Enabling socio-economic growth

Thandisizwe Kopolo, Gijima’s chief client officer – Public Services

Information and communication technology (ICT) provides a platform to deliver services to the public and achieve the objectives of enabling socio-economic growth.

ICT has the potential to make local government more efficient and people-centric, and is a powerful instrument in increasing productivity, generating economic growth and creating job opportunities.

But to what extent has South African municipalities embraced this new concept since the advent of democracy? Service spoke to Thandisizwe Kopolo, Gijima’s chief client officer – Public Services.

How has South Africa progressed since the advent of democracy when it comes to ICT in the municipal arena?

The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs is driving the smart city agenda, and the core of that is ICT infrastructure that can enable municipalities to achieve the objective. Joburg, for example, wants to become smart in all aspects, providing services that are easy to access and use while at the same time being efficient, responsive in an open and transparent way; and ensuring sustainability financially, environmentally and in quality service delivery. For this the City will deliver quality ICT systems and services to encourage active involvement and engagement by its citizens, including municipal services provided to households via a broadband infrastructure.

How are things different now?

We have seen installation of smart meters in some areas, with Joburg aiming to install between 10 000 and 12 000 meters a month in the first phase of the smart meter rollout. The total number of meters installed by October 2015 should amount to 50 000. The rollout of fibre-optic cables will improve the lives of ordinary citizens from a connectivity point of view and will modernise the country’s transmission infrastructure to achieve world-class broadband connectivity. A distance of more than 12 000km will eventually be covered. The demand for broadband in South Africa is escalating, and will be met as more capacity becomes available on the submarine cables linking the country, and Africa, with the rest of the world.

How have municipalities benefited from technology opposed to previous manual, lengthy processes?

The optimisation of state ICT infrastructure and improved service delivery and turnaround through technological advancements are benefiting residents by creating better places to live and work, more sustainable jobs for the unemployed and bridging the digital divide by providing the means for, for instance, pupils who do not have Internet connections at home being able to access the Internet for school projects. The resulting, more efficient running of municipalities is expected to lead to a satisfied resident corps. In areas where smart meters have been installed, municipalities are generating more accurate bills and experiencing less technical losses. Smart metering generally involves the installation of an intelligent residential meter and the regular reading, processing and feedback of consumption data to the customer. The key functionality of smart metering covers areas such as billing data collation and verification, revenue management, operational support and information to manage power outages, maintenance and network upgrades, as well as customer service information, integration methodologies to transfer data from and to legacy systems, and load switching and control data.

Which technologies will benefit government going forward?

Broadband availability is much needed to bring the cost of connectivity down. Enabling e-learning to effectively take place without too much cost is also important. Broadband networks will be the drivers of growth and development, and will provide opportunities to solve the socio-economic inequalities standing in the way of creating wealth and prosperity for less advantaged populations. Strengthening the capacity to build effective and efficient ICTs with excellent management systems, effective policies and streamlined processes for effective decision making and service delivery, should be key strategic focus areas. Broadband should ensure the availability of affordable broadband connectivity for residents, which will support socio-economic development.

What has been Gijima’s involvement?

Gijima is a SAP All-In-One Value Added Reseller for Local Government. We have developed the only certified SAP Municipal template that is fully compliant with the requirements of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA). We have been involved in significant SAP delivery and support projects for local government in the past. We have also recently implemented the first SAP Blueprint for the refinery business in the country.

Looking at public-private partnerships with municipalities – what should the private sector be aiming for?

One of the key challenges facing municipalities is the collection of outstanding funds. Through improved billing and collection processes, funds can become available to fund the necessary infrastructure and development programmes.Our aim in partnership with municipalities is to drive the improvement of municipal financial management, billing and collection through the use of smart meters and technology solutions.

How do we compare internationally?

Local Government recognises that it is lagging in adopting technologies which could assist it in addressing its challenges. It also recognises the need to embrace technology and hence has partnered with companies such as Gijima to be more competitive. Research ICT Africa last year reported that while South Africa’s ICT sector is experiencing dynamic growth, the growth has not met the national objective of affordable access to the full range of communication services. Some of the reasons for this are poor institutional arrangements, ineffectual regulatory environment, limited infrastructure and bottlenecks, and pricing.

What are our biggest challenges?

Ageing IT infrastructure, regulatory issues and finding investors. Mutual investment and co-operation between government and the private sector is crucial if we want to grow our economy, attract investment and compete globally.

Lindsay King


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