The City of Mississauga Tuesday debuted an updated online presence, claiming to be one of the few municipalities in Canada to offer such a high degree of interactivity.

Resulting from several years of government discussions, eCity

aims to cut down on how often residents and businesses visit City Hall.

“”The motivation is to move to a lot of self-service,”” said Jack Lawrence, director of information technology for the City of Mississauga. “”I’ll see a lot of residents and business people coming to the city, and quite often, when 5 o’clock comes around, that’s the end of the service. We’re looking for something to extend that to 24/7 and allow them to do their transactions online, whenever they want to and through whatever channel they decide to use.””

Visitors to Mississauga’s site will be able to:

  • gain online access to city services;
  • participate in discussion forums and online polling;
  • subscribe to mailing lists;
  • interact with city staff online in real time;
  • complete online forms;
  • direct information to any wireless device; and
  • shop online.

Lawrence’s team expects the refreshed portal to attract at least double its current 9,000 unique visitors.

As far as officials in Mississauga are aware, Calgary is the only other Canadian city to have a similar online portal. Lawrence, however, cannot categorically compare the features on both sites.

Bell Canada, which contributed to the city’s network infrastructure, plans to actively market its brand of interactive portal technologies to other government organizations and private companies. Spokesperson Don Blair said the telco has built an “”a la carte system”” for clients regardless of their size and funds. Montreal-based CGI is hosting the site.

Around the end of 2000, Mississauga began the first phase of eCity (www.mississauga.ca) based on interviews with residents conducted by Environics Research Group of Toronto. Added to the city’s existing site were services like a touch-tone program registration and an online library. These effectively became the “”proof of concept”” allowing Mississauga to consider adding a commerce piece that would let residents pay for services, said Lawrence.

Although technology leaders won the approval of senior management and city council, Lawrence said they still had to battle other obstacles. “”There’s not really any other models that we can follow that are here in Canada or, really, in North America, as far as this particular portal goes.””

As a result, Mississauga had to negotiate contracts with several partners that built in protection for all companies–legal documents that were new to the city, he said.

Security issues also cropped up. “”We put in a dedicated connection between (CGI) and our site, so that we wouldn’t have to go back out onto the Internet to get back to our information.””

Since the city was an early adopter of Bell Canada’s portal technology, it paid an undisclosed, but “” reasonable charge,”” to develop the site, he said. Other costs included housing eCity in CGI’s data centre, maintaining applications and processing transactions.

Over the next 18 months to 24 months, eCity will expand its slate of online services to include renewal of licences related to lotteries, pets and businesses, said Lawrence.

Although eCity aims to reduce visits to City Hall, Mississauga anticipates no immediate job cuts. “”We’re still going to maintain channels,”” he said. “”We’re still going to maintain the counter. But the amount of time spent at the counter may be reduced because of self-service. So if that is the case, (staff is) doing the fulfillment of the service within this new channel.””

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