Help to major South African cities facing numerous challenges may be at hand, thanks to a bold initiative by Microsoft.
While South Africa’s major cities are home to more than two-thirds of the country’s population, and generate more than 60% of the country’s GDP, they are facing a range of complex challenges. These include the need to modernise aging infrastructure, provide critical services to citizens, and deal with socio-economic issues like unemployment, social inequality, poverty, crime and disease.
To combat this, Microsoft revealed a bold initiative, Microsoft CityNext, to use a range of technology – including cloud technology, mobile devices, data analytics, and social networks - to help South African cities become more prosperous, despite struggles with urban decay and budget demands.
The initiative aims to use cities’ existing technology infrastructures to connect functions like energy, water, infrastructure, transportation, public safety, tourism, recreation, education, health and social services, and government administration. An important element of the programme will be a focus on helping cities create small businesses, develop skills and reduce unemployment.
Microsoft South Africa managing director Mteto Nyati said technology could play a key role in not only helping city managers provide critical services to growing populations, but also address the burgeoning socio-economic challenges faced by cities.
“The bigger picture is that cities can become the engine-rooms that will drive Government’s National Development Plan objective of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030. This is where we can drive real impact around areas like enterprise development, empowering our youth through job creation and skills development, creating a safer and more secure South Africa and improving service delivery,” elaborated Nyati.
A key focus area for Microsoft CityNext is safety and security, with an emphasis on helping cities protect their citizens in times of crisis. When critical information is allowed to flow seamlessly between government, businesses, and citizens in emergency situations, people will more readily get the resources they need to deal with the crisis. One potential Microsoft CityNext customer, the Western Cape Government, is investing in more modern technology capabilities to help it operate more efficiently. Lance Williams, the chief information officer of Western Cape Government, said the ultimate beneficiaries of a more sophisticated technology infrastructure would be citizens, who would enjoy more responsive and transparent government services, many delivered online.
To the point
“Helping South Africans to become entrepreneurs can play a critical role in tackling unemployment, by empowering our people to become the job creators and economic drivers of the future,” said Nyati. “If we can work with cities to help small companies to succeed in the first 3-5 years of their lives, we will help grow job creation and economic development significantly. This will have a major impact on the well-being of cities and entire communities.” Nyati said Microsoft would also work with its vast network of solution partners to help cities transform their operations and infrastructure; engage their citizens and businesses; and accelerate innovation and opportunity.
“According to IDC’s Smart City Maturity Model, many cities are now in the first stages of implementing smart technology solutions as part of a 10- to 15-year path to realising full transformation potential. The result of ‘smart city’ initiatives will ultimately enable cities to attract businesses and citizens to build more vibrant city landscapes and competitive economies,” he concluded.