SASSA success built on cloud, collaboration

Johannesburg, 11 May 2022
Read time 4min 50sec

The South African Social Security Agency, SASSA, says its successful move to mobile in under a month depended on powerful collaborations and the AWS Cloud.

Speaking at the first event in the AWS Cloud Series 2022, Abraham Mahlangu, Chief information officer, South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), said that millions of citizens had been successfully migrated to the cloud out of in-person queues at the start of the pandemic, thanks to the collaboration between SASSA and the experts in their fields like AWS and GovChat.

The hybrid event, themed: "Driving innovation and growth with cloud technologies", highlighted how secure, in-country cloud enables innovation in South Africa’s public sector, helps small businesses to thrive and benefits society.

“People can’t go to the sky – we have to bring the cloud down to the people,” Mahlangu said. However, he did not believe the government needed to wait to develop in-house skills and capacity to use the cloud to improve services. By collaborating with the right partners and creating an enabling environment, the government could drive change and impact using the cloud immediately, he said.

Cloud enables grant success

Mahlangu explained how SASSA had needed partners to help roll-out new digital systems quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As the sole agent of the state to distribute social benefits, we didn’t have a platform, infrastructure or an app to deliver grants to the people via mobile,” he said.

“We reached out to GovChat and their technology partner Synthesis, and they came with what they had – infrastructure, software and a platform, as well as business processes as a service. We had to deliver this fast – in a matter of 30 days. In just weeks we produced a platform to render and deliver this capability. We deal with millions of data elements, so it comforted us that AWS was in the background with solid and secure storage and processing capability. We also had collaborations with four major telcos, who zero-rated session fees for people using USSD to apply for grants. At some stages, we were processing 12 000 interactions per minute. We had to handle around 700 000 FAQs, and without the cloud we could not have processed those,” Mahlangu said.

“The rest is history – we had interactions with over 15 million people in less than a month, during lockdown level five, with no physical visits to any of our offices anywhere. In the first round, we processed 9 million applications into the payment system. This historical collaboration proved hugely successful – even the World Bank wrote to us asking how we achieved this.”

He said the GovChat collaboration would continue to provide more services to people in the lowest LSMs.

“Innovation should not be blocked by policies and legislation. In the past, the government has tended to be rigid, but we were very lucky that we have a very responsive minister. During the early stages of the pandemic, she was quick to relax certain legislation so we could process those 15 million people without them having to appear in person,” Mahlangu said. 

“One of the reasons SASSA has leveraged our platform through GovChat is that they trust our security. AWS is in South Africa, and the State Security Agency has given us the clearance to house government information,” said Rashika Ramlal, public sector country manager at AWS in South Africa.

Cloud skills pool crucial

Simon Zindaba Herold, Co-Founder and CEO of RelianceCloud, an AWS advanced services and public sector partner, noted that developing local cloud skills was crucial for harnessing the cloud to enhance public services.

“In my business, we are upskilling previously disadvantaged youths. We started with two people and now we have 12, with 24 AWS certifications across the company. We find a lot of the youths gravitate towards studying IOT, AI and data analytics. Continuous learning and development can’t stop. However, we have found that there is an ecosystem of problems around ongoing skills development, such as access to power and data. We have a massive pool of youth talent here that is untapped. Citizens, the private sector and the government need to work together to overcome these and support skills development.”

Ramlal noted: “AWS has the capabilities to help the government, and our youth, and not many people know about it. We have the youngest nation in the world, so if we train these people the right way, the rest of the world will come to us for employees. AWS skills development programmes start at entry level, with a number of programmes from school level; after that we have a number of youth development programmes. In fact, we have committed R155 million to upskill the youth in South Africa. All we need to do is roll this training out by joining forces with government entities where it is needed. We understand people don’t have access to come to the city for training, so we are taking training to them free of charge, together with a government department, and will host the training in their libraries. For government and public entities to transition their workforces, we also offer fully funded training programmes for staff to transition them to cloud skills.”

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