You are hereE-governance


Municipal Information Systems – Founding the Dream in Reality

By: Lance Nel & Johann Engelbrecht of  Total Geo-spatial Information Solutions, Pretoria, South Africa,


Table of Contents

1    Introduction
1.1    Municipal Systems
1.2    E-Governance
1.3    System Vulnerability
2    Manifestations and Sources
2.1    Billing and Rates Errors
2.1.1    Solving the Problem
2.1.2    Cautionary Note regarding Cadastral Data
2.1.3    Solving the Problem of the Problem Solvers
3    Asset Registers and Qualified Audits
3.1   Clean Audit 2014
3.2   Financial Benefits of an Asset Register
3.3   Asset Management benefits of an Asset Register
3.4    Reasons for a Qualified Audit
3.5    System Foundations to Avoid a Qualified Audit
4    Process Management
4.1    Process Integration to Manage Registers to Avoid a Qualified Audit
5    System Integration
6    Data Responsibility
7    Integrated System Scope
8    Procurement Imperatives
9    Shifting the Paradigm
10    Conclusions

1 Introduction

1.1  Municipal Systems

Africa faces numerous problems. Chief of these is Good Governance, not only in business but primarily in Government itself. Government’s responsibility is to create the environment within which citizens can conduct their lives and business in a safe, equitable, dependable environment.

A citizen’s first contact with Government is at Municipal Level, from which the roads, water, electricity, sewerage and waste disposal services needed for daily living are rendered, or not rendered in many instances. To express it in Maslow’s needs hierarchy framework the basic level of the nations needs are met here. If they are not met, the entire system above this becomes irrelevant. Witness the intense frustration and anger of residents leading to various protests and riots, resulting in deaths, injuries and destruction of the very infrastructure and facilities that are meant to provide services.

Municipalities become sustainable (able to deliver the right service, at the right level, on a continuous basis) when:

1.      There is sufficient money [Income streams from Metered Services Billing (Water, Waste, Electricity), and Rates (to cover indirect services such as Roads, Parks, etc.), and Equitable Share (correct percentage of National Revenue)]

2.      There is adequate capacity [Appropriate skills, numbers of employees, equipment, structure, the will to serve and deliver]

3.      Their systems deliver the right information, in an understandable format,  at the right time to facilitate decision making, or operational processes management related to service delivery.

In this context the systems referred to are those defined in the Municipal Systems Act, and include the Financial System, The Land management System, the Valuation System, the Records Management System, the Document management System, The IDP management System, the Project Management System, and the many and varied reporting systems required by external bodies such as DPLG, Treasury, and so on.

1.2  E-Governance

E-Governance has come when the Municipal Management System is available on a digital platform and effectively integrates specialist systems, processes, people and data, into a single coherent operational whole. It is not merely connecting systems or data, but includes the management of people and the processes that make up the municipal value chain from input to output.

1.3  System Vulnerability

There are numerous factors that can make a system vulnerable to error or collapse, such as the data it contains, the way it manipulates and presents information, the business processes that result in data input, the integrity checking mechanisms that manage data quality, and many others besides.

Some factors are random and specific to particular data, such as a data-capturer who has a headache on a particular day, and enters some data incorrectly. Others are pervasive and systematic, and affect the entire data set, and the whole of the systems operation, form its very structure, through data capture, to presentation in reports. It is these latter foundational factors that will be addressed in this paper.

2       Manifestations and Sources

2.1  Billing and Rates Errors

One of the most frequent, and widely publicised, manifestations of system failure is the billing crisis in Johannesburg. Incorrect billing is a regular occurrence. To understand the possible problems we should “map” the process.

The billing crisis is paralleled by the many challenges against valuation roles published by municipalities, because of errors and omissions.

The billing process appears to begin with the reading of a meter, followed by capturing the reading into the billing system. The billing system then calculates usage since the last reading by subtracting the previous from the current, applies a tariff rate to the difference, and calculates the billable amount. This information is printed on a standard document and posted to the consumer, who should then pay this amount. Possible sources of error are:

1.      The meter was read incorrectly

2.      The reading was incorrectly transcribed

3.      The wrong meter was read (neighbours meter)

4.      The historic meter reading data has been damaged, resulting in an erroneous    calculation

But where did the process really begin?  It began when the land parcel, being billed, was created. This was then acquired by someone, and in theory a consumer should have been created in the financial system.

However, in well run municipalities between 5% and 15% of erven that exist on the ground are not in the financial system (based on the cleaning of data for nearly 60 municipalities in South Africa). In previous homeland areas this is closer to 90% because the erven are informal (i.e. not in the formal cadastral registration system), be they traditional and ordered, or random and informal (so called “Squatter Camps”)

Municipal Financial systems usually have some form of reference to the erf number, associated with a township code, i.e. a simplified version of the 21 Digit SG key.  When the land parcel number is not available some other random number is used, and the system is now vulnerable, because the creation of this number is not logically repeatable and the process cannot be traced, checked or audited. Or, if the municipal officials in finances where never notified that the parcel exists, it will never have been created, and the owner/occupant will never have been billed.

Let’s return to our original scenario of incorrect billing. On a fairly frequent basis we see financial systems discarded and new ones installed, because of billing failures. And then the new system also fails. In fact neither financial software system is at fault. The fault lies in the foundational data. In a system transition, when the foundational data is not clearly established then the data is easily damaged, and almost impossible to repair, because it connects to no auditable verifiable entity in a maintained system. The new system then results in greater chaos than originally existed.

2.1.1        Solving the Problem

The following steps, in a managed process, result in a solid, verifiable, auditable, foundation for correct Municipal Billing:

1.      Obtain the digital land parcel data set, and the Land Surveyors Diagrams data set from the Surveyor General (10% missing and 10% percent errors), and the digital Deeds Data from the Registrar of Deeds.

2.      Thoroughly cleanse this data in an iterative process, by connecting the parcels to the SG diagrams and deeds registration data, and correcting differences until all three datasets are cleansed.

3.      Link municipal financial data property register to this data set.

4.      Iteratively clean and check the financial data property register until it links correctly to the cadastral data

5.      Conduct a consumer audit using the new cleaned property register as the reference set, to identify and distinguish between owners and occupants.

6.      Conduct a meter audit to correctly link every meter to the correct property and consumer.

7.      Conduct a General Valuation based on this data

8.      Maintain all related linked data sets (Town Planning, Building Plans, Transfers)

The property register, linked valuation role, and associated consumer data will now be in a state that will enable correct billing of services and rates. This is of course assuming that the billing related processes are appropriate and correct, which may not be the case

2.1.2        Cautionary Note regarding Cadastral Data

The Cadastral Data System in South Africa has extremely high integrity by international standards. However the cadastral system is the paper system of diagrams and deeds, for which Land Surveyors and Conveyancing Attorneys are responsible. They guarantee your title. The surveyor general and deeds office merely store the records, in paper form. They also make available digital data summarising this Paper System. The digital system is not the system and is merely a mirror, incomplete, cracks and gaps, and all. The digital data integrity is constrained by work load, capacity problems and integration challenges in the offices of the Surveyors General and the Registrars of Deeds whose primary mandates are the Paper Systems.

2.1.3        Solving the Problem of the Problem Solvers

Many municipalities have been supplied with cadastral data, but still have billing related problems stemming from the data.

If the intermediary who sets up and maintains the system for a municipality is unaware of the problems and challenges in the Cadastral data, then they will clearly not resolve them, and in all likelihood, were they aware, they would not be able.

This cleansing is a time consuming resource intensive process that demands knowledge skill and experience. Municipalities should choose a qualified partner for this process. Not GIS qualified necessarily, but Land Management and Land Data qualified.

3  Asset Registers and Qualified Audits

The government has passed legislation, and set deadlines for municipalities to create asset registers of all their assets, including service delivery infrastructure. Historically assets were acquired and massed together in the financial system as a single value for roads, a single value for water and sewer, and a single value for electricity, and so on.

There was therefore no need to maintain accurate information relating to asset location, condition, maintenance, or disposals. Many engineers kept good records to enable the maintenance and management of the assets, but with the amalgamation of municipalities many plans were lost. Combining this with the massive turnover of staff, and the lack of capacity relating to numbers qualifications, skills and experience, most current municipalities are hard pressed to tell you how much of anything they own, much less where it is or what condition it is in. Expenditure on assets has been a wonderful fraud gap for the dishonest.

Legislation requires that a fixed asset register identify the location of every asset, and that each asset be broken into logical components. This is because different components will have a different Expected Useful Life, and differing maintenance requirements. Each assets condition must be assessed and a reasonable value determined.

Simultaneously financial expenditure on complete projects must be reconciled with assets found in the field. The entire asset register must be revaluated on an annual basis to ensure that it still reliably represents the asset values.

3.1      Clean Audit 2014

A qualified audit results in a downgrading of the finical rating of a municipality. This is one of the prime factors creditors use in determining loan risk to that municipality. Effectively they would then pay higher interest than others on their loans. The result is lower financial capacity to meet their other service delivery obligations.

The government has placed such a high importance on this issue that the Minister of Corporate Governance and Traditional Affairs, the honorable Sicelo Shiceka launched a program on the 16th of July 2009, titled “Clean Audit 2014” (Statement to Parliament), with the following factors mentioned:

1.      Achieve clean audits on Annual Financial Statements;

2.      Maintain systems for sustainable quality financial statements and management information

3.      Minister warned officials of Municipalities and Provincial Departments not to lose documents, especially when auditors are on site – culture of disclaimers will be created;

4.      Officials to have technical and conceptual skills;

5.      Interface between financial and non-financial information is a challenge

3.2        Financial Benefits of an Asset Register

Once the location and condition and delivery capacity of all assets is known, a rehabilitation and maintenance programme can be defined that is based on real data, resulting in accurate and reliable budgets. One of the major failures of municipalities has been under-budgeting on the maintenance and replacement of infrastructure assets, and under-budgeting on technical support staff to maintain assets.

3.3        Asset Management benefits of an Asset Register

Once the condition of each asset is know and a budget for maintenance is created, the maintenance programme can be monitored, and failure to maintain will be immediately apparent in the shortened useful life of non-maintained assets. This will make both negligence and bad management apparent, as well as make the real cost of failure to maintain measureable in Rands and Cents, and this can then be directly linked to the performance of the responsible individuals.

3.4        Reasons for a Qualified Audit

In brief the following factors are among those that, if occurring in sufficient instances to be significant could result in a qualification of the asset register:

1.      An asset can’t be physically located; raising the question does it really exist?

2.      Existing asset are not reflected in the register, making them vulnerable to theft and fraudulent sale

3.      The asset are incorrectly valued, raising questions of appropriateness of expenditure

4.      Project Financial Expenditure can’t be reconciled with Project Asset Registers indicating potential fraud or mismanagement

5.      Expenses relating to maintenance or refurbishment of an asset can’t be connected with an actual asset on the ground

6.      No paper trail substantiating the existence and finances relating to assets can be found

3.5        System Foundations to Avoid a Qualified Audit

GIS is the obvious foundation. Map and present the assets in a GIS, linked to databases showing attributes such as Components, Condition, and Value. A link to the financial system is required so that it correctly reflects the financial aspects of the assets.

Determination of asset condition and value are specialist engineering functions, with a financial implication. Maintenance of the financial dimension of an Asset Register is a fairly complex task, and goes way beyond the functional capacity of the average GIS. In other words a specialist Asset Management system is needed.

An audit on tens of thousands of assets demands very clever access to documents. Consider the mass of engineering plans, reports and the complex financial claim documents, and the need for a document and records management system is obvious.

The changing condition and value of assets demands a clever set of survey and data capture technologies to maintain the data. Here I suggest that GIS map enabled data loggers, with integrated GPS and camera are essential tools. Our discovery was that no commercially available software was adequate to the task of integrating these four technologies, (GIS, Database, GPS Camera) and so we had to write our own. Integrating this data back into the various component systems of the asset register presents yet another process and data integration challenge that must be solved with consideration of the structure and capacity of the client organisation.

An additional tool we have acquired to assist with the rapid an reliable acquisition of comprehensive infrastructure, land, land use and building data is the IPS2 Mobile Mapping technology from TOPCON. This provides a 360 degree digital image, integrated with a dense 3D point cloud at 45 000 points per second. From this every visible feature can be reliably mapped and assessed. Driving through a town at 30 kilometres per hour is rapid data acquisition by anyone terms. Massive time efficiencies and cost savings are achieved.

4      Process Management

Consider the following scenario to gain a brief picture of the system and process complexity in a district water delivery scenario.

A district municipality has six local municipalities in its area. Two of them are parts of former homelands and have hundreds of rural villages with hundreds of boreholes. There are two water boards delivering water in parts of these two municipalities, while other areas are serviced by the local municipalities. There are hence 8 role players excluding the district. Complaints relating to water and water infrastructure are received and processed by all of these parties. Both the National Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and The Department of Agriculture run projects in the area, and residents also regularly take water supply issues into their own hands. Much of the infrastructure crosses Local, District and even Provincial boundaries with shared infrastructure in all cases.

The total asset count is near 100 000 items, with some 40 000 water meters. Some read some not some working some not.

Now plan, create, maintain and keep records of all of this, and manage the interactions between role players, so that the auditor general can be satisfied that there is no fraud or misrepresentation. And do this in amongst the turmoil and pressure of service delivery protests, where each resident sees only their own need.

4.1  Process Integration to Manage Registers to Avoid a Qualified Audit

Now the need to manage all of the processes affecting each of the role players is abundantly clear, and imperative to achieve any measure of control and success.

Consumer complaints should be linked to the infrastructure shown in the GIS. This will create a record of infrastructure failures and help in the annual assessment of condition and resultant definition of a refurbishment program including the budget. Every service delivery point therefore needs to be linked into the system to facilitate the capture of these complaints. Complaints are then routed directly to the appropriate department or person to ensure rapid response. An analysis of the responses from the recording of complaints to finalisation then provides a measurement of the performance of the department and the municipality as a whole. It also enables tracking of and reporting to consumers on queries relating to complaints.

5       System Integration

System integration has to go way beyond data compatibility, and linking computers in a network, or even creating a workflow platform. It has to create a single operational environment where every processes begins and ends, and launches appropriate sub processes.

 All data, (Land, Town Planning, Valuation, Infrastructure, Asset Registers, Cemeteries, Complaints, Census, Financial, Planning, IDP, Projects, Performance, Contacts, Contacts, Human Resources, and so on) must all be made available through a single interface, where related documents can be accessed, and business processes initiated and managed.

This demands an integration of the base technologies namely Data Bases, Documents and Records, GIS, and Process Automation, in a single environment, for which we have used web functionality in the municipal intranet.

6       Data Responsibility

The multiplicity of data and processes in a municipality makes data responsibility difficult when there are many departments needing and using the same data. Generally there is duplication of data, with the associated discrepancies between data assets, leading to conflict between departmental reports and clashes in execution when processes cross departmental boundaries. An integrated system helps hugely with data currency, because only one set of each data is needed, which is then accessed by all who need to see it. The post or department who is specialist in specific data is then made responsible for that data, and is made the sole custodian responsible for maintenance.

Usually we try and make data maintenance part of process execution, such that the data is naturally maintained as an inherent part of the execution of the work in the process. The system must not be an onerous extra duty or it will never be used. You gave to make the individual’s task easier to execute using the system, and then embed data maintenance as part of that process.

One of the greatest challenges in this area is breaking loose form the constraints of paper based paradigms into a new digital world view. Fundamental to this is a clear grasp of the value contribution of each step in a process, some of which only exist because of the paper involved, but which are often religiously included in a new digital process, just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.  Key questions to break free are “Why are you doing it? Who will use it? Will we ever look at it again?”

7       Integrated System Scope

The system we have created is called the I7MIS or Integrated Municipal Information System and includes the functional areas as listed in the table below.

Functional Areas Description
  Easy, Quick, Smart access to information, and management of most municipal processes (Work Flow)
  In a map-linked (GIS) web-browser, including document management and financial linking
  With management of messages and emails in a job and project linked environment
  Providing comprehensive inter-linked reports for operations and management
  Calendar Diary, Tasks, Reminders,Appointments
  Inbox Messages, Emails, Tasks, Appointments
  Tasks Delegated or Process, due date, notes, attachments, flow, deadlines
  Contact management Corporate or Personal, Outlook Sync, Reminders, Notes, Task link
  Document registers Policy, Procedures, Notices, Legislation, etc
  Acting Temporary user substitution, and In and Out task redelegation
  Agenda management Define meetings, Agenda request, Approval, Compilation, Notification
  Minute management Type, Import, Resolutions, Actions
  Resolution management Assign Tasks, Monitor
  Venue management Booking of meeting linked venues & resources
  Building plans All aspects of process, scanning, diaries, finances
  Building register All building information (material, size), informs valuation, emergency info
  Contract management Record, responsibility, renewal warning, special conditions flag
  Client management All Client and Supplier organisation details and information
  Marketing Leads recording, follow up, management, reports,
  Supply chain Supplier database & tender and acquisition process management
  Interaction registration Record in categories, with map link, monitor, report
  Auto tasking Automatically route to responsible person
  Complaint monitoring See progress, respond to queries
  Document management Upload, scan, search, retrieve, docs, plans, new docs & proforma docs
  Records management File structure, approval, amend, archive, retention & disposal
  Post master Manage, distribute, monitor, index, file
  Content management Auto website content generation
  Financial information Linking & map reports of Debtor info (Age Analysis, Consumption)
  Valuations Acess to valuation related records and certificates
  Organogram Define organsiation structure and reporting
  Leave management Plan, Request, Approve, Manage, Report
  Perfomance manageme Monitor Progress on Tasks, Messages, Mails, Time
  Personnel management Capture Personnel details, organisational equity profile
  Electrical Map linked capture, access and viewing of information
  Roads Road assesment, capture & map linked access and viewing of information
  Sewer Map linked access and viewing of information
  Storm water Map linked access and viewing of information
  Water Process & maintenace with map linked access and viewing of information
  Asset management Register, assesment, maintenance, master plan & budget support
  Land management Find land parcels (formal, informal) view linked Info
  Property management Asset register of municipal land, management, reports
  Town planning Application process, subdivison, consolidations, zoning, land use, consent
  SDF Spatial Development Framework, Maps, Information and Documents
  Valuation management Valuation data, record, reports, objection. Regression line & other methods
  Land reform Restitution & Redistribution maps & progress
  IDP IDP Planninmg as outlined below, with automatic links to project management
  Project management Define phases, activities, costs, resources, expenses, claims, reports, map
  Time management Book time on projects and tasks, reports and management
  Planning Plan & manage process, delegate, monitor, report, issues, strategy
  Monitoring Monitor planning progress, and project execution
  Execution Move projects to Project management, and expand detail & manage
  Cemetries Booking, interment, monumental work, finances, maps
  Demographics National Census data, maps and reports
  Disaster management Record & report, maps
  Health Clinic related activities record and reports
  Heritage sites Record, maps, impact on development, SDF, applications
  Housing Manage applications, allocations, maps
  Local census Census data captured by the municplaity themselves
  Land Total erven and area per Town and Munciplaity
  Town planning Count of each usage and zoning
  Building plans 5 year and annual report on numbers and values
  Database Record count and user log statistics

8       Procurement Imperatives

Procurement of each municipal component system (GIS, Financial, Document, HR, Asset Register, Process Automation, etc) is generally done in isolation and separately from the others. Departmental staff bias also often results in personal preference systems, with huge integration difficulties, being acquired.

A comprehensive system strategy is required, which will:

1.      Define implementation priorities and budgets for at least five years

2.      Take account of every departments real needs, versus software functionality

3.      Move definitions of needs from data definitions to process management needs

4.      Marry needs with technology and system capabilities

5.      Account for the paper to digital paradigm constraints in users involved in definitions

6.      Focus on identifying supplier capacity to understand and support the full domain and    integration need

7.      Create an assessment mechanism that measures real needs and delivery capacity against costs

8.      Consider the integration capability and cost as deal breaking parameters in system assessment

9       Shifting the Paradigm

Systems are only used effectively when people have the will and the knowledge to do so.

Implementations therefore require not only effective technical training but an educational component so that users can grasp the value of the system, and understand their role as a part of the whole.

This “revelation” of purpose must however be accompanied by a Behaviour Change process, so that the prevailing culture of fraud and neglect can be transformed into one of honest caring. Closing the opportunity gaps for these “at risk” behaviours existing in the current deficient systems, with a tightly-integrated system will provide added pressure for this change.

10       Conclusions

Effective integration of all municipal systems is not only possible, but is in fact an imperative for them to become sustainable in fulfilment of their mandate, namely the effective and efficient delivery of services. This is viewed as practical e-Governance.

E-Governance is in fact not only possible and imperative, but has already been implemented, in South Africa, with a South African developed system called the IMIS.  Such a system need also not be prohibitively complex and expensive, as is the case with some similar foreign systems. The IMIS is in fact affordable by all municipalities. The system can in fact be demonstrated to be self funding when the increase from managed revenue streams is considered. When the improvement in operational efficiencies and the associated savings are measured, then there is unquestionably a business case for even the poorest and struggling municipalities. This is of course besides the legislative and audit requirements, which remove the question of if, and leaves municipalities only with when and which to consider.

The success of the E-Governance dream needs to be founded in the reality of creating proper data foundations, and effectively integrating all the component technologies, namely GIS, Databases, Document and Records management, and Process Automation, in a Web environment.

E-Governance can result in Good Governance when combined with appropriate training and education, and a Behaviour Change process.

This is the dream, the hope, of most, if not all, Africans.





ISO 9001:2008 Cetrified Company

DISCLAIMER : This web site contains information of a general nature which is not warranted for accuracy. Specific action based on the information should only be taken after reference to TGIS directly. The copyright of all the content of this web site vests solely in TGIS.