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June 26, 2018

Making municipalities interactive

As part of its vision to be a responsive, developmental and smart municipality, the City of Ekurhuleni has begun the implementation and testing of Boxfusion’s Smartgov for Citizens app.

“What we want to do is empower our citizens to be able to engage better with the city on issues of service delivery,” says Chief Information Officer for Ekurhuleni, Tumelo Nganane. “I think the app will improve the level of communication because it’s an additional platform above walk-ins and call centres.”

Reshaping service delivery

The Smartgov For Citizen’s app has been successfully tailored and rolled out in municipalities in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, as well as exported to a province of Ghana, but this will be its debut in Gauteng.

This Boxfusion solution has been designed with citizens in mind and allows them to report a range of service delivery issues to their local municipality, to great success. Not only can users report issues, but media can be embedded on the app. This means that a concerned citizen can take a photo of a fallen tree, or dangerous pothole, and upload it along with their report.

“It also works with Google maps,” says Nganane, “which will alert a user if a similar issue has been reported within a kilometre of them, for example.” This functionality also allows users to monitor the municipality’s response to related issues in their area, such as power outages.

Smartgov for Citizens is designed to close the communication loop between residents and municipal services. Once a report has been logged, the user receives a ticket and reference number, and is constantly updated on the progress of the resolution. For example, if an engineer is sent to the site, the person who reported the issue will be notified, right up until the case is closed.

Working both ways

The app not only empowers citizens by opening up communication lines, but it also helps public service officials to become more efficient in addressing voters’ needs. “With the app, we can receive issues quicker, and respond faster,” says Nganane.

Although the solution is still in the testing phase, it’s anticipated that it will be used to report and resolve the wide range of service issues that the City of Ekurhuleni is mandated to address. “People can report anything we are responsible for…outages, potholes, water leakages, sewers, emergency services, health services and safety.”

It’s also hoped that in the near future, the app will be used for other municipal services like renewing licences, for which the functionality already exists. “As we roll out more phases, we’ll be able to bring more functionality over and above just reporting issues,” he says. “We’re already able to access and download documents, for example if you want to renew your car licence.”

About accessibility

The Smartgov for Citizens app is about giving people on the ground a direct line to government officials. Because it’s based on a principle of accessibility and communication, it also has a USSD function for people who don’t have smart or feature phones, or who are out of airtime. Citizens simply dial a provided USSD code and follow the prompts to log a report.

Plus, the app is free to download across various types of smartphones.

The app is set to target between 100 000- 300 000 users within the Ekurhuleni municipality, once testing and implementation is complete. “But we’d want to grow the numbers to cover the entire city,” says Nganane. Officials will also be educating communities about the app through roadshows and local media spots to encourage usage.

Testing, testing 123…

Acquiring the Smartgov for Citizens app was simplified through the RT15 contract, and because it has been rolled out in partnership with Vodacom, the required infrastructure is already available.

“The department had developed something similar, but it wasn’t addressing the requirements, so when we heard about the RT15, we thought this would fit the purpose,” Nganane explains.

“It had to be customised to integrate with the existing environment, to push and pull data from other systems within the city, and there were a number of features that we requested enhancement on.”

All in all, Nganane says that working alongside Boxfusion on the customisation and rollout of this app has been a pleasant experience. “From what I’ve seen, their work ethic and commitment to the project has been great,” he concludes.