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New models are needed for the way IT is procured and delivered to the public sector, or there will be more overpriced projects that deliver little real value to citizens.
This is according to Justin Coetzee, founder of GoMetro, the tech start-up that is rolling out a mobile scheduling information system in partnership with Metrorail.
GoMetro, based at mLab at the Innovation Hub, in Pretoria, is now completing national rollout of a mobile platform that delivers near real-time schedule updates for train commuters.
The first region, the Western Cape, went live in September last year, and already has over 250 000 monthly users.
Coetzee says the partnership model was a win-win situation for Metrorail and GoMetro.
"Instead of just building them a bespoke system, throwing it against a wall and expecting it to stick, we partnered with Metrorail. We retain ownership of the platform, with the revenue share agreement on any advertising revenues, and Metrorail benefits from a 60% to 70% project cost reduction, along with ongoing product improvement. We have invested in the viability of this product, so it is in our interests to constantly improve it."
Coetzee says this model does away with the standard billable hours model for application development. It also does away with massive overspend and possible disappointment in the resulting project.
"There are plenty of examples of public sector IT implementations where a shared model would have been more beneficial," says Coetzee, citing the recent Free State Web design debate as an example.
In addition to cutting costs, Metrorail has seen other benefits through the partnership, says Coetzee. In order to offer real-time updates across all regions, GoMetro needed to assist some regions in upgrading their infrastructure to deliver that information. It also has the positive spin-off of engaging commuters on a more personal level.
Coetzee says GoMetro users are a vocal and interactive audience, with over 4 000 suggestions and comments received via the new mobile platform within its first two months of going live. GoMetro responds to these comments, and has acted on several of them.
"One of the common suggestions we got at first involved the colour of the app screen. We had made it light green, thinking this would be easier to read in sunlight. People asked us to change it, so we did. They also wanted weekend train schedules, so we added those too."
GoMetro is learning a great deal about consumer needs as it modifies the platform. The company feels while it could have generated a great deal of revenue by charging according to a billable hours model, this would have been a 'short-term win'.
"By retaining ownership of the platform and extending the applications across the transport sector - both in SA and abroad - we are building the Facebook of transport - which we see as a much better long-term investment," he says.
Coetzee will address the upcoming ITWeb Mobility Summit on the Metrorail project, the partnership model used to roll it out, and the lessons GoMetro learnt along the way. For more information about this event, click here.