SAP fails to explain award

Read time 3min 40sec

SAP has no explanation for granting a quality award to the City of Johannesburg (COJ), for its implementation of a new billing system, despite its many problems.

The Phakama Programme was granted the System Application Products (SAP) Quality Award, for its successful implementation, according to the city's Web site.

SAP quality manager, Josef Huber, says Joburg was nominated because of its clear governance policy and for implementing the project on time. It competed against 19 other companies in Africa for this award.

COJ manager Mavela Dlamini says: "It was a long journey and we started having doubts about whether the project was really worth the effort. We are now proud to have better tools that will provide efficient service to the community... The system is quite robust and it will take us a long way."

Awarding complaints

However, the system has been plagued by billing issues since its installation. At the beginning of this year, about 800 000 residents received their bills late, due to technical glitches.

The Hello Peter Web site, in April, showed several complaints from citizens, ranging from double billing issues and wrong billing, to inadequate assistance, if any, from the COJ's call centre.

Also, houses could not be transferred into their new owners' names, because of a backlog with issuing rate certificates.

Baffling battle

Democratic Alliance (DA) councillors find it difficult to understand how the system picked up the award.

DA ward councillor for Eldorado Park, Kevin Wax, says the city's billing and collection system is a shambles. “There are so many problems with the billing and the meters at the moment. It hasn't been resolved. It's a battle to reconcile this award with the problems we've been experiencing with the system.”

Wax adds there is little support to help correct these system failures as the call centres leave callers waiting for long periods of time before calls are taken.

“It blows my mind that as a city we could win such an award. I'm not disloyal; I love the city but the system is a shambles.”

DA Joburg councillor Don Forbes agrees, saying the Phakama Programme is a failure.

Mark Walker, director of vertical industry practice at IDC Middle East and Africa, says one would have to look at the criteria on which the prize was based. However, he adds that the award does lose credibility by being granted to an incompetent system. “As a ratepayer, I'm aghast, but one would have to look at the internal system.”

Incomplete reasons

SAP has not provided an explanation for recognising a system that has been plagued by problems.

However, corporate affairs executive Sunil Geness says the SAP Africa Quality Awards evaluations were conducted by a panel of six judges, made up of very senior members of SAP Africa.

He adds that the judges scored the written submissions from the customers. Short-listed customers were then interviewed by the judges.

“All projects were evaluated on SAP Best Practice Quality criteria. The COJ's submission declared these quality best practices were, in fact, implemented on the project and it was scored accordingly,” says Geness.

Some of the SAP principles of quality that the award was based on were the identification and management of risks, ensuring staff are sufficiently trained, helping to manage the impact of change, and agreeing on what can be delivered in what time frame and how to ensure timely delivery.

Converging services

The city says the new SAP system centralises billing databases and replaced its multiple disparate IT systems, which hardly interfaced with each other.

“Customers can now get information about their utilities bills from one customer contact centre, instead of different municipal entities. All accounts have been centralised into one billing database and use a single system.

“The database now includes customer details such as property matching, tariffs, identity numbers, postal addresses, credit control data and property sizes.”

The pilot initiative was rolled out in the western areas and has now been expanded to all parts of Johannesburg.

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