|ICTs in the water sector – where do we stand?
|Expanded Title:||Over the last decade ICT systems have become known as a potential solution for developing countries and their information needs. The wide distribution of mobile phones in even the most rural environments, has created the suggestion that cellphones are far more than a mere communication tool. Cell-phone systems used for data collection, mobile payment and crowd-sourcing initiative to improve governance and other applications are offering a new way of using technology to improve access and might have the potential to improve service delivery.
The WASH (Water and Sanitation and Hygiene) sector has also seen an increase in ICT applications mainly for the purpose of improving data collection, information flow between decision makers and engagement with the wider public.
This research project was undertaken in order to assess the status-quo of ICT solutions in South Africa. The aim of the study was to understand in more detail the potential for ICT in the South African water sector, to learn from the successes and failures of existing systems and understand the enablers and barriers for ICT implementations.
One of the aims of the study was to identify how the South African water sector could benefit from the use of ICTs in order to establish national research needs and to initiate an agenda for the development of a long-term strategy of the use of ICTs in the WASH sector in South Africa.
As part of the literature review, 111 papers from a variety of journals, conference proceedings, agency reports and the internet were reviewed. An abundance of literature was found in the ICT4D and mHealth fields, but significantly less in the water sector, particularly for South Africa.
In the related sectors, key findings were that long-term evaluations of ICT and mobile projects are urgently needed in order to improve existing systems as well as develop new systems more appropriately. Some authors suggested that improving the evidence base for mobile applications is the greatest challenge to widespread adoption. Currently there is no substantial and rigorous assessment that provides proof for the tangible benefits at a reasonable cost that new ICT solutions might offer.
Another highlighted shortcoming was the notion that the sector as a whole has little understanding on how to measure success of an implemented projected. Common frameworks and a strategy to integrate existing and new systems into a single platform were highlighted by most authors.
It was found that the majority of ICT systems in the public sector are used for information gathering and sharing or co-ordinating actions and rely on technologies such as sms, voice or form-based data collection. Factors contributing to successes were realistic programme goals with solid knowledge of problems, early engagement with users and a clear assessment if the technology was the solution to the problem.
In the WASH sector, it was highlighted that mobile phones have not yet been leveraged to their potential and that ICTs could transform the sector if ICT solution are assessed for their use in monitoring, planning and management.
Mobile payments in the water sector might offer in the future a realistic alternative to current payment methods, particularly by reducing the costs associated with traditional billing methods. Aspects such as the probability of consumers paying their bills when the amount of time and energy required is reduced were mentioned as an incentive to investigate this area further.
The literature of smart water metering projects and implementation showed similar conclusions as the health sector. There are no formalised or long-term evaluations or studies providing sufficient evidence to counteract the high implementation costs that come with such systems.
The second part of the study focused on stakeholder survey in order to contextualise the findings from the literature review. Practitioners and experts were interviewed through semi-structured interviews and a workshop held with 30 participants in the water sector. Key findings from this indicate that over the last five years there has been a substantial increase of ICT usage in the South African water sector. Broadly, the applications currently implemented, in development or envisaged can be categorised into the following areas:
- Customer Management
- Operational Management
- Financial and Control Management
In all of these areas, ICT applications are used to collect information, streamline information flow and improve work processes. The majority of the systems highlighted as successful showed two key aspects, namely, the system integrated into existing structures and the municipalities had made financial commitments to maintain the system. This correlates to the findings of the literature review of what makes ICT systems successful.
Experts in the field were concerned about the sustainability and the “wear-off” factor of the new and unproven technologies. Aspects such as not being able to measure the real impact were seen as a clear hinderance to the adoption of ICTs.
Integration with existing systems was probably the greatest concern. Past experiences of maintaining multiple systems, the resulting data duplication and increasing cost have resulted in a resistance to implementing new technologies without a clear strategy for systems integration.
Similarly, aspects such as institutional challenges, resource limitations, budget constraints, were identified to be a major hinderance to the progress of the water sector and participants felt, that ICT systems would not be able to address these issues sufficiently.
Barriers identified by both areas included:
• Lack of policy, guidelines, or frameworks to work in
• Failure to correctly understand project incentives
• Stakeholder relevance incorrectly identified
• Inadequate design methodology and evaluation
Recommendations for future projects and research
Three areas were identified which the findings suggest to be of benefit for the ICT sector in South Africa:
1. Development of a framework to analyse ICT projects in order to allow long-term evaluations and impact assessment of ICT projects
2. In-depth investigation to map the current IT practises within government which would allow a clearer understanding of the current use of IT as well as the strategy and vision for the future.
3. Developing an ICT community to connect networks across different sectors, such as academia, government and industry.
|Document Type:||Research Report
|Document Subjects:||R & D - Information technology
|Document Keywords:||Asset Management, Financial Models, Society, Technology
|Document File Type:||pdf
|Research Report Type:||Technical
|WRC Report No:||TT 571/13
|Document Size:||873 KB