South African city empowers citizens to help improve roadways
By Microsoft on June 5, 2017
Filed under Microsoft in Government
The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) maintains roadways, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure for South Africa’s most populous city. To improve its operations and address public criticisms, JRA released the Find and Fix mobile app, which allows motorists to easily report roadway issues through a smartphone. JRA reduced issue resolution times from 32.4 days to less than a day, which boosted its image, increased citizen satisfaction, and improved driving conditions across the city.
A cosmopolitan metropolis
Johannesburg, with a population of 4.4 million citizens, is the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest cities in the world. Johannesburg—known popularly as “Joburg,” “Jozi,” or “Egoli”—traces its roots to large-scale diamond and gold mining and trading operations, and it is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the country’s wealthiest province. The city has a highly diverse population and is a vibrant economic and cultural center that lives up to its motto: “a world-class African city.”
The mission of the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) is to provide Johannesburg’s residents and visitors with quality roads that are useable, safe, and livable. JRA began operating in January 2001, and it is responsible for monitoring and maintaining 13,428 kilometers (8,343 miles) of roads and 902 bridges across the city, in addition to traffic signals, footways, signage, and storm water infrastructure. Since JRA is responsible for highly used public resources, its work is easily visible to residents and visitors, and like many public agencies, JRA has been the target of public criticism when infrastructure issues occur.
Refocusing on its service charter
Since its inception, JRA has struggled to maintain a reputation as an effective and responsive city agency. “The public perceived JRA as an organization incapable of delivering on its mandate and adhering to the turnaround times specified in its service charter,” says Bertha Peters-Scheepers, Operations Manager: Marketing & Communications for the Johannesburg Roads Agency. “Customer feedback indicated increasing levels of frustration with unanswered calls, inadequate updates about repairs, and an overall lack of communication and service delivery.”
Part of the cause for the difficulties was the fact that the centralized city call center handled calls to report roadway and other related problems—and it didn’t have sufficient staffing and organized procedures to manage high reporting volume. Once staff logged the calls, repair crews sometimes faced challenges finding the exact spot where the problem was located. Additionally, the agency wasn’t able to group multiple calls about the same problem, resulting in further operational inefficiencies.
In early 2014, the agency’s shortcomings took on an additional sense of urgency, due to a series of torrential rainstorms that swept through the region. Drivers who were used to navigating around potholes now encountered roadways where large sections of pavement had been washed away. As people became increasingly frustrated with the road conditions—and with the damage to their cars resulting from the rough driving—JRA faced increasing pressure to respond to problems more quickly and efficiently.
A multichannel solution to engage citizens
It was clear from public feedback that the traditional call center model for handling complaints was insufficient, so JRA took a new approach. “To improve operational efficiencies and decrease turnaround times for responding to faults, we adopted a strategy to become more available and accountable to citizens,” says Peters-Scheepers. “We opened up multiple platforms for reporting problems directly to JRA, including social channels like Facebook and Twitter. We also started looking at new technological solutions.”
JRA began a series of conversations with Intervate, a Microsoft CityNext partner, about developing a mobile app for the agency’s specific needs and that anyone could use to submit issues. The app would be based on the Intervate Smart Citizen product, which enables bidirectional engagement between a city’s service providers and its citizens. “We wanted to empower citizens to be part of the solution for reporting road-related incidents and to also provide JRA with a richer data set that includes GPS locations of problems,” says Peters-Scheepers. “Additionally, the app would allow people to take pictures of the fault—whether it is a pothole, a missing manhole cover, or a broken signal—and submit the photos along with their incident report.”
Intervate felt that a cloud-based solution made the most sense. “When you’re designing a system like this, you need to plan for the worst-case scenario, when serious widespread roadway problems or signal outages and call volume is at its highest,” says Craig Heckrath, Smart Citizen Product Manager at Intervate. “Achieving that kind of scalability with a traditional on-premises solution means purchasing a lot of hardware, much of which goes unused a lot of the time. With the cloud, resources can grow or shrink as needed.”
Intervate chose Microsoft Azure as the cloud platform and backbone for Smart Citizen and the JRA solution. As a longtime Microsoft partner, Intervate’s choice to use Azure seemed natural, but the partner did its due diligence and investigated other options before making a decision. “Azure was well ahead of the other solutions in terms of delivering platform as a service—it’s really a whole cloud operating system that includes access to powerful features, such as Azure SQL Database,” says Heckrath. “It also offers a superior level of security and has built-in compliance with the Protection of Personal Information [POPI] Act, which governs the use of citizen data in South Africa.”
Adds Peters-Scheepers, “Microsoft is a strategic vendor for JRA, and we’ve centered our technology strategy on Microsoft products, from operating system to productivity software. So we were comfortable with the choice of Azure as a cloud platform.”
Find, fix, and serve
Intervate spent three months customizing Smart Citizen to create the new JRA app, called Find and Fix, and JRA rolled it out to the public in April 2014 with a public relations campaign using the tagline, “Snap It, Send It, We’ll Fix It.” The campaign generated numerous online and print articles, in addition to radio and television interviews across a variety of outlets. “When the app was launched, city residents came on board with great enthusiasm,” says Peters-Scheepers. “Find and Fix encourages active citizenship, and it enabled us to reduce the average time to resolve a service request from 32.4 days to less than a day.”
Find and Fix is a free download available for people using Windows Phone, iOS, and Android devices, and in the first year, it was downloaded more than 60,000 times. It continues to be a popular channel for reporting incidents to JRA, with approximately 250 issues logged every day.
In addition to making it easy for people to report problems, Find and Fix includes features that make it easier for JRA to manage the process of repairing them. Multiple reports in the same geographic area—which may represent numerous notifications about a single issue—are grouped so repair teams can be dispatched more efficiently, with less duplication of effort. JRA can also better manage workflows with visual dashboards that provide summaries of outstanding and resolved issues.
In November 2016, JRA and Intervate enhanced the power and capabilities of Find and Fix with the release of version 2.0 of the app. People can now subscribe to watch lists to keep abreast of issues logged in a particular area, and they can follow announcements about road closures and other notifications. The system has also been expanded to include a web interface for logging issues, and JRA has the capability to alert app users about status changes for issues via push notifications.
“There’s no question that the Find and Fix app has dramatically improved our levels of service delivery, and that has enhanced the reputation of JRA, strengthened our brand, and reaffirmed citizens’ faith in the JRA Service Delivery Charter,” says Peters-Scheepers. “It has also positioned the agency and the city as being at the forefront of technology and innovation. Johannesburg is Africa’s largest economic hub, and the improved road infrastructure that comes with faster call logging and repair times offers significant benefits for the economy.”