A small Ontario city has been making big strides on the Web, offering a host of online services comparable to those offered by bigger cities.

The City of Kenora has embarked on a complete overhaul of its Web site that transformed a static 300-page site into a 2,500-page full-service interactive portal, using Web-based development tools from Microsoft.

“We decided we needed to interact with the public more, we needed (to provide) more information and we needed to be a more dynamic site,” said Ben Pawlowski, portal administrator for the City of Kenora.

With help from Imex Systems Inc., a Microsoft partner based in Mississauga, Ont., Pawlowski’s team took advantage of Microsoft development technologies, including .Net and SQL Server, to recreate its Web site and achieve an interactive portal that allows easy access to city services.

Building the site on .Net meant that the city’s various business units or service groups can take ownership of specific pages of the Kenora site and play a role in creating content for those pages, said Pawlowski.  They get simple training on the content management system and use pre-created templates to create the content, he added.

To get access to its online services, Kenora residents and other users have to register on the site. Through a single sign-on authentication process, portal users are asked to create a username and password, which they would use to access all online services. Registered users can also personalize their Kenora surfing experience and get instant access to specific content of interest. 

“With our old site it was very much the city took care of it. For updates, they went to developers and they made the changes. So it’s not just the city anymore, it’s the service groups, different groups from around the city actually contributing to make one product that everybody can use,” he said.

As a city of about 16,000 residents, Kenora is primarily a tourist destination with a significant number of people coming into the city on a seasonal basis. The city’s Web site allows people to access city services even when they are miles away from the city, Pawlowski noted. Bill payments, for instance, can be done electronically through the Web site. Similarly, requests for repairs and other city services can be done through the Web without having to physically drive to the city offices to submit such requests, he added.

There are about 22 city services that Kenora citizens have access to online.

Kenora’s portal also plays host to businesses and organizations within and around the city that want to have a Web presence. There are templates within the site that can help businesses, for instance, to create its own Web site, post job openings or classified ads, Pawlowski said.

Building the site did pose some challenges for Pawlowski’s team, but many of them are around content creation such as choosing the layout and finding graphics for the site. Kenora also had to increase its server count from one to five, to accommodate the various applications used for maintaining the portal, said Pawlowski.

“The technical (side) wasn’t really a challenge at all. We are primarily a Microsoft shop going into this, so we’re used to the technology,” Pawlowski said.

Microsoft’s .Net development framework provides IT organizations the necessary expertise for Web development, said Mark Relph, director, development & platform at Microsoft Canada.

“We are helping our customers realize that if they have invested at all on .Net they have probably skilled up their people on the technology to head down this road,” said Relph.

By using the Web as a platform for development, a small city like Kenora was able to provide a level of service that’s at par with big cities, he added.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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