Home Affairs gets R400 million network upgrade to end “the System is Offline”

The State IT Agency (Sita) is spending R400 million revamping Home Affairs’ whole network, Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced in his budget vote speech.

Sita recently finished the procurement process and would complete the revamp in the third quarter of this financial year, Motsoaledi said.

The Home Affairs minister acknowledged that system downtime is a primary reason for long queues in front of his department’s offices.

“It is painful and generates a lot of anger to visit a Home Affairs office very early in the morning and just stand there and wait for hours on end because all systems are down,” said Motsoaledi.

“It is very frustrating, to say the least.”

Motsoaledi said many members of the public believe the department’s computers don’t work.

Last year the minister ignited a war of words with Sita when he told Parliament that Sita was the cause of Home Affairs’ problems and that he would go to the private sector for help with their IT system.

Sita hit back and said Home Affairs was spending the bare minimum on its IT services.

It was paying for a bronze-tier product and expecting platinum-level service, Sita stated.

The department and Sita have since made peace, and are working together to solve Home Affairs’ problems.

Home Affairs officer taking a digital fingerprint
Home Affairs officer taking a digital fingerprint

To address the headache of perennial system downtime, Sita has doubled Home Affairs’ Internet capacity and introduced three failovers in Tshwane (Pretoria), Cape Town, and eThekwini (Durban).

“This will ensure that if any of the network is down, there will be two to support our services,” Motsoaledi stated.

Sita has also implemented a software-defined network for Home Affairs, which the minister promised will increase bandwidth to their applications.

In addition, Sita has finalised its cybersecurity procurement plan for Home Affairs’ IT infrastructure.

This will be implemented during the current financial year once law enforcement agencies approve it.

Overall, Sita has committed almost a billion rand to IT infrastructure supporting government departments.

“We know that the Department of Home Affairs will be one of the major beneficiaries,” said Motsoaledi.

His department has installed 136 new routers and 150 switches across 136 offices.

“We still need to install 112 routers and 68 switches which have already been bought.”

Bringing in experts from banks

Motsoaledi also revealed that they are bringing on eight IT engineers from “a leading bank” to help stabilise its network.

“We wish to confess that whenever our systems are down, we stand in awe of the banks which always seem to be having a stable IT network,” the minister stated.

“We ask ourselves how do they achieve that?”

The engineers have been vetted and will soon begin at Home Affairs.

“We believe that the partnerships with the banks will rapidly reduce the skills deficit and assist the Department to improve and maintain system uptime,” said Motsoaledi.

Standard Bank, Absa, FNB, Nedbank, Discovery Bank, and Investec offer smart ID and passport services at selected branches.

Motsoaledi previously said the partnership would expand to more bank branches and that banks would start offering more Home Affairs services.

However, this did not work out as planned.

“The banks are worried of reputational damage that our system downtime would cause them,” said Motsoaledi.

“Remember that for them to offer Home Affairs services, they need to verify the details of the client by using our system. If there is downtime, the banks also get stuck,” he explained.

“We believe that as soon as their own engineers have helped us to increase system uptime, the banks will cheerfully open their doors for Home Affairs services.”

Now read: I got my smart ID at an E-Home Affairs bank branch — slow but functional

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Home Affairs gets R400 million network upgrade to end “the System is Offline”