IT systems overhaul works wonders for Canada’s fastest growing city

An IT systems overhaul – that included a move to Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – has helped the city of Mississauga, Ont. slash costs, and achieve several other benefits to boot.

With a population of more than 695,000, Mississauga is Canada’s fastest growing major city, and it’s sixth largest.

Recently, this municipality has sought to simplify and streamline citizen access to services and information through the e-City initiative.

A key goal of eCity is to minimize the need for citizens to attend City Hall physically to conduct business with the city.

Instead the eCity municipal Web site was designed to serve as community portal –providing citizens with uninterrupted, self-service access to city services.   

To support the eCity project an effective IT service management strategy is crucial noted Rekha Jethva, manager, planning and integration, with the City’s corporate services department.

But implementing such a strategy was a challenge.

Database management-related tasks proved time consuming for administrators in the previous Oracle Database/Unix OS environment, Jethva said.

So Mississauga decided to move its enterprise applications over to a Microsoft environment based on SQL Server 2005 and on the Windows operating system.

“We began this migration process in 2006,” Jethva said. “In 2007, we finished moving over our small apps (10 – 50 GB) to SQL Server 2005, and started the same process for our medium sized apps.”

She said around 20 per cent of the mid-sized apps (sized between 50 and 100 GB) have been migrated to SQL Server 2005.

Certain large apps – such as SAP Financials (Accounts Payable, GL and so on) – have also been moved over to SQL Server, Jethva said.

In parallel with the Database shift, the City is also making huge changes to its enterprise applications.

This year, said Jethva, Mississuaga will be completely replacing its PeopleSoft HR applications with an HR system from SAP AG.   

 

The benefits of this comprehensive infrastructure overhaul are many, she said.

 

The immediate and most apparent benefit was dramatic reductions in Database licensing costs.   

According to Jethva, the biggest advantage of SQL Server 2005 over Oracle is that the Microsoft product is significantly cheaper.

And this, she said, is not at the expense of functionality.

Jethva said the Microsoft product allows the city’s IT staff to accomplish everything they could achieve with Oracle Database 9i. “The only feature SQL Server 2005 doesn’t have is the spatial capability. But I’m hoping the 2008 version will include that as well.”

She said Mississauga – and other Ontario municipalities – can take advantage of special provincial pricing for both the Microsoft and the Oracle products.

Based on this pricing, she said, the CPU-based licensing costs of SQL Server 2005 are 40 per cent less than Oracle. “If you negotiate well, you can get up to 50 per cent less.”

She noted that this is an “apples to apples” comparison based on the enterprise version of both database products.

And the move to the SQL Server Database has provided other benefits.

With the deployment, Jethva said, IT administrators spend 60 per cent less time on tasks such as troubleshooting database issues, moving database applications, back up and recovery.

The City has not jettisoned the Oracle Database though.

In fact it has migrated certain applications from Oracle Database 9i to the 10g upgraded version.

When asked why these apps continue to be deployed on Oracle, Jethva said they are proprietary applications that the City had spent millions of dollars creating.

“Completely rewriting these for SQL Server 2005 isn’t practical.”   

She cited the example of the City’s proprietary tax services application, which it also supplies to other municipalities. “Rewriting this app would take 2 – 3 years. But our long term plan is to use another tax application.”

By 2010, she said, the goal is to have 90 per cent of Mississauga’s apps on SQL Server 2005, “while still running the remaining 10 per cent proprietary apps on Oracle.”

Jethva noted that vendors of many of the packaged applications the city uses are themselves suggesting SQL Server as the primary database system.

The entire consolidation initiative, she said, was the fallout of a solutions review done in 2004 by Mississauga with the help of HP Canada.

It indicated that City’s huge assortment of multi-vendor systems was a liability.

The message from the review was that the City should consolidate radically – its infrastructure, network, voice mail systems, databases, servers…everything.

The rollout of Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Jethva said, is part of this effort.
Yet another Microsoft product that the city will be implementing this year is
BizTalk Server 2006 R2.

This product enables companies to automate and integrate business processes through the use of “adapters” tailored to communicate with different software systems used in a large enterprise.

Mississauga is planning pilot roll-out of BizTalk in the last quarter of 2008.

Apart from serving as a translation mechanism that would enable the city’s disparate systems to communicate common information more effectively, Mississauga is also looking to BizTalk to “mobilize” some of its applications.

The idea, said Jethva, is to get BizTalk do facilitate the translation between legacy systems and the mobile systems using Web services.

She said the city also anticipated huge time and cost savings from using BizTalk to create Web services.

By automating the code for you, she said, BizTalk would help reduce the development time for creating Web services significantly.

And by having Web services in place, she says the time and costs of building interfaces between disparate applications would also be reduced.

By cutting down on the number of days required to build an interface, Jethva estimates the City could save as much as $10,000 per interface.

The Mississauga project highlights certain key considerations of businesses doing significant ERP upgrades, according to Dave McJannet, product manager, SQL Server, Microsoft.

He said organizations, when upgrading their applications and service delivery systems, “also want to mitigate associated risks and minimize the costs.”

In the City’s case, he said, there was the need to balance practical considerations with the longer-term goal of effectively managing their applications.

Combining an SAP upgrade with the move to SQL Sever 2005, he said, helped the City reduce the risk factor, while lowering the total cost of ownership.

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