Sound Project Management Ensures Successful Release Of Madiba Notes

By now, everybody has had the opportunity to experience the new South African currency notes, reflecting the face of the beloved former President, Nelson Mandela, launched in November 2012.

Project managementAlthough unchanged in size, the notes are of global standard and boast superior and innovative security features, such as; a watermark image of Madiba, embossed lines on the side of the notes and spark colour-changing ink to name a few.

While it is exciting to have new bank notes and comforting to know that it will be less likely to receive a counterfeit note, the preparation for the release of the notes was a monumental task. What the ordinary consumer often does not consider is the changeover required of software in ATMs, note-counting machines, slot machines, note-validators and note-sorters. Such technology is driven by software that recognises each note and either validates, counts the value or pays out the correct value. Software at thousands of locations across South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia had to be upgraded.

Neal Dowds from Global Payment Technologies (GPT), a Bidvest company, confirms that the transition process went well. “As with any such big projects there were a couple of teething problems, but in general the project was delivered within budget and deadline for all GPT customers, including most of the major banks”, says Dowds.

A challenge that the industry faced is that the sample money is of single note print, in other words all samples were printed at one printer. When the actual money is released there is a multi-vendor approach as one printer could never handle the bulk of printing required. Using various printers will always results in slight variations, such as; ink quality, print shift and size differences. For instance, if the print is just a fraction skew it will adversely affect the technology which could lead to a high rejection rate of notes, even when there are no counterfeit notes in the batch. This will obviously frustrate banks and cash centres.

A further challenge is that, as the notes deteriorate, it becomes necessary to build up a database of the varied conditions of the notes and update the software accordingly so that used notes are not rejected. Different notes will deteriorate at different levels and notes deteriorate at a different pace in different areas. It is therefore necessary to wait until there are notes at different stages of deterioration before launching a second phase of the software upgrades. “This is not a unique situation and is how it works globally,” says Dowds. “The South African notes are on par with the best in the world and deterioration will not happen any faster than in other countries”.

When considering that the new notes are of such high quality and contain such high security features, it is surprising that there are already falsified Madiba notes in circulation and some losses have been encountered, even by banks. “Any change over of a money system will leave a gap for fraudsters,” warns Dowds, “especially in rural areas where shop owners have not been trained on the look and feel of authentic notes”. The counterfeit notes are not of very good quality, in some cases even printed on incorrect paper. These notes have also been found to have very few of the requisite security features.  Due to the fact that the old notes were at the end of the seven year cycle, equipment that was released seven years ago was still in use. Older technology may not pick up that the note is falsified. There are many different levels of technology and the lower end of the technology, such as a UV light, might not pick up a falsified note. This is often the case in the retail and informal sector, where the equipment is less sophisticated. Higher-end technology will perform ultraviolet checks as well as metal thread detection and infrared detection to better identify counterfeit notes.

In order to prepare for the release of the new money and minimise the window of opportunity for fraudsters, the efficiency of the project management was important. “The first step was to establish whether equipment in use was compatible and whether a software upgrade could be done, especially as the metal thread on the new note is different from the old big five note series,” Dowds explains. “At GPT a ‘Madiba project team’ was established and broken into various product teams to service the different sectors such as banks, cash centres, retailers and casinos. Software was developed for each sector and tested before implementation. A large user training initiative was simultaneously launched.” Communications with customers became important as the roll-out was done nationally through the various support branches. At the banks security policies had to be taken into account and all technicians had to have security clearance. At casinos technicians licensed to supply the gaming industry had to be used.

The success of the project was enhanced by the fact that the national roll-out was implemented regionally. According to Dowds; “All the banks in each area worked together and technicians only had to be deployed to a specific area once. After the release of the money the project entered into the next phase where teething problems were sorted out. There will also be further work to be done when the old notes are recalled, which may occur as early as the end of 2013. The component of the software that recognises the old notes will have to be removed.” Throughout the project, 5000 devices throughout South Africa and neighbouring countries were upgraded. Supply chain relationships were taken to a new level as all suppliers internationally had to form part of the project. It is through total supply chain integration that the project could be executed.

“The result of the project was that we got closer to our clients”, says Dowds. “There were good and bad times, but a lot of interaction. It also gave GPT the opportunity to prove to our clients that we can meet deadlines. Good communication, regular meetings and transparency were the main ingredients of successful project management. The project went well, despite the deadline being brought forward by two weeks”.