Gauteng’s Department of Infrastructure Development (DID) believes transforming from a department characterised by crisis management and chasing shadows to an “efficient project delivery machine” is well under way and has led to the “cracking of the code” for efficient infrastructure delivery in South Africa’s most populous province.
Infrastructure Development MEC Jacob Mamabolo says one of the DID’s secret weapons is the newly developed Project Readiness Matrix (PRM) – a tool developed completely in-house to monitor the more than 160 non-negotiable steps that a public infrastructure development project takes from conception to completion.
“We have made remarkable progress in leveraging, harnessing and applying smart technologies and systems, with business intelligence capabilities to deliver and drive infrastructure development,” he says.
Critical areas that have typically been marred by weakness, delays and poor performance are the efficient and effective management of government properties and other assets, as well as the effective deployment of infrastructure, which have been the DID’s core focus over the past 18 months of Mamabolo’s tenure.
The DID is responsible for the development of public infrastructure for the Gauteng Education and Health departments, as well as the Roads and Transport, Social Development, Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation, and Agriculture and Rural Development departments, which are aggregated under the acronym STARS.
The implementation of the array of project management tools, techniques and practices to improve infrastructure delivery in Gauteng means there is no longer any excuse not to deliver public projects on time, within budget and to the proper quality standards.
Further supported by a “tool within a tool” – the Construction Site Management Toolkit (CSMT) – the PRM also aims to synergise with the National Treasury’s Infrastructure Delivery Management System (IDMS), which capacitates public- sector infrastructure officials to manage the delivery of infrastructure in an effective and efficient manner.
The delivery and maintenance of infrastructure is a critical intervention to turn around an economy trapped in structural problems that reproduce low levels of growth, a high rate of unemployment and massive poverty, Mamabolo tells Engineering News.
Now, Gauteng’s building and construction industry’s notorious reputation for delays in delivery, poor quality, high cost overruns, waste of resources, inefficiencies and ineffectiveness should be a thing of the past.
While the department may not be able to control all factors during the project life cycle, the PRM toolkit will offer the DID a single point of access for the project status of 169 projects, valued in excess of R2.4-billion.
This means that there is no room for excuses, beyond factors out of government’s control, such as community protests and natural disasters, when it comes to delivering these infrastructure projects within the stipulated timeframe and budgets, as they have been proven project ready.
A “tricky” variable, however, is contractor performance, with some contractors having historically tendered with an apparently adequate array of registered professionals in order to win the tender, only to “replace” them with unregistered professionals at a later stage to save costs, not to mention several other inhibiting cost-saving shortcuts.
“This is a grey area, because we appoint them. But we appoint them on the basis of the documents they give us, on the basis of the submissions and presentations they made,” Mamabolo says.
Using the PRM, under the watchful eye of Lutsinga Infrastructure House, the DID’s year-old electronic monitoring hub and project nerve centre, and leveraging the completed Immovable Asset Register, the department is able to relentlessly drive efficiency by ensuring oversight and monitoring of every aspect of project delivery at every step of the way.
The automated Lutsinga Infrastructure House uses real-time technology to track spending and project milestones, as well as land planning and works, project handover and ongoing maintenance, besides others.
It is also home to the Immovable Asset Register, the Construction and Built Project Management Dashboard, the Expanded Public Works Programme Dashboard, the E-Maintenance Dashboard and an infrastructure monitor that measures and reports on the socioeconomic impact of the DID’s work.
All this enables the DID to plan better, pinpoint exactly where challenges arise in the process and facilitate timeous intervention.
It ensures that no project moves into the development phase before all the necessary steps have been taken and that a project complies with and meets the minimum set standards at each stage to ensure that the project is ready for implementation.
“It is a tool of transparency, compliance and accountability,” he tells Engineering News, adding that it also removes uncertainties, clears delays and reduces confusion – all factors that impact on the quality, cost and duration of project delivery.
Before each potential project undergoes the scrutiny of the PRM, the DID subjects the proposed project to a readiness test through the initiation phases of the PRM, based on the IDMS policy’s Gate system.
“There are four or five steps that we check [first], and we will never accept a project unless it meets those [requirements],” Mamabolo assures.
These include land ownership and land quality or condition; the budget and funding sources, including proof of sufficient funding and a realistic estimate of capital expenditure allocated within the current financial year by the National Treasury, as well as sufficient and realistic funding allocated within its medium-term expenditure framework budget; and the identification of all sources of the funding.
Further reviews include assessing whether there is a similar, underused asset nearby that can be upgraded and fully capacitated, rather than embark on what will become a redundant new-build.
Further, the CSMT serves as a best practice formalised standard construction site management tool, dealing with project site challenges of governance, meetings, documents, milestone achievement, invoicing, health and safety and site risks, as well as many other site performance variables.
“The CSMT is a critical intervention to bring to an end the terrible culture and identified systemic weaknesses of managing sites without proper protocols applicable to both officials and service providers,” Mamabola adds.
Meanwhile, the Immovable Asset Register shows a comprehensive database of government’s property portfolio, currently valued at some R30-billion, with the DID planning to “recycle” its assets, where possible, to ensure that each property is efficiently maximised and fully used for public benefit.
Mamabolo further commits to ensuring that underused or neglected government properties are managed more efficiently and effectively and that any properties not core to government’s delivery mandate are disposed of to eliminate the waste of public funds to maintain unproductive assets.
ALERT TO SLIPPAGES
“Is everything well and good? I would say no,” Mamabolo comments.
“The big problem we have is that systems are in place and project management methodologies are in place, [but] the change management is still a challenge. So, while the systems and people are in place, attitude changes are difficult [to deal with].”
In addition, there is a contrasting divergence between what project managers report about the project status and the real-life situation on the ground.
“There is a big Chinese wall between the two,” he explains, adding that managers are telling the department what it wants to hear.
The CSMT controls the issues of standards, protocols, site management, logistics and materials, besides others, but it has reached a point where it is necessary to back up the data that is generated on site with visuals.
Further initiatives are under consideration and development to ensure tighter on-site control to bring outside inefficiencies under control and this includes the exploration of the use of drones and image-based mobile applications.
The first concept is to have service providers’ project managers submit photographic evidence of the progress at site using a mobile application linked to Lutsinga.
Another proposal is the use of drones to ensure accurate on-site reporting of activity and progress.
Currently, the department is reviewing the potential of a pilot project using five drones to cover and survey DID projects across Gauteng’s five development corridors.
“The plan is to dispatch drones to check up on activities and to acquire visual surveys of the projects. Pictures tell a story,” says DID head of department Bethuel Netshiswinzhe.
The pilot, which is expected to be completed by year-end, can also ascertain the potential of the opportunities available to introduce new technological skills and training.
“This is going to bring a massive, massive change to infrastructure development,” Mamabolo concludes.