Time To Transform - Business Media MAGS

Voice of the Local Government

Time To Transform

​Systems, infrastructure, maintenance, and data are the lynchpins of effective digital transformation and service delivery, writes Tersia Booyzen.

There is mounting pressure on local government to participate in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) by transforming systems and technology to adopt innovative digital and mobile e-government solutions, says Professor Marijke Coetzee, deputy HOD of the Research Academy of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Johannesburg.

“Unfortunately, the implementation of modern systems within local government has been associated with disappointing outcomes. Real digital transformation can only succeed if there is a committed management team, significant investments, and a clear set of goals.

“Implementations of local government ICT systems tend to be fragile with many teething problems. Parents and teachers of learners are exposed to hastily developed systems, such as the online application system for Grade 1 and 8 for the 2020 academic year, resulting in chaos at some schools.

“Digital transformation is multifaceted and can only be successful if government officials recognise and deal with the impact on its client base.

“The core of any digital transformation is to have efficient and transformed operational processes at the centre of government departments or services. The Johannesburg Roads Authority implemented the Find & Fix mobile application in 2014 to allow road users to report any road-related defects at the click of a button. Residents successfully used the app, but its performance and effectiveness has steadily declined due to maintenance problems. Since November 2019, it has basically been at a standstill, illustrating the lack of commitment to its upkeep.”

Coetzee adds that “government systems are characterised by silo-based implementations across the tiers of government, making the intelligent use of data for integrated and focused service delivery exceedingly difficult. Data is the lifeblood of a modern government and should be stored and protected carefully. Reports of hastily and weakly implemented and released systems are cause for concern, as citizens’ sensitive data can be exposed.”

A growing data demand

South Africa’s COVID-19 cases are beginning to rise rapidly, and it is inevitable that resources will run thin. Tech solutions must work together with human fieldworkers to use real-time results to allocate scarce resources to where they are needed most. That is where 4IR tech comes into play to guide leaders, with real-time decision-making support.

Jeremy Flax, vice president of Product Experience at BroadReach says that there is always going to be a challenge around having enough resources such as health workers, PPE, critical medication, ICU beds or ventilators. This means anticipating areas with the highest disease burden and balancing supply and demand will be key.

“This must be done at a granular level to ensure a quick turnaround and the most effective decisions. Swift response times save lives. To date more than 1.3 million people have been screened via the Vantage Community Screening app – a significant COVID-19 milestone, but even more important when it can be overlayed with supply data,” says Flax.

Flax and Bernard Katz, senior manager of Product Management at BroadReach, share some insights learned in the field.

“As we get deeper into the pandemic, new questions constantly need to be answered. That calls for agility. Tech solutions should facilitate an approach where priorities can be shifted in real-time, empowering velocity not just at the national level, but also at a provincial and even ward level.

“Geomapping is crucial to focus appropriate strategies at a regional level. We use GPS coordinates to pinpoint the location of screening and testing activities. The aggregated data collected from these activities can then be presented as clusters to support decisions such as staff and resource allocation. By drilling into ward level, resource reprioritisation can be faster and more effective.

“Patchy data is a consistent issue in public healthcare. COVID-19 has been an eye-opener, exposing a challenging data environment for everyone. We use data at different levels of completeness from different sources to inform our seven tech-led solutions through the Vantage platform.

Rigid data pipeline management means myriad sources inform a single line of sight. This means you can get a coherent picture, despite the challenge of multiple sources. Creating this picture is not possible without partnerships. We rely on our partners across the board – Microsoft, PEPFAR, USAID, departments of health, healthcare workers, community workers and more – to collaborate around data and execute on it.

“As a country and continent, we need to move away from paper. Real-time intelligence is critical to speedy decision-making. That requires digitalisation through careful change management and training.”

Katz concludes, saying: “Tech for tech’s sake won’t work. Right now, we need to leverage partnerships to give action-focused insights that reprioritise resources to where they are needed most.”

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