• Systems support

    Joseph Khumalo, director of Total Geo-spatial Information Solutions, on how advanced mapping data can be a boon for municipalities

    Systems support

    It is well known that South Africa’s local governments are frustrated by not being able to meet the needs of a growing urban population and the development of new industrial areas for economic growth. It’s also common knowledge that many are unable to afford to upgrade or maintain their existing infrastructure, which in turn frustrates their customer base, because every aspect of service delivery is negatively impacted.

    What is not as well advertised – yet adds to local governments’ failings – is their diminished internal capacity. 

    For example, many annual financial statements are not submitted on deadline (or at all) and may show inaccuracies; poor or incomplete accounting; overspend on budgets; non-existent or deficient infrastructure-management systems; loss of organisation knowledge… The list is long and damning. 

    However, these are all challenges that can be overcome if a reliable base of geographic information is created and maintained in a geographic information system (GIS) as the foundation of an integrated management information system (IMIS).

    GIS allows for the storing of co-ordinates that define a feature – such as latitude, longitude and height – which help people know where they are, where things are and how to navigate to them. GIS can also hold additional descriptive information about a feature, including the erf where a building is sited, the street address and even a photograph. 

    This is a simple interpretation of something many of us are exposed to daily when we use GPS for navigating a car, or by using Google Maps that provide us with a 360-degree streetview image. GIS is, however, so much more than just a navigation tool; it is also applied to many specialist applications and, for municipalities, it is a game-changer.

    ‘The purpose of municipalities is to deliver an environment in which all its citizens can create the wealth they need to live or aspire to,’ says Joseph Khumalo, director and majority shareholder of Total Geo-spatial Information Solutions (TGIS), which was established in 1999 to formulate and employ methods that help develop people, processes and systems that facilitate good governance.

    ‘This means the focus should include safety and security; economic activities that attract investment and create a stable production environment for wealth generators, such as industry and business; the creation of bulk infrastructure that facilitates a standard of living and quality of life; and education and skills to enable citizens to be self-sufficient,’ he says. ‘These are huge deliverables for municipalities. However, the challenge lies not in the objectives nor even the strategy, but in the practical-implementation failures.’ 

    Khumalo provides an example. ‘The lack of maintenance is a glaring problem where maintenance spend on infrastructure is one-third to one-fifth of the internationally recognised level required to maximise investment in creating that infrastructure,’ he says. 

    ‘For instance, if it takes ZAR3 million to build one kilometre of road and ZAR100 000 per year to maintain it, over 15 years that equates to ZAR1.5 million, and a lifetime cost of R4.5 million. If maintenance is not undertaken, minor flaws that appear in years two or three rapidly become major failures in years five to seven. The road will need to be rebuilt at a cost of ZAR4 million, after inflation, which means the road has now actually cost ZAR7 million.’

    This is but one of the areas where TGIS delivers transformative information services. Another relates to financial sustainability. The revenue base for a municipality is land, which houses owners and occupants, who receive billable services, such as water and electricity. 

    ‘Typically municipalities that are working efficiently have between 5% and 15% of land-parcels data acquired from the surveyor general [SG] that is either missing or incorrect. This situation is even worse in struggling municipalities,’ says Khumalo. ‘Electronic-deeds data, which used to be close to flawless, is also now revealing numerous errors. Together these negatives create a shaky revenue base.

    ‘No organisation can be financially viable on the basis where 15% of clients are not in the system and don’t pay for services. This data must be corrected and then maintained, which is the first task TGIS undertakes.’

    When TGIS steps into these environments as a solutions provider, it introduces spatial intelligence with the implementation of the IMIS, of which various modules have already been deployed in some 40 South African municipalities. Essentially, IMIS knits together workflow and document management on a GIS and data-technology base. 

    ‘IMIS is built around an integrator module, which manages and administrates the municipality’s organogram and users’ module-access rights, in a communication environment that comprises email, chats, tasks, a calendar, reminders and so on,’ says Khumalo.

    The TGIS IMIS is built around land parcels, and links owners’ deeds data to SG spatial data. It is also applied to town planning and zoning schemes, and serves to integrate finances relative to mapping, which describes occupants and their services’ consumption and billing, rates billing and payment history linked to an age analysis. 

    ‘IMIS also kickstarts build control to manage the receipt of applications, approval processes in a workflow, objections, and final approval or rejection, all of which are linked to finances that close the loop on required payments. Also, any data relative to property valuations is captured and stored, and values are indicated on valuation rolls.’

    Where the TGIS IMIS also excels is in infrastructure, such as managing roads, stormwater and wastewater, electrical networks, community assets and service meters, to mention but a few. Asset registers can be componentised and asset-maintenance schedules will be based on TGIS mapped services. 

    Cemetery management is also included in the infrastructure environment. And, almost topping this, is that TGIS can create organisational capacity within management structures.

    ‘There are at least six TGIS advantages that come into play,’ according to Khumalo. 

    ‘The first is creating organisational capacity with the introduction of practical systems that allow workers to do their jobs. And where a municipality doesn’t have skilled human resources, our systems allow for remote capture and maintenance of relevant data. 

    ‘The second is our development of rigorous methods for the execution of processes to ensure compliance with required legislation, regulation, standards and best practice.

    ‘Third is that TGIS systems create and maintain comprehensive audit trails to ensure we know who did what, with what and when, which helps reduce the fraud space. 

    ‘Fourth, our systems integrate with third-party database systems, such as that required by the Municipal Standard Chart of Accounts [mSCOA].’ Notably, TGIS was the first in South Africa to create a seamlessly integrated mSCOA-compliant asset unbundling process linked to the financial system.

    The fifth advantage is that all the above advantages are housed in an integrated environment that facilitates communication. 

    ‘Finally, our sixth specialist solution is in the application of technologies for data capture, which includes 3D mobile mapping using a vehicle to capture 360-degree images and 45 000 points a second, with X, Y and Z co-ordinates creating a point cloud,’ he says. 

    ‘We use this process to capture the location and clip an image of every visible asset – from road and electrical, to sewer manholes and water chambers – using our own specially created software, Assetrix, which is integrated with Planet GIS, our local GIS of choice.’

    Obviously an assessment audit would determine which TGIS services are required, but largely such an audit covers policies, financial status and systems, server and network environment, user workstations, internet connectivity, existing systems, GIS status, valuation system, land and infrastructure management data, document management and staff capacity.

    ‘Although all municipalities operate under the same constitutional mandate and deal with the same service-delivery requirements with basically similar departmental structures, every municipality is unique in its name, location, specific structure and its workforce,’ says Khumalo. ‘This uniqueness is reflected in what we do, which is ultimately about empowering these businesses through the magic of spatial intelligence.’  

    By Kerry Dimmer
    Images: Marc Shoul