comprehensive, and helped to streamline the accreditation process. It made it so easy to even enrol those who arrived without registering. We would register 30 to 50 walk-ins per morning, some of them on our own phones in just a few minutes!”
Since then, the E-skills Innovation team has been hard at work, developing an eMall to be used by local SMMEs as part of the Department’s SMME support strategy. A prototype of this eMall received strongly positive reviews from delegates at the recent GovTech 2017 conference. And the Strand office will be now capacitated to develop e-government applications, in support of the Department’s Strategy on e-Gov and the National e-Strategy.
“That online registration platform must be re-adapted and re-used, because it is a very good tool for the Department and the State as a whole,” adds Mr Lekubu.