Putting the 'e' in e-government
The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers many potential benefits, not least of which is providing local government with access to a wide new range of tools and solutions – from cloud and Internet of Things, to big data and advanced analytics – which it can leverage to improve the services it delivers to citizens.
With the significant push towards digital transformation, inspired at least in part by the pandemic-driven switch to remote working, there are a number of technologies and solutions being considered – or already leveraged – by local government to help improve service delivery.
According to Kutlwano Chaba, chief digital officer, SA Local Government Association (SALGA), to fully realise the benefits brought about by 4IR, SALGA has spent the last few months developing a digital strategic framework for the local government sector.
“This framework takes into consideration a number of things. The overall challenges the sector is facing include tight fiscal constraints, a slowing economy, increased audit requirements, rapid urban migratory patterns, ageing infrastructure – and the need for more infrastructure rollout – and a highly regulated environment. This is compounded by financially constrained consumers. And, despite this, these same citizens have increased their service demands from municipalities,” he says.
“As a sector, we also compete for a share of the consumer’s wallet, in the sense that, sometimes, they’re forced to choose between buying groceries or paying rates and taxes. This leaves municipalities in the quandary of being expected to deliver more with fewer resources. And, of course, there are still challenges in how some funds are spent or not spent.”
Remember, too, that local government as a sector is process-intensive and data-heavy, he says, pointing out that it has multiple stakeholders and is collaborative by design, with a lot of performance areas to be measured.
“All this speaks to a myriad problems, and opportunities. This starting point has helped us to fully appreciate our environment, where the challenges lie, and where technology can assist.
“Perhaps the most important questions are: how can we use the technologies that make up this new digital revolution to bring value to the sector, and how do we deliver better services in the most effective and efficient manner?”
Chaba suggests that the local government sector is a hyper-data-rich ecosystem, adding that SALGA has identified key areas that can make use of this data to solve sectoral problems and address opportunities, while also servicing citizen needs and experiences.
“Looking at the potential opportunities, we’ve noted that digital technology would also enable new use cases that may create better business models for the sector and lead directly to new revenue streams for the municipalities. Two key things emerge here, namely the adoption of technology to enable SALGA ‘to do the right things’ and the desire to obtain, through data analytics, a better pulse of the organisation’s work.”
From an infrastructure perspective, Chaba notes that SALGA is looking at how it can migrate from a dependence on physical infrastructure to more efficient cloud alternatives.
“We have a number of players in this space to work and partner with, as well as platforms that will allow us to harness and manage the large data sets that we create within the sector, and particularly as municipalities. This offers a great foundation to build various views, data services, and other functional and data utilities that fall under the umbrella of services.
“These services allow us to take the data we have and build a number of APIs that can be repeatedly used to deliver functionality and data solutions to various user-facing applications – both internal ones and those of third parties – all with the aim of addressing use cases, user journeys and problem statements,” he adds.
User-facing applications are also key, he says, suggesting that these must be mobile, web-based, or on the edge. This approach should enable municipalities and the sector in general to fully adopt fit-for-purpose digital interventions, allowing them to operate as a well-oiled machine in delivering the right level of services.
Asked which technologies SALGA has found to be most useful in this regard, Chaba says there are four areas that provide the most relevant and high-impact technology.
“Firstly, in the area of asset and infrastructure management, we’re adopting IoT and telematics solutions to ensure full value realisation. We’re also evaluating a number of industry solutions, especially home-grown ones. These are evaluated through the lens of the first four archetypes,” he says (see sidebar on SALGA’s eight archetypes).
“Secondly, there’s cloud computing, both from the point of view of it being a platform for hosting applications, and serving as the foundation for a strong data analytics capacity. Thirdly, we’re looking at advanced analytics capacity and data sciences in all spheres of local government, from geo-informatics to infrastructure management and on through people and financial management and citizen-engagement. The last is specifically in the areas of natural language processing and conversational AI.”
Perhaps the most important questions are: how can we use the technologies that make up this new digital revolution to bring value to the sector, and how do we deliver better services in the most effective and efficient manner?
Hyperautomation and robotic process automation are also high on the agenda, says Chaba, as is SALGA Digital, which is designed for launching efficiencies within municipalities via high-volume repeatable processes.
“We also mustn’t forget how important people remain in this technological equation. We need our people to have the technical skills to truly transform the technology environment. So not only do we need new skills, but we must also remain focused on building a strong technology skills capacity, by reskilling existing technology professionals. We also need to skill non-technology people into becoming more digitally literate, if we’re to fully realise the value delivered by digital technology.”
To this end, he says, SALGA has embarked on a training series for the sector that focuses on broadband technology and the value it brings – including use cases that can be enabled with fast, reliable connectivity, which is even more crucial now as 5G rolls out.
“This is aimed to empower our member municipalities – both elected officials and government employees – to fully appreciate where the world and industry is moving to – and to begin embedding this digital evolution within their integrated development plans. It also ensures that municipal leadership can begin exploring new business models that are made possible by technologies such as 5G.
In addition to these efforts, SALGA also works with a number of sector education and training authorities (SETAs), collaborates with academic and research institutions and private sector companies to deliver additional training and skilling interventions in the areas of technology and 4IR.
National government, through the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, has also begun a programme to train one million youngsters in the areas of data science and other 4IR-related areas. Fully incorporating all these efforts, he notes, will also benefit the sector by ensuring it has the necessary human capacity and competencies to fully navigate this digital journey.
“In addition, from a digital literacy point of view, we’re looking at orientation training interventions to ensure more experienced people can easily reskill and pivot to new digitally-enabled career paths. The local government SETA and the media information and communication technologies (MICT) SETA, along with a recently added partner – the Bank SETA – are crucial in enabling SALGA to accelerate its training efforts for the sector, and ultimately to help bring less technology-enabled communities into the digital mainstream,” says Chaba.
* This feature was first published in the July edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.