USAASA wants eVoucher system for digital migration

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The embattled Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) is turning to technology for assistance in catching up with the migration from analogue to digital television.

SA's migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) has encountered numerous delays and difficulties, resulting in the country missing the International Telecommunication Union's 2015 deadline to complete the full switch.

The migration will free up radio frequency spectrum for mobile broadband and broadcasting services, as well as delivering significant cost savings for the cash-strapped South African Broadcasting Corporation.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) tasked USAASA with a significant portion of the implementation of its Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) project.

This included the management, procurement and rollout of digital migration set-top boxes (STBs) for poor TV-owing households. The STBs are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets.

However, six years into the project, the ministry's acting director-general Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani last month revealed that only a little over 600 000 STBs had been installed in qualifying households, describing this as “certainly a drop in the ocean considering the number of households that still have to migrate nationwide”.

This came as no surprise to those that had been following the controversies surrounding USAASA.

In recent years, the agency has been embroiled in government accusations that its STB purchasing lacked sustainability; a damning report issued by the Public Protector; legal challenges from installers; investigations by the Special Investigating Unit, which found the agency's accounting authority to be grossly and/or wilfully negligent; allegations of irregularities regarding BDM inventory management and payments; and news last month that the agency has been scheduled for dissolution in March 2023.

Changing tack

Meanwhile, USAASA says it is embarking on the second phase of the BDM programme, and in its tender documentation, it says this phase requires efficiency, agility and a technology-driven delivery approach.

A service provider will be integral in rolling out this programme, it adds, as technology will address “all the complexities involved in the rollout of a programme of this magnitude”.

As such, it is inviting service providers to submit proposals to render electronic voucher (eVoucher) distribution services to approximately 3.2 million beneficiaries who are subsidised to receive set-top boxes. Government originally committed to supply 5.2 million free STBs to households that depend on social grants and those with an income of less than R3 200.

The eVouchers are to be given to qualifying indigent households and will have a capped monetary value which can be redeemed for the purchase of a STB and installation. The agency acknowledges that households may need to top up out of their own pockets where market price is higher than that of the voucher value.

USAASA's tender documentation establishes that it is looking for a solution that will fulfil a number of functions.

An online zero-rated registration platform is sought that will vet applicants using various data sources against the prescribed qualifying criteria of indigent households, as well as proactively extract data from a central database with indigent households data to assist with proactive registration.

The platform must have a messaging engine to notify recipients on the various stages of the application process and be able to assign the eVouchers to approved, qualifying households.

A scheduling engine is required with the functionality to allocate orders to a panel of third-party device providers, track performance of installers, escalation ability and provide intelligence on the allocation of devices.

The field services application must be able to issue eVouchers at the point-of-sale and have geolocation capability to match the physical address of the recipient and the location of where the eVoucher was redeemed.

It must also have the capability to validate recipients by ID document, contact details as well as address, and must be able to measure the amount of time an installer takes to install a device to rate the quality of work and whether the device is functional or not. It must also collate all the information for proof of delivery into the format required for payment and have an automated function for billing.

The system must also allow for the ability for vouchers to be fully or partially redeemed at South African retailers as approved by USAASA, while a warranty management platform must keep records of all the devices distributed with serial numbers matched to the beneficiary for purposes including repairs and replacements. This must be linked to a call centre where calls will be logged for after-sales services.

A business intelligence layer is required to be built into the system, providing real-time dashboards and reports that must show an integrated picture of where the programme is, and whether it is on target or behind schedule.

Training must also be catered for, with online help and quick reference guides available for both front- and back-end users; however, USAASA does stipulate that physical training may be required when necessary.

The agency notes the solution will be hosted in a virtual environment which includes a DEV, QA and production server, with a secondary site providing redundancy and the databases replicating between sites.

Interested parties have until 29 June to submit proposals.

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