CFO Helpdesk
Department of Trade and Industry

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Prior to the implementation of the CFO Project, the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) experienced substantial challenges to pay the invoices of its creditors within a reasonable period. The same challenges were experienced in terms of payments to other beneficiaries, such as staff claims, interdepartmental claims, payments to public entities in respect of approved transfers, and payments to small businesses in respective of approved incentive grants. The problem was compounded in so far as payments delays restricted the dti in meeting the legal requirement of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), whereby creditors had to be paid within 30 days of receiving eligible invoices. In the absence of a case management system, or a similar process, payment turnaround times could not be determined with accuracy as the receipt dates of invoices and claims were not recorded. This also prevented the prioritization of payments in a “first in, first out” basis. In the same regard, the absence of a single point of entry for invoices and claims impeded on response handling when enquiries were received on outstanding payments, as if was difficult and cumbersome to determine the whereabouts of invoices and claims. Invoices and claims also got lost or misplaced, which situation resulted in customer dissatisfaction. Besides customer dissatisfaction, staff morale and productivity were also affected, given the nature and frequency of customer enquiries, and the time spent to retrieve invoices and claims. Average payment turnaround times in excess of 30 days were experienced, which compromised legal requirements and service standards.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Financial management identified the need for a case management system, and subsequently consulted with the office of the Chief Information officer (OCIO) on the availability of any systems or software that can be used to record and track financial and supply chain transactions, and to report on process turnaround times. Information received from the OCIO confirmed the availability of a system, being that of the company “Computer Associates”, that was already used by the OCIO to support departmental staff with enquiries and assistance required in respect of information technology requirements. Financial management, led by the Chief Financial officer (CFO), agreed on a strategy whereby the system in use by the OCIO will be replicated for use by the finance and SCM staff of the dti. Taking into account the requirements and expectations of relevant stakeholders, the agreed strategy provided for the following objectives and deliverables:

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The CFO Helpdesk initiative is unique in so far as the following benefits are concerned: It caters for all financial and SCM transactions, inclusive of provision for the different process turnaround types according to the nature of each process; The system benefits both internal customers (staff) and external customers (creditors, claimants, other departments); The legislative requirements of the PFMA, as well as service delivery targets could be addressed within a single system, and in a cost effective manner; The system functionality provides for the following functionality: • The central recording of all finance and SCM transactions; • The assignment thereof for response handling, according to the unique process turnaround times per transaction type; • The tracking of response handling by means of an enquiry function, early warning notifications via e-mail when 75% of the allowed transactions processing time has been reached, and violation notifications via e-mail once the allowed transaction processing time has been exceeded; • Reports on response handling per transaction category types, and per individual users, to track response handling and transaction volumes; and • Provision for feedback to customers on the current status of processing. Aforementioned initiative resulted in a paradigm shift with the handling of transactions and service delivery, whereas the access to information ensures informed management decision-making, and accurate reporting. As compared to other State Departments, financial management has been enhanced in so far as transaction processing and the optimal utilization of resources improved on productivity and efficiency.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The main activities of the action plan whereby the CFO Helpdesk project was implemented were as follows: Step 1: Finalization of user specifications This activity includes the identification, analysis and documentation of all finance and SCM processes, with the purpose of populating the CFO Helpdesk database. This activity was crucial in so far as it ensured that all finance and SCM transactions could he handled by the system. This activity included the setting of reasonable process turnaround times per transaction types, which informed system processes such as the generation of early warning and violation notices to users and supervisors via e-mails. Step 2: Set-up of user profiles User profiles were determined and created for all staff, in accordance with the processes and tasks that they are responsible for. This activity provided for staff performing in production and supervisor capacities, as well as management oversight. Step 3: Customization of system The aforementioned information was populated to the system, whilst the system parameters were set according to the various process turnaround times. Step 4: Pilot testing Relevant staff was used to test the various functional areas of the system, and adjustments were made where required. Step 5: User training Finance and SCM staff was trained on the use of the system, inclusive of a system controller who would be responsible for system maintenance and to obtain management reports. The training included functional training for 2 operators who are responsible for the receipt of all transactions, the recording thereof on the CFO Helpdesk, and the assignment of cases to the respective users. Step 6: “Going live” The status of the system changed to a production database and users (staff) used it exclusively for case management purposes.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Stakeholders, and their respective contributions, are as follows: • The CFO and senior finance and SCM managers who explored available options for a case management system, and who made the decision to implement the system; • Managers of the OCIO who assisted with the assessment of possible solutions, and who assisted with the customization and implementation of the system, and who trained the users; • Senior and middle managers and supervisors of Finance and SCM who determined the functional specifications for the system, and who assisted with the pilot testing and training of other users. This group was also responsible for the design of the system in so far as its deliverables were concerned; and • The system controller and Helpdesk operators, in respect of management reporting and the coordination of response handling.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Costs associated with Human resources: Finance and SCM staff are using the CFO Helpdesk in addition to their core responsibilities, and hence only a fraction of their time is used to acknowledge assigned cases, and to update the status of transaction processing on the CFO Helpdesk. Only the costs of the CFO Helpdesk operators can directly be attributed to the CFO Helpdesk, which totals approximately R300 000 per annum. Costs associated with system: Given the fact that the system software was already procured and used by the OCIO, the costs associated with the CFO Helpdesk were limited to additional licenses. The additional licenses for the 40 users of the system amount to R130 000 per annum.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The major contributions towards the success of the CFO Helpdesk initiative are as follows: 1. Improved turnaround times for transaction processing and related payments With the implementation of the CFO Helpdesk, the average turnaround time for the processing of creditor invoices improved from an average of 39 days to 21 days, well in advance of the legal requirement of 30 days. In the same regard, 85% of the transactions are actually finalized within 10 days of being received. Incentives and staff claims are also processed and paid within 21 days and 7 days respectively, thus exceeding requirements. The aforementioned achievements have been recognized by National Treasury and the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation in 2 different evaluation processes, who rated the payment processes of the dti as second best if compared to that of the other 134 national and provincial departments. 2. Management support of the CFO Helpdesk The involvement and assistance by senior management resulted in an appropriate and all inclusive solution for the case management requirements of the dti, with emphasis on the functionality design, funding and implementation of the system. The ongoing support of the operations of the system, and the use of management reports derived from the system, ensure value for money and staff commitment towards the objectives of the CFO Helpdesk. 3. Tracking of finance and SCM transactions The system functionality enables financial management to track the processing and finalization of all financial and SCM transactions according to transaction process turnaround times, implying that the latest status of any specific transaction can immediately be determined, which is off great value for the handling of enquiries. Besides the enquiry functionality, the system provides for e-mail notifications on transactions that reached 75% of their allowed processing turnaround times and on transactions exceeding the same. 4. Buy-in of customers Both internal and external customers are informed of the existence of the CFO Helpdesk, with emphasis on the central point of access for transactions and enquiries. As a result, the risks of transactions getting lost or not processed, was minimized. The proven ability to pay invoices and claims well in advance of legal requirements (being 30 days), and to immediately finalize telephonic and e-mail enquiries, contributed substantially towards customer satisfaction. 5. Integration with financial systems and other departmental systems The CFO Helpdesk is used in conjunction with the Basic Accounting system (BAS), the PERSAL payroll system and the LOGIS SCM system, as all financial and SCM transactions are processed on the financial system, whereas the CFO Helpdesk system is used for case management in respect of the same transactions. CFO Helpdesk operators have access to, and have been trained on the use of the financial systems, which enable them to respond immediately to enquiries, since payment dates can be checked on the financial systems.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The CFO Helpdesk is updated on an ongoing basis in respect of changes to user profiles, thus ensuring that no transactions can be assigned to staff whose services were terminated. The functionality of the CFO Helpdesk is also reviewed on an annual basis to ensure the validity of parameters such as process turnaround times and system notifications. At the same time, additional processes are added to the system, if and where so required. Activities on the CFO Helpdesk system is evaluated and monitored by the combined use of enquiry functionality and management reports obtained from the system. Given the flexibility of the system in terms of report compilation, the following information can be readily obtained: • Volumes of transactions handled per individual, per section, per directorate or per nature of transactions (e.g. staff claims); • Actual and average process turnaround times per individual, per grouping of users and per transaction types; • Number of transactions assigned, with an indication per transaction as to whether it is pending processing, or finalized. If finalized, details are available on the actual number of days it took to finalize. • Consolidated management information via customized reports, which are used for reporting to National Treasury on adherence to payment requirements.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Proper planning and scheduling of activities towards deciding on an appropriate case management system, and subsequent planning of activities towards the implementation of the CFO Helpdesk system, minimized challenges and problems. Customization Problems experienced relate mainly to the customization of the existing case management software according to the specific requirements of financial management, which risk was mitigated with the initial review of processes and turnaround times, the determination of functional specifications, and the pilot testing. Change management As envisaged, change management challenges were experienced whereby certain staff was reluctant to change from a manual process to a computer-based system for transaction handling. This risk was mainly resolved by presentations and demonstrations of the system processes and features, and was complemented with structured training on the use of the system. The positive results emanating from the improved turnaround times and productivity, and the fact that customer interaction (e.g. enquiries) was limited to the CFO Helpdesk operators, contributed to the acceptance of the system and the voluntary buy-in of staff.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Impact on the public The initiative and innovation of the CFO Helpdesk made make a positive difference in terms of service delivery to the public, with emphasis on customers of the dti. A marked improvement in the time it takes the dti to settle its accounts, and the subsequent positive impact of early payments to small businesses and other creditors, contribute to positive cash flows for the same as they are being paid within a short period for goods and services rendered to the dti. The requirement to pay creditors within 30 days is not only a legal requirement, but also a focus area of Cabinet in terms of improved service delivery. For this reason, it forms part of the strategic objectives of the Department, as reflected in its Annual Performance plan (APP) and Service Delivery Improvement plan (SDIP). The positive feedback received from customers and institutions such as the National Treasure and DPME, serves as independent confirmation that the dti is not only meeting this requirement, but is exceeding the same. The CFO Helpdesk is essential in achieving this performance. Impact on service delivery Before the implementation of the CFO Helpdesk, the average turnaround time for payments was 39 days. The improvement in service delivery for the 18 months since the implementation of the CFO Helpdesk, in terms of both external and internal customers, is quantified as follows: • Creditor payments: Of the 51 768 transactions, 92% was processed and paid within 10 days, and the remainder within 21 days. The requirement as per PFMA is 30 days. • Incentive claims: Of the 10 975 transactions, 97% was processed and paid within 21 days, and the remainder within 30 days. The requirement as per PFMA is 30 days. • Interdepartmental claims: Of the 12 942 transactions, 98% was processed and paid within 22 days, and the remainder within 30 days. The requirement as per PFMA is 30 days. • Salary payments: Of the 25 025 transactions, 90% was processed and paid within 3 days, and the remainder within 5 days. The departmental requirement as per CFO Helpdesk is 7 days. • Staff claims: Of the 15 381 transactions, 94% was processed and paid within 5 days, and the remainder within 7 days. The departmental requirement as per CFO Helpdesk is 7 days. Performance is measured using the management reports generated by the CFO Helpdesk, which indicate the average time to finalize a transaction after it was received. This information is verified against similar report information from the BAS accounting system. Since monthly reporting to National Treasury on payment turnaround times is compulsory, the information is also subject to auditing. The aforementioned achievements have been recognized by National Treasury and the Department of Performance Management and Evaluation (DPME) by means of 2 different performance assessments. The performance of the dti in terms of its payment processes was rated the second best of all 134 national and provincial departments.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Sustainability The comprehensive functionality of the CFO Helpdesk system, and its proven ability as a case management system, makes it suitable for continuous and future use. The sustainability and continued use of the CFO Helpdesk system is furthermore ensured by the fact that it is updated on an ongoing basis with changes to user profiles, and with the annual review of its functionality to support all financial and SCM processes. The CFO Helpdesk is a cost effective system, since the case management of 65 finance and SCM processes, and approximately 78 000 transactions per annum can take place at an annual cost of only R130 000. In lieu of the fact that it addresses all regulatory and institutional requirements, and supports financial management in respect of performance reporting and informed decision-making, it will remain useful and beneficial for the Department for years to come. Replication and dissemination National Treasury and the Departments of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation recognized the good performance of the dti in terms of its payment turnaround times, and the systems and processes it used to achieve this. National Treasury also assessed during 2012 the CFO Helpdesk system of the dti, and recommended the same to National Departments and Provinces for possible use. The Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of International Relations and Coordination also assessed the CFO Helpdesk for possible adoption and use. Most recently, the North-West Province requested a workshop with the dti to assess the CFO Helpdesk for implementation at all its Departments.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
In retrospect, the implementation and use of the CFO Helpdesk proved to be a good decision. The “in-house” nature thereof is evident that Government has the ability to produce innovative projects in a cost-effective manner, which innovation addresses the service delivery requirements of both public and departmental staff. The experience of financial management with the CFO Helpdesk system is that it addressed the majority of the requirements in respect of case management, which situation provided comfort that all financial and SCM transactions are attended to in a structured manner, whilst sufficient provision is made for controls and information to monitor the same. This is possible given the integrated system functionality and reporting abilities. The CFO Helpdesk also enabled management to adhere to legal compliance requirements and service delivery standards. Secondary benefits derived from the use of the CFO Helpdesk is the improvement in productivity, since duplicated effort have been eliminated, whilst staff only have to attend to core functions as enquiries and customer feedback have been centralized (CFO Helpdesk operators). The CFO Helpdesk project contributed directly to improved staff morale, as output targets have been standardized, whereas all staff and all units use the same system to track transactions. Lessons learned and recommendations The major challenge experienced with this project was in terms of change management, i.e. to obtain the buy-in and acceptance of staff of the system. This risk was addressed by means of demonstrations and the training of staff, during which time the benefits of using the system as compared to the cumbersome manual processes were realized. It is strongly recommended that all new staff are trained as soon as possible on the use of the system, and that affected staff be trained when new processes are added to the system. Refresher training from time-to-time may also be beneficial. Future enhancements The possibility to integrate some of the functionality of the financial systems with that of the CFO Helpdesk is being considered, as it will enable the Department to notify its external and customers by means of e-mails on the finalization of transactions submitted for processing.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Department of Trade and Industry
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Anton Van der Merwe
Title:   Mr  
Telephone/ Fax:   +27 12 394 2901
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   private Bag x 84
Postal Code:   0002
State/Province:   Gauteng

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