Mobile App Against Monsoon Damage

October 29, 2013 by Nicolas A. Zeitler 0

Foto: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

When the monsoon season hits India in June, it regularly batters holes in Mumbai’s roads. Soon, the citizens of India’s largest city will be able to report monsoon damage to the municipal authorities via a new smartphone app. The “Pothole Service,” developed by SAP in collaboration with local government authorities, is already being piloted in several of Mumbai’s 34 administrative districts, which, if you include the suburb belt, are home to more than 18 million people.

This new citizens’ service is one component of an extensive IT upgrade that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the city’s local government body, has been working on since 2007.  The mobile damage alert service is a typical example of how today’s major cities are deploying information technology to the benefit of citizens. “Cities are in competition with one another,” said Professor Wu Siegfried Zhiqiang, Vice President of the University of Tongji, China, and chief planner of the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, at a recent meeting of the Münchner Kreis, an association devoted to researching the use and impact of communications technology.  In this atmosphere of competition, it is not enough to set up infrastructures such as smart grids; cities also need to drive IT projects that provide tangible benefits for citizens, added Jörg Eberspächer, who is professor emeritus of Communication Networks at the Technical University of Munich. The findings of market research firm Gartner confirm this view, especially where India is concerned. There is a phenomenal demand on the Indian subcontinent for “local mobile apps that solve everyday problems for consumers,” explains Gartner analyst Shalini Verma.

Cell phones, smartphones, tablets: 700 million mobile connections

From an SAP viewpoint, everyday aids such as the pothole alert service go perfectly with the principle of “user empowerment” – that is, giving citizens the opportunity to participate in the everyday life of their city.  This active citizen participation, says Jens Romaus, SVP Public Sector Industries, is a major element of the global SAP Urban Matters program, in which SAP has bundled its offerings for municipal authorities.  The conditions required for this kind of mobile reporting service to achieve a high level of acceptance are clearly favorable. India has a population of 1.2 billion; according to Gartner, the number of mobile connections in the country will reach about 700 million this year – an increase of 12% compared to 2012.

Next page: Isolated solutions replaced by SAP ERP

With offerings such as the Pothole Service, the MCGM – which has an annual budget equivalent to US$ 4 billion – is adding new elements to the SAP ERP-based IT landscape with uniform, end-to-end structures designed to create transparency, which it has been building up with SAP’s help since 2007. Prior to the joint project, the MCGM deployed isolated solutions for administrative processes such as billing for water consumption and property tax. Also, documents were processed by hand.

Generally speaking, Indian citizens pay their electricity and water bills to the authorities in person. Until just a few years ago, the inhabitants of Mumbai had to visit separate local government offices at different locations around the city in order to pay their bills and request other citizen services. “As you would expect, lots of people choose to visit their local government offices during their lunch break, so those tended to be the peak times with long waiting times – no matter which government office you went to,” says Mathew Thomas, Vice President Strategic Industries in India. Over the past eight years, the MCGM has redesigned its structures and created a new IT landscape alongside the old one.  Now, the citizens of Mumbai are spared the annoyance of waiting in line at various different local government offices. “New citizens’ centers are available at which people can pay all their bills at once, therefore saving on the time and extra cost of traveling to different locations,” says Thomas.

Certification made easier

In the last few years, the MCGM has opened some 500 citizens’ centers across the 168 square-mile area of the city. This means, for example, that the citizens of Mumbai can now go to a center of their choice to obtain certified copies of their birth certificate. “The birth certificate is a crucial document in India. You need it for all kinds of administrative processes, such as enrolling children at school,” explains Thomas. Citizens’ data is now stored on a central computer system, which means that people no longer have to submit original certificates by hand in order to obtain certified copies.

Next page: Central IT system brings discipline to urban governance

As well as delivering a wealth of everyday benefits for individual citizens, MCGM’s standardized IT platform is also helping create an overview of all the schools in the city. This, according to Thomas, will enable the authorities to compile key data, including how pupil numbers are developing. They hope to use this data to gain insight into whether there are enough teachers available and where new schools are needed. They also hope to obtain information about whether children are receiving their vaccinations.  In Mumbai, children are generally vaccinated against diseases such as polio at school.

Increased transparency in local government budget

One tangible side-effect of the uniform IT structures, says Thomas, is a “new level of discipline in public administration.” In the past, each public authority was responsible for its own billing and settlement. Today, all the postings made by the different authorities are stored transparently in a single system. Senior managers at the MCGM can now see at a glance how much of the annual budget has already been spent in the various areas of responsibility and how much money is still available for other projects.

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