Joburg call centre collapses

Read time 3min 10sec

The City of Johannesburg's billing crisis has escalated to the point where frustrated residents cannot get their queries resolved through the call centre, as most of the staff are not answering the phone.

Yet, despite mounting evidence that the city's implementation of a SAP system is a resounding failure, city officials have repeatedly denied there is a billing crisis.

Media reports and comments on ITWeb show citizens are increasingly frustrated with hugely-inflated bills, incorrect addresses on statements, and a general lack of resolution of any of these issues.

Last week, mayor Amos Masondo denied there was billing crisis, saying there were only limited problems. He attributed these to negligent staff and a few IT systems problems.

Despite Masondo's denials, call centre staff at Joburg Connect - a one-stop-shop for all city enquiries - have reportedly taken phones off the hook and the call centre has come to a standstill. Staff members are reportedly frustrated at not being able to help angry residents.

ITWeb placed two calls to Joburg Connect this morning and spent 10 minutes each time listening to hold music before hanging up. A recorded message at the start of each call says: “We are experiencing high call volumes; your call will be answered shortly.”

Last week, Masondo said the city was focusing on improving the call centre as one of its initiatives to improve service delivery.

No resolution

However, the call centre has been rendered useless because the bulk of its staff are on a go-slow, says the Democratic Alliance's Johannesburg caucus leader, Vasco da Gama. He says staff are unhappy, because they are unable to help angry and frustrated residents.

Da Gama says call centre staff log complaints, but never know if they have been resolved. He says when the issue is brought up at council level, the opposition party is told its concerns are a case of “sour grapes”.

About one in 10 calls is answered by call centre staff, he says, and frustrated residents have taken to calling DA councillors in a bid to solve their problems. Da Gama receives between 10 and 15 calls a day relating to billing issues, while ward councillors receive even more, he says.

The root of the billing crisis is the city's SAP implementation, under a project codenamed Phakama, says Da Gama. Phakama aimed to move disparate and legacy systems onto one platform. Implementation was finished in June last year, six months after the project started.

However, the city has been battling with moving assorted databases onto SAP, as well as the quality of data. In addition, Masondo has admitted there is an issue with interfacing some SAP modules with some departments, such as the deeds office and credit control management.

Da Gama says the problem at the call centre comes down to an issue with the systems. “The whole system must be revisited, but after R580 million, how do you go back and start from the beginning?”

According to Da Gama, the auditor-general has rejected the city's annual report because of the “billing mess”. The report should have been tabled yesterday, but the city asked for an extension at the most recent council meeting.

The city did not respond to a request for comment this morning, and SAP was also not available to comment. SAP previously referred all requests for comment to the city.

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