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ACSA to invest R100m in passenger facial recognition

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Mthoko Mncwabe, CIO of ACSA and chairperson of the Public Sector ICT Forum.
Mthoko Mncwabe, CIO of ACSA and chairperson of the Public Sector ICT Forum.

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) is looking to invest R100 million to become among the first African organisations to introduce digital identity verification technology for passengers.

This was the word from Mthoko Mncwabe, CIO of ACSA and chairperson of the Public Sector ICT Forum, giving a keynote presentation this morning at a forum event, held in conjunction with ITWeb Brainstorm and ICT solutions provider BCX.

Discussing the importance of good ICT governance within the public sector, Mncwabe highlighted the importance of innovation to keep pace with digital citizens’ demands, provided the technologies are implemented within the guidelines of governance, risk and compliance.

Providing an update on ACSA’s digital transformation strategy, he noted the partially state-owned airport management company is planning to introduce passenger digital identity technologies. This will seamlessly facilitate movement of passengers, without them having to present physical proof of identity documentation.

“The technology will be based on digital identity tokens to allow airport customers to enter the airport and automatically go through all the necessary processes without having to spend time on constantly presenting their flight and ID documents.

“We want to be the first company across South Africa’s airports to use facial recognition in the customer on-boarding processes.

“The Department of Home Affairs is also working on a similar biometric digital ID system that will be used to enhance its services. These are the type of systems we need to drive digital identities, while also ensuring customer data is highly safeguarded,” added Mncwabe.

Founded in 1993, ACSA owns and operates SA’s nine principal airports, including three international gateways: OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka international airports.

According to Mncwabe, government CIOs face a challenging market for hiring local talent and using home-grown tech solutions, as a result of stringent tender processes and regulatory red tape.

This forces many state-owned companies to import their IT services or hire locally-based international firms.

“It breaks my heart that 60% to 70% of ACSA’s IT budget either goes to US or European-based IT service providers… As CIOs, we need to sit together and talk about how we are going to support the home-grown innovations.

“The tender processes and the legislation that we have, often make it completely impossible to select home-grown smaller entrepreneurs who are equally innovative but are forced to compete with tech companies, who have bigger budgets for research and development and hire global skills.”

We need government regulations to be intentional about driving and supporting locally-developed solutions, while creating a conducive environment that will allow CIOs to identify local talent and boost entrepreneurship in the ICT sector, he emphasised.

“While I understand the importance of having stringent tender processes to combat corruption, it’s sad that I cannot even run a proof-of-concept with any local company present in this room that may have created a viable tech solution which we need. This is because, according to legislation, that would give them an unfair advantage over companies who will be competing for the same tender.

“We need to co-create with the industry, and with partners and entrepreneurs in order for us to achieve a shared value system and create more jobs while we do that,” he concluded.

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