Bring Us Your Problems – Vodacom Business Has The Solutions
The importance of a strategic relationship between the private and public sectors cannot be understated, especially given the kind of challenges South Africa is facing. Vodacom Business stands out as one of the organisations which has built a strong relationship with the public sector, finding solutions to problems which have a direct impact on residents. At the helm of these initiatives is Vodacom Business’ Managing Executive of Public Enterprise, Poppy Tshabalala, who spoke to Public Sector Leaders about the outstanding solutions they are finding to society’s challenges.
Solving Society’s Challenges
“At Vodacom Business we say to our customers, ‘Problems are inevitable. Everybody will have problems.’” says Poppy. “But we go further to say to them, ‘Bring those challenges, bring your problems to Vodacom so that we can help you to solve them, and help you to succeed.’” Vodacom Business Public Enterprise’s work covers all spheres of the government, including state agencies and SOEs. They are intentional in partnering with the public sector, says Poppy. The world is in the midst of a digital revolution, and the digital solutions which are emerging aren’t confined to private use, but are also having an impact on how the public sector operates to the benefit of society.
South Africa’s public sector is on a digitisation journey of its own, and Vodacom Business is coming forth to offer their experience and expertise to solve the challenges, showing what’s possible with the private-public partnerships. “The partnerships that we have are essential to our country’s economic prospects,” says Poppy. “Vodacom Business is proud to play a part in this very important ecosystem.”
“We are proud of the relationship that we have developed with government and what we’ve managed to achieve together thus far. We are equally excited about what the future will hold for us. And we believe that when we bring our collective capabilities, and desire to do even better for the country, we move our country forward.” Vodacom Business’ relationship with the public sector has provided the benefit of knowing where the gaps and inefficiencies are in service delivery.
Digital Solutions for The Public Sector
The digital services that Vodacom Business is providing are working to great effect. Poppy shares examples of some of these services, the first of which is the Citizen Engagement platform, which “is designed to automate and enrich interactions between citizens, government, contact centres and field workers, as well as senior officials. It equips the citizen to be able to easily interact with municipalities. And for municipalities to also short circuit the time of getting to – or replacing damaged infrastructure, because they get an alert before the damage gets bigger. So it also allows them to react more efficiently.”
Vodacom Business’ crime fighting application, My SAPS, has already seen almost 7 000 tip-offs being provided by the community members it connects. Their partnership with the Department of Health allowed for the monitoring and management of the vaccine supply chain for over 4 000 clinics across the country.
They’ve also supported the Department in creating the Mpilo App, which is “an interactive mobile communication platform that is strengthening the patient care experience across government health facilities.” “I’m very passionate about talking about what we have done because it speaks directly to the issues of the country,” explains Poppy.
Their smart electricity metering system – which is currently being rolled out across the country, with 63 000 meters already installed in the past three years — is improving revenue collection in municipalities, which has the knock-on effect of further improving service delivery as municipalities have more funds to work with.
Poppy also mentions Vodacom Business’ role in the most recent provincial election processes, where they worked with the Independent Electoral Commission to implement a technological solution for voters which allowed for ballots to be cast online, a first for the country. “Among all other things, this is a small way of demonstrating what we can do in this partnership with government, as a purpose-led organisation.”
A Passion for Change
“I always feel like my career path was actually engineered for me to end up in sales,” says Poppy. Her Master of Science and Engineering Business Management degree from Warwick University prepared her for the operational management side of business.
Having come in with a technical focus, she says the degree helped her quickly rise to senior management levels, in a career which has seen her working at the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Road and Transport, the Small Enterprise Development Agency and Eskom.
This public sector experience is what gives her an edge when it comes to finding the right solutions. “The main reason for me to have left the public sector at the time was to prove that the foundation of government experience in the space of ICT has equipped me to influence the provision of relevant and impactful solutions and services as a service provider to the state,” explains Poppy. “I always say to my team in Vodacom, if you are going to sell to government, let me hear your story. And if I don’t buy it, no-one will. Because I know exactly how it feels to be on the other side, and how you listen to someone who is selling.”
Poppy’s passion for education led her to the position of Vice-Principal of ICT at the University of South Africa (UNISA), and her role at Vodacom Business allows her to continue pursuing that passion by making an impact in the education sector. Vodacom Business has made the admissions process easier for parents in Gauteng by hosting the Education Departments admin system.
They’ve also allowed for free e-learning which provides access to all the educational content in CAPS curriculum. “In 2022, we partnered with the Department of Basic Education in rolling out virtual classroom solutions into some rural areas that were identified by the Basic Education Department and Icasa, across three provinces.” “And the school management system that Vodacom uses, it’s a web-based solution that is very easy to use and it fulfils the education department’s needs for visibility in all their schools. It helps them to understand what is happening in every school, and they can do proactive maintenance in many other areas as well.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the country into a nation-wide pandemic, remote learning became a necessity for higher learning institutions, and Vodacom Business – in partnership with Microsoft South Africa – met the challenge by helping the University of Johannesburg complete the academic year. The two organisations developed the Connected Digital Education Platform, which launched in June 2020. The platform gave students and educators access to resources, apps and subsidised data bundles for continued learning.
Vodacom Business has also worked with the UNISA in equipping students with what they need to learn online, making distance e-learning more affordable. Poppy explains that this work in improving connectivity in the education sector is opening up access to quality learning. “I’m saying this because we know that the biggest challenge is in the digital divide,” she says. “When you’re staying in areas where there’s no connectivity, it doesn’t matter whether you have money or whatever, you cannot be able to access the services.” Through this work, Vodacom Business is reaching underdeveloped areas, where many UNISA students reside, improving general connectivity and digital literacy.
Poppy has learned that the world has yet to fully delve into the talent pool which women provide, as she stresses that there is a need to bring more women into ICT leadership positions. She calls for women in executive leadership roles to support and nurture other women in the technology sector, which will aid in improving diversity. Poppy speaks about Vodacom Business’ partnerships with the kind of pride which shows that she loves what she does, and through her role she’s been able to positively impact South African society by bringing Vodacom Business’ expertise to the public sector, working towards a brighter tomorrow.