Edmonton saddles up for e-services

Edmonton residents can expect new online government services starting next year thanks to an agreement the city announced with SAP Canada Inc. Tuesday.

The city will begin to implement the mySAP.com e-business platform in September. The backbone will allow online booking and paying for recreational facilities and applying and paying for permits. Eventually, citizens may be able to pay their taxes online, but that’s a longer-term project still under consideration, said Tim Cleveley, program manager of the ERP office of Edmonton.

Borrowing a famous Ma Bell slogan, Cleveley said the city aims to “reach out and touch our customers in an e-environment. We have done some ad hoc polling to find out whether or not it is something they’re asking for (and) there is indication that there is a market for it.”

The Goverment of Alberta is also trying to implement citizen services online and Edmonton will partner with the province for customer-focused Web initiatives, added Cleveley.

The public sector is one of the largest markets for SAP in Canada, said Patrick Dunn, SAP vice-president for the Ottawa region, and demand for Web-based citizen services is certainly driving the market. Consolidation and amalgamation for municipalities like SAP customers Toronto and Ottawa is another major contributor, but for Edmonton, saving government funds over the long term was what convinced the city to buy SAP.

“The City of Edmonton, as with most municipalities, are under a lot of constraints around available dollars for IT initiatives,” explained Cleveley. “We’ve come up with a rationalization strategy to help reduce the total of applications within our environment.”

In addition to the mySAP.com platform, Edmonton has purchased mySAP E-Procurement and an enterprise portal solution. The first of its departments to be overhauled will be maintenance management. A dozen different homegrown software suites operating in six maintenance departments will be reduced to a single SAP application.

Reinventing operations in maintenance, and eventually other departments in Edmonton, will require some cultural changes for its employees and some re-training via SAP’s knowledge warehouse. In 1994, Edmonton implemented SAP software for its financial applications, but it attempted to customize the software to meet its processes rather than the other way around.

In the case of this most recent implementation, streamlining processes to meet the software’s criteria won’t cause a reduction in staff size, said Cleveley. The city is essentially trying to add services without having to increase its personnel roster.

Over the next five to 10 years, a number of Canadian municipalities and government bodies will actually be faced with a crunch in staff size, said Richard Scherback, SAP team leader for the public sector in Western Canada. Many government employees belong to the baby boomer generation and are thus close to retirement age. A number of SAP’s government customers are looking to streamline existing IT infrastructure while adding more citizen-facing services. The wheels are being set in motion now to allow for a staff transition over the next decade.

Edmonton made headlines earlier this month when it hosted the IAAF world championship in athletics. Municipal involvement included scheduling buses and managing a large volunteer base. The SAP implementation “will give us a better understanding of our infrastructure . . . in the future, it will be able to understand what our costs would be to upgrade and so on, for any future international events,” said Cleveley.

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