Urban matters

Cape Town Mayor, Patricia de Lille, and international dignitaries who attended the event
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The ‘African Urban Matters, Cities of the Future’ event, which brought together local and international leaders and experts, looked at new, innovative technologies and governance, writes Michael Meiring.

“Transformation is not the same thing as service improvement. It’s not doing a bit better what you do now, it’s doing things very differently than how you do them now.” These were the words of Glyn Evans, former director of the Birmingham Transformation Programme and international delegate at the SAP African Urban Matters, Cities of the future event.

In November last year we saw a host of local and international delegates come together at the SAP African Urban Matters, Cities of the Future event which took place in Cape Town. The aim of the event was to discuss ways in which local government can utilize innovative technologies and best practices, and integrate it with governance in an attempt to improve local government practices and the lives of citizens.

The Cape Town event was the African chapter of a series of international SAP events that have been hosted in cities such as New York (USA), Puebla (Mexico), London (United Kingdom), Auckland (New Zealand), Berlin (Germany), Delhi (India) and Bogota (Colombia). As per SAP, the events showcase best practices of cities around the world, and provide an interactive forum to address local specific issues. The event featured local and international delegates from Africa and Europe and saw representatives from among others Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya and the United Kingdom come together to discuss issues related to urbanization and the share some of their views on how we can address issues that arise from this phenomenon.

The opening address was delivered by City of Cape Town mayor, Patricia de Lille, which was followed by African Ideas’ Nirvesh Sooful who spoke on the matter of integrating new technologies in local government practice. "The need of the hour is to rapidly accelerate the benefits of ICT-enabled change through transformation of the public sector and the wider economy. In order to flourish, African cities must equip themselves with the best possible technical tools to directly tackle environmental and social challenges, underpinned by proven budgeting and management processes," Sooful mentioned.

Andre Stelzner, CIO, City of Cape Town shared his experiences on what it takes to be an integrated city. He spoke on the matter of value creation and what this means in a modern, urbanized context. He distinguished between financial and social value and the importance of integrating both in order to uplift and enhance the lives of urban residents.

The City of Johannesburg’s Jak Koseff, department of social development, elaborated extensively on the social responsibilities of cities and touched on a multitude of issues modern cities face. Some of the more prominent topics discussed included the urban poor, substance abuse, food and shelter related issues and gave examples of these issues may be addressed.

Among some of the international delegates, we had Glyn Evans, Former Director of Birmingham’s Transformation Programme presenting a case study on City Transformation. He gave examples best practices from the United Kingdom that has improved the lives of urban residents through the Birmingham Transformation Programme. As per Evans, “transformation is not the same thing as service improvement. It’s not doing a bit better than you do now, it’s doing things very different from how you do them now.”

SAP Vice President, Sean O’Brien’s spoke about the aims of what SAP Urban Matters would like to achieve through the event. He spoke the positive effects we would like to see on our citizens’ lives and mentioned important focal points such as job creation, safety, better service delivery and improved living experiences for our citizens. He elaborated on this by presenting five key pillars that are to be in place for these improvements to realize namely, good governance, user empowerment, community engagement, service innovation and urban resilience. SAP intends to strengthen these processes with five strategy pillars from their side being, analytics, applications, mobile and cloud services, and technology and databases.

As per SAP, having worked with cities and urban governments across the world, they have developed a deep understanding of the challenge and opportunities associated with urban development. They mention that the SAP Urban Matters initiative focuses on helping urban governments deliver the citizen-centric services and efficiencies needed to be best-run cities. This, according to them involved three over-arching themes:

  • Helping improve urban liveability and create an inclusive, safer, greener and cleaner city.
  • Transforming city governments so they are open, high performing, effective and efficient
  • Driving economic prosperity in cities, through better management of city finances, improving tax collection, helping small businesses to grow and making the city more attractive for investment, skills development and innovation.

 "With the global focus on Africa, governments across the continent are relying on innovative technology to help them prepare for issues associated with rapid urbanisation," commented Pfungwa Serima, CEO SAP Africa. "We have been working with city, state and local governments in Africa and many other cities across the world to transform and innovate since the nineties, SAP Urban Matters intensifies our the importance of our urban focus and defines how we will support best run cities in the future."

Michael Meiring

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