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SA Post Office targets May launch for ‘e-mall’ commerce platform

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 23 Apr 2020

The South African Post Office’s (SAPO’s) e-commerce platform will be fully utilised to help government fast-track the rollout of the country’s lagging digital migration project.

This was revealed by SAPO chairperson Colleen Makhubele, speaking to ITWeb this week.

South Africa missed the June 2015 deadline to complete the full switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT). Add to that, the DTT project has been plagued by countless controversies, bogging down the process even further.

While its digital migration role has focused on storage, registration and distribution of set-top boxes (STBs), SAPO is looking to be at the forefront of helping the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, the custodian of the DTT project, deliver on its promise to complete SA’s digital migration in a speedy fashion.

Makhubele says the post office has been in discussion with the department about making services and products like the non-subsidised STBs needed for the DTT project available on its e-commerce platform.

“The IDTVs [integrated digital television] or components will be available on our e-commerce platform. People don't necessarily have to go to our post offices to pick [them] up; they can purchase through our platform and it will be delivered.

“They [customers] will also know exactly what is available and even in regards to the installers available locally, etc. The platform will basically be used to facilitate that DTT rollout.”

May horizon

At a media briefing last month, the post office’s new board revealed the e-commerce platform, which had been in the pipeline, was at a “well-advanced” stage and would be launching “very soon”.

While at that time, there was no specific timeline announced,post office CIO and acting COO Refilwe Kekana notes the platform will “definitely” launch at the end of May. “As of now, we’ve done the soft launch within the organisation and everyone has signed it off.”

Kekana explains that for the next 30 days, because it is mandated by the Universal Postal Union’s regulations, SAPO will be incorporating those regulations onto the platform. “If it was not for the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch would’ve been quicker. We are trying our level best to work offline but we’ve given it momentum.”

As it tries to return to profit, the national postal service sees the e-commerce platform as one of its key revenue-generating areas.

Makhubele painted a bleak picture of the post office’s state of affairs during last month’s media briefing, indicating it has been losing money for the past decade, and foresees further losses of R1 billion this financial year.

According to Kekana, some of the post office’s physical products from its branches, like bulk stamps, will be available on the e-commerce platform.

The post office is also looking to add its motor vehicle licence renewal service and infringement notices to the platform, he says. “Like how the banks are doing, we can activate the process for you if we have your details, alert you when the licence is expiring and ask you to renew it via the platform.”

The CIO went on to say the main aim of the e-commerce platform is to serve as a springboard for local SMEs, something the chairperson of the SAPO board also previously emphasised.

SAPO envisions the e-commerce platform to be a tool for small business owners to showcase and sell their products and services throughout Africa and the rest of the world.

That's what differentiates us from the Takealots, notes Kekana. “We havetargeted the SMEs so that they can be enlisted and then put their products on the platform. We call it e-mall because it houses a number tenants and any SME can be taken on.

“In future, how we want to continue is for all the postal services in Africa to be integrated into our system. This means it will become a multi-faceted e-commerce platform of the African continent.

Steadying the ship

According toMakhubele, the post office has made great progress in terms of its turnaround strategy.

It previously indicated that one of the key issues the board was going to focus on was the filling of critical positions within SAPO, she states.

“We are proud to say we have concluded the shortlisting, interviews and everything, and given our recommendations to the minister for the CEO and CFO positions. Obviously, with lockdown that has been hindered a bit, but I think Cabinet will open its office soon, and as soon as they make a decision, we'll have a permanent CEO, CFO to stabilise the executive team.”

Makhubele goes on to say SAPO has also made “significant” progress in terms of the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) project, looking into turning it around to profitability, reviewing contracts, fixing the systems and also introducing innovations that will better serve the beneficiaries.

In 2018, SASSA entered into a contract with SAPO to take over social grant payments. More than 70% of the country’s social grant beneficiaries receive their money through the post office’s SASSA card.

“We've also made progress in terms of dealing with a qualified audit…putting together the right controls, the right processes and systems to reconcile some of the things that the auditor-general was raising in his findings.

“What we've also done in terms of our operations, we've put in significant automation and technology to assist in the track and trace, to assist in the SMS notifications and online declarations systems as well.

“We are now able to compete with some of our competitors and also to provide better service to our clients in terms of having them receive their parcels on time, be able to track where their parcels are, receive notification on the progression of their parcels from the time it is sent.

“The turnaround strategy is influenced significantly by the minister’s mandate and drive towards digitisation, repositioning SAPO to be key in enabling and facilitating digital services, facilitating the fourth industrial revolution of our communities, being the arms and the reach for government in these communities.

“Our minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has really assisted us a lot in terms of setting the tone of how we progress with innovation, enabling us and facilitating that we roll out and do a lot of these proof of concepts in terms of the digital migration of the post office,” she concludes.

South African Post Office chairperson Colleen Makhubele.
South African Post Office chairperson Colleen Makhubele.