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The service delivery quick wins IOT could offer SA

By Ewald Fourie, co-founder and CEO of IoTdc.

Johannesburg, 24 Apr 2024
Ewald Fourie, co-founder and CEO of IoTdc.
Ewald Fourie, co-founder and CEO of IoTdc.

The government’s smart cities goals may be admirable, but progress towards this ideal has been slow – possibly because the vision is too broad and undefined. In the meantime, basic service delivery challenges are mounting across the country, many of which could be addressed quickly and relatively easily by harnessing internet of things (IOT) technologies.

Defining smart cities

The slow progress towards smart cities could be due in part to how broad the concept is. For example, does the term smart city relate to a particular size of settlement, to the pervasiveness of the technology, or to particular technologies in use?

A Smart Cities Framework prepared by the Department of Cooperative Governance in 2021 acknowledged there was a "lack of a common understanding of the concept", which made it difficult for some to identify appropriate interventions.

A recent report on smart city projects to the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure outlined plans to develop new greenfield ‘smart cities’ instead of focusing on making existing cities and infrastructure smarter.

This is where we believe a huge opportunity is being overlooked. It is not necessary to build new cities to enable better service delivery – South Africa has an opportunity to use smart technology to overcome challenges in cities that already exist. 

Building new smart cities instead of improving current service delivery is much like buying a new car because the old one needs an oil change, except new cars don’t cost hundreds of billions of rands. And building smart cities from the ground up would mean citizens would have to wait possibly decades for improved services. 

By using technologies like IOT, we could significantly improve service delivery and address issues like wasted expenditure and fraud in a matter of months, which might explain government’s reluctance to deploy IOT.

Use cases for quick wins

IOT has been used to enhance and optimise major challenges in transport, housing, health, water, sanitation and electricity, and deployed for smaller actions like weather monitoring and early warning systems.

Examples of use cases include:

In utilities, IOT can be used to pre-emptively predict where there will be issues with plants and equipment, enabling maintenance before a breakdown and so reducing outages. By logging all performance and maintenance data, IOT systems can provide audit trails to reduce the risk of fraud.

IOT not only reduces the risk of fraud, it also supports compliance – for example, with occupational health and safety regulations. Our clients are using IOT in mines to monitor air quality parameters and track people, to ensure safety protocols are complied with.

In water treatment plants, IOT sensors can monitor parameters such as water quality, pressure, temperature and chemical leaks to ensure compliance with standards, identify contaminants in water and optimise treatment and supply.

In the power sector, IOT can monitor consumption, and help businesses and households lower their bills and reduce wastage. For suppliers, IOT can also identify illegal connections, and for municipalities, it could help reduce expenditure – for example by turning off street lights when there is no traffic on the road. It could also be deployed by alternative power producers, making solar panels and wind turbines more efficient.

IOT even offers benefits in areas such as waste management. In a recent POC, we showcased an easy use case in which level sensors were installed on waste bins. Instead of trucks being sent to empty the bins to schedule, they only needed to travel to the bins when they needed to be emptied. This slashed the cost of resources and fuel.

IOT is capable of solving key problems. As a low-hanging fruit for service delivery, it should be one of the first priorities of any entity looking after public safety and utilities. We believe more discussion is needed between the public sector and private sector experts, to explore the efficiencies and enhancements that could be possible with the use of IOT.