Amajubas success story adopting technologies in critical times

The COVID-19 outbreak has left the world reeling from shock. It’s easy to freeze when caught unawares, but to stay in that vulnerable position could cost a business dearly and leave a community helpless. Preparedness is everything. Amajuba District Municipality did exactly that when they embraced digitisation and began their transition years before the world knew that a pandemic was on its way. They have become a shining example of how swift adaptation keeps them moving forward, even under the most trying of circumstances. Here’s their story.

Years before the crisis hit, Amajuba adopted an IT business continuity plan that prepared for the complete loss of the municipal offices. It was necessary to insist that all service providers, including Sebata, comply with the provisions of this plan. While the plan didn’t exactly foresee the current situation, it nevertheless prepared the municipality extremely well for what transpired. Already ahead of the curve, another factor that led them to make the technological change was their resolve to eradicate backlogs in their accounting system  during lockdown. They were making good strides, but by early March when the COVID-19 lockdown was inevitable, they knew that working together as a team – both Amajuba and Sebata – was vital to keeping the momentum going even when physically apart. “We had to act very fast”, relates Mdu Mngomezulu, Chief Financial Officer of Amajuba District Municipality. “I immediately procured laptops and Wi-Fi for the Budget and Treasury Office (BTO)  to ensure they were set up before lockdown began. In the days leading to the lockdown, BTO staff  were provided guidelines detailing the new working structure and were given standard operating procedures to follow to aid business continuity. By the time lockdown began, my team was  prepared”. At this time, the pandemic served as nothing more than a rallying cry for Amajuba municipality to fully embrace the new way of working.

Working from home has been overwhelmingly successful for the municipality. Challenges were few and mostly related to the lack of infrastructure; for instance, having to physically travel to the workplace to collect documentation, use scan and printing facilities and to (a very limited extent) hold meetings where virtual meetings were not feasible. Interestingly, only half of Amajuba’s finance team needed to travel to the office; and those who did, were only in the office for brief periods of time. Also, the frequency of visits to the office was an average of four days per employee over forty days. The point? Remote working works! As a result, Amajuba’s Budget and Treasury Office will continue with the new way of working going forward. “Because we don’t know what the outcomes will be after lockdown, we’ve already decided, as a team, that we are going to strengthen what we are doing now: continue to work remotely”, says Mngomezulu.

It’s about thinking ahead. The key is good planning. The more organisations are well prepared, the less resistance there will be to change. By implementing Microsoft Teams, for instance, quality communication flowed freely for the municipality, and it ensured continuity of finance operations without the risk of falling behind. Furthermore, Amajuba did not compromise on compliance and substantially stayed on top of their municipal financial mandates.

Improve communication, work smarter, and save money

  • Work smarter. Integrating technology into their business environment has aided Amajuba in working more efficiently. “I’ve noticed that we’re more productive,” he says. Not bogged down with unnecessary travel and interruptions, every hour is meaningful and accounted for. As a result, more gets done in less time. In the case of the SebataEMS implementation, support is provided at all hours and online reverts are quick. Mngomezulu excitedly states, “we’ve achieved a lot”.
  • Save costs. Amajuba municipality decreased the average cost related to consulting support. Weekly meetings and office support are now done virtually. Sebata’s implementation teams are no longer required to travel to clients, which automatically eliminates costs related to travel and accommodation. Another added benefit is saving on office space.
  • Communicate meaningfully. Using messenger tools, such as Microsoft Teams, made communication much more transparent and autonomous. It also helped the municipality improve the way it communicates within its structures. Overall, it has enhanced their working experience.

It’s all about collaboration, technology and infrastructure

  • Team collaboration. Amajuba and Sebata both championed the change in early March 2020; by then, change was noticeable. A cohesive working relationship was nurtured between them, and commitment remained unwavering. The lockdown strengthen their resolve to embrace the new way of working.
  • Technology and Infrastructure. From the onset, Amajuba municipality implemented Microsoft Teams to reduce costs associated with travelling and renting of office space. By integrating more tools into its working environment, the municipality is moving closer to imitating other countries who mostly use virtual office tools to get work done and conduct all manner of business from the comfort of their homes.

Amajuba’s Budget and Treasury Office demonstrated forward-thinking from the start. They saw digitisation as a chance to leverage information technology, and they dove right in. This has meant that the BTO continues to operate unabated in supporting the rest of the municipality. The current traction and momentum that they are enjoying today is the direct result of three key features: they acted fast, they embraced change, and they leveraged technology. Looking at everything that has been achieved in a relatively short period of time, Mdu Mngomezulu ends the conversation by referencing a sage quote that best describes what they’re reaching out to accomplish:

I’ve learned that we have incredible potential as human beings. But at times, we cling to the things that we are familiar with despite endless possibilities at our disposal. If we stick to the old, these possibilities will remain undiscovered. For our part, we’re ready to fly

Amajuba District Municipality, situated in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal, is one of the smaller districts in the province. The towns of Dannhauser, Hattingspruit, Newcastle, and Utrecht falls within its jurisdiction. The region’s main economic activities are manufacturing, community services, financial services, and trade. Agriculture has grown in the province by approximately 3.2% over the past 5 years. It accounts for approximately 4.4% of the provincial GVA and contributes 3% towards the district economy. Its rich history and financial prowess sets them up to be one of South Africa’s leading municipalities.

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