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LOUIS Mwape.

Rwanda inspires Zambian commercial utilities

INFORMATION and technology has continued to win plaudits and its impact is keenly felt in our life and so many facets of the economy.For commercial utilities, it’s ringing praise and actual influence packs a real punch as a strategy for improving service delivery, even as the nation is careening into digital revolution.
In the Western world, where almost everything has gone digital, the use of ICT’s is in its heyday with all commercial utilities utilising services such as e-billing and other electronic transactions to conduct their business.
In fact, studies and empirical evidence point to the fact that utilities that have invested in ICT’s actually outpace others in terms of efficiency and service provision.
Today, only a few water utilities in Africa are exceptionally known for making increasing use of technology and being very inventive.
The Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC) in Kigali, Rwanda, is among the few notable Utilities. Because of its investment in ICT tools, WASAC is known for having some defining features of a successful commercial utility.
The revelation came to the fore recently when a Zambian entourage comprising of staff from nine (9) commercial utilities undertook a visit aimed at learning how Rwanda was applying ICT in water meter reading, field billing, payment solutions and other areas, with a view to making recommendations for adoption in Zambia.
One of the delegation representatives, Mushany Ngafise Kapusana, managing director for Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited (LgWSC), said WASAC had recorded significant improvements through employing digital and ICT solutions in almost all its operations.
Mr Kapusana explained that lessons learnt from Kigali are that ICT is revolutionary and could be a pulse of every commercial utility that wants to make significant improvements in the manner it conducts its daily activities.
During the Kigali visit, the delegation met with various experts providing an unusually extended set of knowledge, which reflects just how important their broad vision sketched in water utilities in Africa and beyond.
The visit was indeed a testament of how ICT is turning around the Rwandese water sector into a customer-focused organisation that makes business transactions much more easy and convenient.
The key learning points from Kigali include advanced and highly efficient technology for removal of suspended solids during the water treatment process. Rwandans have a sophisticated digitalised system in place.
Although Zambia has already made ground-breaking progress in terms of terrestrial digital migration, there is also a predictive line of thought which holds that everything is yet to migrate to digital in the near future, owing to the fact that financial institutions have already evolved into techno-savvy enterprises. It is a well-known fact that consumers that appreciate services that some of the banks are offering are leery of most of the manual-based services they get to receive from other institutions.
What is gratifying, however, is that there is also a fair bit of polling to suggest that some institutions within the sector have unveiled technological solutions to enable them to shift away from low hanging targets such as manual dispatch of bills, complaint resolution to digital operations, and are eager to embrace new methods of doing things, as a direct response to shifts in today’s fast-paced business environment.
In June 2018, LgWSC captured the details of over 18,000 customers and launched its phase 1 of e-billing service to phase out physical distribution of bills. The technology comes with a myriad of advantages from cutting down on toner and stationery expenses to timely dissemination of bills to customers.
In August 2017, Nkana Water announced that it was phasing out physical distribution of bills. In December 2017, Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company announced that it had equally taken that route.
LgWSC also recently developed a Digital Meter Reading System (DMRS) to rid of manual reading which was often tedious and time-consuming.
My Watsan Quick Fix, an initiative from the National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO), is yet another development pointing to the fact that the water sector in Zambia is determined to evolve. This digital complaints handling platform gives customers a leverage to escalate unresolved complaints to the regulator. A number of local utilities are already utilising this platform.
Vice-President Inonge Wina‘s remarks on digital revolution, during the 20th Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) 38th meeting of the Council of Ministers which was recently opened in Lusaka, took on extra significance.
She said ICT has been a critical enabler of digital revolution and that the impact of infrastructure development on the economy and people’s lives would be significantly limited if it were not for the advancement of ICT’s and digital revolution. Her remarks were a refreshing reminder of new demands for today’s business environments and they squarely apply to commercial utilities.
The author is communications officer at Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited.