The lack of proper information system design has resulted in long queues at most of the service providers in a number of public service departments in the government and companies.
The only way ahead is for the government to step in with policies that ensure that customers are given the best service at low waiting times. This has to be mandatory in order to renew business licences of companies and also to allow service delivery to continue by government departments.
A few days ago, I had a terrible experience of waiting in the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) queue for more than two hours with about 200 people and noticed that only 4 customer service representatives were at the counter. In an hour, 20 people were served. I had no choice but to leave but when I went to get another ticket, I was told by the security officer that I was supposed to see another section. My waiting time was basically a waste due to improper advice by the security personal. I then thought why is the security personal giving advice to the general public about tickets at the counter? This is an example of a poor information system design by the FNFP and they must ensure that their customers are given proper services – not by security officers but by trained professionals who know customer service.
FNFP should invest in internet based ticketing system so that people can book online (get their tickets online) and on their website the current ticket should be displayed so that people can take timely leave from their work and wait in the queue. Moreover, it is also the responsibility of the organisation to ensure that more customer service representatives are at their booth to serve the large number of customers. FNPF can provide a number of services for their customers using web (Internet) based services. These services include account statement and application lodgement for housing, education and other areas. Official or certified documents can be dropped in by customers once a reference number is given by the web based system. A trip to our neighbours in Australia and New Zealand can help FNPF officials study information systems in areas of service delivery that are related and adopt where possible.
The same can be said about the services in Land Transport Authority (LTA) who are responsible to ensure road safety. LTA does not support online payment of fines and there is no online system for drivers and vehicle owners to check their accounts. Online payment is relatively simpole and supported by Fiji Electricity Authority and Water Authority which helps in avoiding long queues by customers.
Banks in Fiji also have very poor information system design and web based services. It is common to find long queue lines at banks and most of applications procedures waste time of customers in filling form of information that the bank already has in their files. There is a lot of replication of the data entry process which is costly both for the bank and also for the customer in terms of time.
Currently, smart phones and access to quality and affordable internet is on the rise and organisations such as FNPF, LTA and Banks should show examples of systems in use so that smaller businesses can also adopt in the future.
Long queue lines are hard to tackle in government hospitals and health centres who operate with lack of information systems as patients do not have timely access to their own health medical records. Patients have a health information card which is not useful in most centres as they use paper based medical records. Moreover, the waiting time of patients can range to several hours without any feedback if their problem was actually solved by the medical practitioner. An internet – web system online medical record system can help patients view their medical records and also book appointments. Hospitals websites can display the current ticket being served and hence patients can wait and go to the hospital when their ticket number is approaching. Online electronic systems can be used to check if medical practitioners are giving the best services to patients. This can encourage transparency and help in medical practitioners improve their service delivery. Similar systems can also be used by the private medical practitioners.
One of the reasons long queues are created is when the customer service representative is absent from their desk in during working hours. There can be cases where the FNPF representative is in a long waiting queue at the LTA office paying fines. The long queue in LTA is due the representative waiting with a ticket at the bank and then filling a form in the bank that could have been done online.
The funding required to implement such types of advanced information systems is something for the government and donor agencies to look into in the future. There will be a time in future when public service delivery will be required to have special information systems compliance similar to that of OHS and Fire Authority. Only then, the public will be given the best service with transparency and accountability. Information systems to reduce long waiting lines can help in raising the productivity of the organisation and also benefit the growth of the economy of the nation.
Dr. Rohitash Chandra
President, Software Foundation