Huduma means service: Transforming Kenya's public service delivery

The Kenyan government, which came to office in 2013, has made the provision of quality public services to the citizens a priority.

This is in line with the Kenya Vision 2030 blueprint that aims to transform the East Africa country into a middle-income economy by 2030.

As part of this vision, the Huduma Kenya Programme was introduced. Huduma is the Swahili word for 'service'.

Its aim is to transform public service delivery by giving citizens access to a variety of public services and information from one-stop-shop citizen service centres called Huduma Centres and through integrated technology platforms.

Before the introduction of Huduma, citizens faced numerous inefficiencies, says Dennis Mutuku, CEO of the Huduma Kenya Programme.

"People waited long hours and had to travel extremely long distances to access services. In addition, they were subjected to corruption and extortion as they applied for services, such as having to pay a bribe to get their document. In short, they were frustrated by public servants who had no sense of quality, efficiency or the spirit of customer service."

He says the new Kenyan constitution of 2010 required all public services to be delivered at the lowest level of administration. It stipulates that Kenyans have the right to good quality services, and it is an obligation, not an option, to provide it.

Mutuku was a member of the initial team that came up with the programme based on international best practices, having looked at models used in Canada and Brazil.

"The programme was launched in November 2013, which coincided with the launch of the first One-Stop Huduma Shop in Nairobi," says Mutuku.

Technology driven

Martin Mirero, CIO of the Huduma Kenya Programme, says that the initiative is technology driven to a large extent. It is end-to-end from the back office platform to the end user devices that enabled the agents to work. "It was a model developed around virtual desktop. We ran thin clients at service points and have services virtualised on the data centre side and the back end, running out of two data centres."

Solutions used included VMware's vCentre for managing a virtual environment, ESX and Horizon View Composer for clients. "It was the first private cloud in government in Kenya, and the first and largest virtual desktop infrastructure deployment too."

Currently, Huduma offers 86 services that are provided by 34 different government agencies. "We offer as many transactional services as possible, including ID applications, replacement of IDs and applications for social security, health insurance, tax registration and drivers' licenses. And we do this all under one roof," says Mirero.

The programme is in stage two, where each agent handles one particular aspect, but Mutuku says they are aiming to get to stage four in the future, which will see each agent handling all available services.

Major challenges

Mutuku says the programme was not without its challenges. "Initially, there were long queues. When we set up, we deliberately did not advertise. We only had one centre and had a swarm of people from word of mouth alone. Remember, the more people you have wanting services, the less efficient you seem."

Another challenge, he says, was changing the mindset of the agents. "We used the existing public servants, who we deployed from the back offices. They were the same guys who were frustrating Kenyan citizens the week before, and changing their mindset to a customer service mindset was no easy task."

Some agents were resentful that the 'perks' of bribery had been removed but Mutuku says humans are "wired to do good" and eventually they accepted the new way. "Over time, we introduced incentives, such as a small overtime pay. We don't chase customers away at 5pm; everyone who is inside is served."

There were a number of technological challenges too, says Mirero.

"All offices were at different stages of digitisation. Some had their records kept digitally, others were on hard copy. Some had digital systems, others did not. Bringing everything together was a major challenge. Dealing with multiple agencies, and multiple systems. Some were vulnerable, lacking even basic security. Poor password management, where even admins used the word 'password' as their password, was rife. Security is a moving target. We are looking at ways to create change management to sensitise the different agencies we partner with to achieve a minimum level of security. That is our responsibility."

The right configuration

It took Huduma six months to stabilise and finally reach the right configuration. 'We didn't have any precedent. We had to rely a lot on VMware, which was instrumental in Huduma's success, as was Techbiz, our local channel partner. We are always looking to learn and upskill, particularly the technical team. We have had great support."

Kenyans now have access to services wherever they are. Huduma plans to introduce several electronic channels.

"We introduced a mobile app called Huduma Life, and we plan to have self-service kiosks in supermarkets and shops too. We also have an initiative called Huduma Connect that will use franchise agents, from youth, women and people with disabilities, and give them opportunities to set up and become staff. They will collect payments and earn commission on those payments. We also plan to introduce Huduma Mashinani, meaning 'grass roots', an outreach that will set up a generator and a temporary structure, and run services like a centre. Finally, we plan to have trucks converted into mobile service centres."

Before Huduma Kenya Programme, people had no idea when they would receive their documents. It could be months. Now, the turnaround time is two weeks. Bribery and corruption have been taken out of the equation too.

"We have served 21 million customers in five years and average 44 000 customers each day," says Mirero.

  • The Huduma Kenya Programme won the "Force for good" award at the VMworld Europe 2018 in Barcelona this week. The inaugural global award recognises successful implementation of a robust tech platform to enhance service delivery.
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