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More municipalities go digital to boost service delivery

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 20 Jul 2018
Residents in Ekurhuleni can engage government about service delivery-related issues via a mobile app.
Residents in Ekurhuleni can engage government about service delivery-related issues via a mobile app.

The race to bring municipal services closer to the people is heating up, as more local government agencies are using digital channels to communicate with citizens about challenges related to service delivery in their communities.

This week, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality and City of Johannesburg (COJ) unveiled e-service solutions to promote citizenry communication and simplify cumbersome municipal operations.

Ekurhuleni municipality, in partnership with Vodacom Business, launched the My Ekurhuleni App. Described as a smart citizen app, the mobile solution aims to provide the municipality with a real-time, two-way communication engagement platform with citizens to report and resolve service delivery issues, from water to sanitation.

Speaking about the app, Dinah Kheswa, managing executive for Vodacom Business public sector, says: "Vodacom is using mobile technology to bring about administrative efficiency and enhance communication between government and citizens in an effort to support service delivery.

"We have successfully introduced the citizen app platform in the Eastern Cape, where it is making a real difference in service delivery, and we are confident that it will be similarly well received in Ekurhuleni."

Smart citizens apps

David Prosser, CEO of ComUnity, believes government has quite a unique set of challenges.

Prosser explains citizen expectations for services are set at the same benchmark as those provided by Silicon Valley giants.

He goes on to say citizens expect to get services seamlessly and easily, and the executives, who are driving the government organisations, are also asking why they can't deliver services like this to their citizens.

"The first thing is that with smart government, you are serving the citizens, so that means your target market has to be absolutely inclusive. When people talk about digital inclusion, it means services are delivered in an inclusive way. Whether you are servicing someone in Sandton or Diepsloot, the citizen has to get the same quality of services, no matter what part of the socioeconomic structure they are in."

If you are building a smart city, Prosser adds, it is not just the citizens who need smart interfaces, but the councillors as well. "The contractor who is going to fix a water fault, for example, needs an interface. The people servicing the city need a customer service interface and so do the people."

ComUnity, which delivers a digitisation platform across multiple channels, has been rolling out its citizen engagement platform to local government entities, like Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, Knysna and George municipalities.

In Buffalo City, the company has introduced a mobile-based service that allows ratepayers to avoid municipal queues by getting statements and buying electricity via an app.

The Buffalo City app also has a function for residents to lodge complaints as well upload photos of municipal issues, such as burst water pipes or non-functioning traffic lights.

"When you provide services that are a value to people, people adopt them. The key thing is adding value; people don't use services that don't add value to their lives," notes Prosser.

Creating smart municipalities

Ekurhuleni municipality looks to use the app as a means to efficiently and effectively manage service delivery issues faced by citizens in that community.

Through the app, residents will be able to log queries and complaints, find municipal facilities, find local representatives and other contact details, download service delivery forms and get status updates on logged incidents.

Citizens can use the USSD option for feature phones and the app to report any issues.

Kheswa states: "We are essentially bringing government closer to the people and providing an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability in the process. As a corporate citizen, Vodacom is responsible for helping government deliver services as efficiently as possible, and we are excited to see the positive change which the solutions will bring to communities."

Smart city ambitions

The COJ has made clear its intentions to become an innovation-driven and smart city.

In line with its smart city strategy, it launched an integrated ICT system that aims to simplify and streamline cumbersome municipal operations.

In a statement, the COJ explains that software firm SAP will anchor the business transformation programme, while EOH, Gijima, and Accenture will be in charge of the implementation process.

Most applications will run on a mobile platform, making municipal data transparent and available to the public through an open portal. This will enable employees and residents of the city to view their personal profiles, manage their energy consumption, pay municipal bills, and apply for leave, among other features, according to the statement.

The system will also be able to monitor and manage the municipal fleet, including the BRT and metro buses, and manage traffic congestion in the inner city.

Dr Ndivhoniswani Lukhwareni, city manager, says a highly automated business process will cut costs for the city and revolutionise municipal operations. "It will harmonise the provision of municipal services, making the city have a unified and strong ICT focus."

Newly appointed CTO, Cyril Baloyi, says a digitised platform will ensure Johannesburg has a single view of municipal services and citizens. "The city's ICT infrastructure is obsolete; we need to move to an efficient, automated tech system that'll improve accountability in municipal operations."