31 Jan 2020

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the provision of service delivery in South Africa

Dr. OS Madumo - School of Public Management and Administration, University of Pretoria

The introduction of technology

I will be the first to admit that the technologies that have been developed since the beginning of humankind have improved our way of life. The first three Industrial Revolutions are said to have primarily been about mechanisation, mass production and automation. This implies that industry 1.0 was bedrock of industries 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0. For instance, with the creation of the machines in the 1780s, mass production was possible in 1870s and further development of those machines also aided automation in particular industries in the late 1960s. Thus the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will advance the strides made by its predecessors, i.e. 1st, 2nd and 3rd Industrial Revolutions.

Why is it important to contextualise?

Today we take it for granted that when a child is born to parents who are citizens of a country, that child has to be registered in a national population register of that country and get allocated an identification number to help the government recognise who they are. We take it for granted and assume that when you wake up in the morning water should ooze from the tap for you to bath and drink, lights should switch on for you to prepare breakfast when you throw trash in the rubbish bin, it should be collected to avoid pests and infectious illnesses. All these are the functions and responsibility of the government. It is arguable that government exist to provide collective services to its citizens, through tax collection. All the examples given above utilise technologies to enable the provision of those services. For instance, water reticulation system and reservoir system are needed to facilitate water service provision in communities, electrical power generation is essential to the provision of electricity to households. Government is arguably the biggest procurer of goods and services, thus the development of technologies, even in the private sector, have a greater impact and far reaching implications in how the government will provide services.

Improving service delivery through technology

Who would have thought that in 2019, academics and medical practitioners from the southern tip of a “dark continent”, working in a public hospital would break new grounds in the world’s first ever inner ear transplant by using 3D printed materials to replace the small bones in the inner-ear? Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, Head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria, was the leading surgeon in this operation. This surgical treatment proves beyond reasonable doubt that the effects of the 4th Industrial Revolution display positive effects to the delivery of services to communities. People in the rural communities walk considerable distances to fetch medication from their local clinics and hospitals for their chronic illnesses. In other instances, they walk as much as 50 kilometres (32 miles) to the nearest health facility. Thus, early in 2019, there were innovators that piloted the dispensation of medication by delivering them through the usage of the drone technology in Rwanda. In South Africa, the drone technology was used by the South African National Blood Service to collect and deliver blood across the various health facilities within the country. In both the cases, there was collaboration with some biggest telephone network service provider and the government department and agencies to achieve this. The projects proved to be successful as they minimised the turnaround time for the delivery of medication and blood specimen, despite some minor challenges.
Therefore, with these examples, I hope I have managed to capture the significance of technology usage in the effective provision of public services. The interface of rapid technological advancement and government functioning will enhance the experience of providing services to the communities. Thus, in the long-run technology will improve the turnaround time for services to be rendered, minimise bureaucratic red-tape, and advance the development in communities.

Looking ahead: embracing technology

Without any doubt, technological innovation has changed our way of doing things. In actual fact, the advancement of technology have simplified our daily management of our lives, from preparing breakfast, how we get to move around through electronic hailing services, to how we make purchases and pay service providers. The greatest concern on the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that of the threat to the labour market. It is widely speculated that the 4IR will shed some redundant jobs, however, its proponents argue that it will create more opportunities for employment creation in the cyber-space, artificial intelligence, machine-learning and biotechnological innovations. The public sector can derive great benefits from technology. The future of the functioning of the government will rely on advanced technology. In the next five to 10 years, a lot would have possibly changed and these changes would be to the benefit of humankind. Let us embrace the technological advancement and make the most of the opportunities that these innovations bring to our lives. Governments should appreciate the fact that technology exist to augment and complement its processes for better decision-making and effective delivery of services