eThekwini Municipality’s Ruban Naidoo’s journey – from enforcing roadblocks to enabling digital transformation


The IT business relationship executive’s unique background helps him drive public-sector innovation.

eThekwini Municipality’s IT business relationship executive Ruban Naidoo is a trained policeman who now oversees a vast, local government IT portfolio. His experience as a uniformed police officer has helped him bring his background in the safety and security environment to technology.

He is responsible for several strategic business units within the municipality, including Durban Tourism, the Economic Development Unit, and Metro Police. According to Ruban, his portfolio is “pretty big”, and his role cuts across all the municipality’s IT departments.

“My role is to bring IT to all those departments, understanding what each department does, how they do it and helping them optimise whatever they do using technology,” he says. “My mandate is to introduce new technologies to improve the efficiency of those departments so they can ensure service delivery while minimising costs to the ratepayers.”

Taking policing into the digital age

According to Ruban, he got his proverbial foot in the municipality’s door by virtue of his policing career, and it’s this background that has invariably helped him focus on eThekwini’s safety and security environment. Case in point: he’s currently working on the Smart City project, which focuses on smart policing, or, as Ruban says, “taking policing into the digital age”.

“We’re looking at using body-cams, drones with live streaming, electronic enforcement, a traffic management system that incorporates AI to ensure the flow of traffic is managed properly and optimally without using human intervention, automatically changing the robot traffic signals based on the current traffic flow, and more,” he adds.

Ruban was responsible for the municipality’s CCTV upgrade for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and it’s one of his career highlights. “I headed the CCTV centre for the City and brought it up to spec,” he says. “I upgraded the camera system on the streets and the monitoring centre.

Due to the magnitude of the World Cup, we added additional cameras into many strategic locations to ensure tourists were safe. So, I upgraded the monitoring systems, and we also trained the system’s operators to international standards. If you remember, there were no incidents in Durban; our control centre picked up any criminals before they even struck.”

A link and a network

Ruban highlights that the departments he oversees – and the problems his teams need to resolve – cut across all spheres of IT. For Ruban, each department is a business unit that serves the overarching organisation – the municipality – and he is the link between the two.

“I need to understand those businesses, what they do, how they do it, and propose how I can help them,” he explains. “Some departments don’t know what’s available, like what’s being done at an international level. I keep them abreast with the latest trends and technology, how it will affect their business in a positive way, and how it may benefit them and increase productivity.”

Ruban adds that over his years of experience he has forged relationships with other municipalities and international businesses, across the public and private sectors. This network, he says, allows him to leverage the knowledge and experience of specialists in their specific fields that he needs to tap into for a given project or solution.

Red tape and relationships

The major difference between the private sector and the public sector, says Ruban, is the speed at which things are executed. According to him, within the public sector, there's significant red tape, and sometimes that can cause frustration in a fast-moving environment like IT. “It can hinder the success of your projects, because you may get the approvals for a specific solution, but before you can implement it, it could be six months to a year. In that time technology has changed.”

He points out that in the public sector, due to the numerous players, one’s project management, negotiation and persuasion skills need to be top-notch. “There are a lot of projects going on, and they’re not only involving IT,” adds Ruban. “You need to form relationships with the relevant people and keep on following up.”

Everything happens in stages

While Ruban didn’t have any mentorship opportunities early in his career (“I learnt the hard way through trial and error”), he says the municipality has a two-year internship programme, where interns are assisted with finding out what their passion is and where their strengths lie.

“Once students finish their qualifications, they can register on our skills database to do the two-year programme. So even if you're applying for a job in the private sector, your CV already has two years.”

His advice for young IT professionals? An IT degree is key, because it teaches you how to think logically and equips you with the skills to adapt in the fast moving technology environment, get some experience – because you have to start at the bottom – then after several years of experience pursue an MBA, this will equip you with management and leadership skills.

“Once you marry those together, the IT degree plus vast experience and the MBA, it'll take you right to the top – just remember that everything happens in stages. You have to start at the bottom and work your way to the top to be an efficient and effective leader.”

When Ruban isn’t juggling the needs of multiple departments, he plays tennis and golf and goes to the gym to keep fit and get rid of stress. He says that if he wasn’t in IT, he’d probably become a pilot, because he loves travelling and fine dining: Mauritius to relax, Dubai for shopping, and Bangkok for the nightlife and all the Michelin-starred restaurants in between.

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