An Internet platform used by the majority of New Brunswick municipalities is poised to deliver government online to under-served small communities across Canada.

Crown corporation Service New Brunswick has provided the platform

to dozens of provincial municipalities — most recently Fredericton and Moncton — over the last year. Through a licensing agreement with Montreal-based CGI Group Inc., that platform will now be sold outside the province.

“”It’s kind of a bare bones piece of software. It will do the basic things like take transactions,”” said Mary Ogilvie, vice-president development for Service New Brunswick. “”It’s pared down and therefore affordable. (Big cities) probably don’t need it. For the smaller communities, there’s currently a price-entry barrier and an understanding of technology barrier to do this. This suite should be a nice option for them.””

The software allows for transaction-based processing, like water payments and parking tickets, as well as other services such as renewing driver’s licences and registering a corporation.

CGI has teamed up with Microsoft Canada Co. to use the Service New Brunswick software as a starting point from which to provide a suite of e-government services. The software can be used to tie communities together to allow them to share online resources or tie them into a larger, province-wide e-service infrastructure.

The project, called gBiz, has modified the initial software to allow it to run on Microsoft’s .Net Web services architecture.

Microsoft should complete the transition to the .Net platform by fall of this year, according to Owen Sagness, director of enterprise and partner group, but the consortium of Microsoft and CGI is beginning the selling process now since it can take a while to get governments to commit to an online initiative.

However, once the commitment is made, services can be deployed extremely quickly, according to Brian Freeman, director of consulting services for CGI. He estimates the software can be up and running in a matter of weeks. Ogilvie reports that some communities in New Brunswick were active on the software in just a few days.

Service New Brunswick can count 35 municipal users within its province because the company hosts the software for them through an application service provider (ASP) model. Other cities across Canada that opt for gBiz can have the software hosted — provided they can find an ASP to do the job for them — but the inclusion of major players like CGI and Microsoft should allow cities to manage the software themselves,”” said Ogilvie. “”The deal with Microsoft is to allow municipalities to reduce the entry barrier for them to be their own ASP. The city of Cornwall (for example) could take their software, put it in their IT shop and start delivering a bunch of services,”” she said.

But most significant is it’s an entry point for smaller communities in Canada to get their services online. “”Most of the communities in Canada would be considered very small and are in danger of not being able to take part in a multi-channel service delivery option,”” said Freeman.

The target for gBiz is for communities with only a few thousand citizens up to a maximum of a million. “”Beyond that, a lot more pieces have to be put together that just what we’re calling gBiz,”” said Freeman.

There certainly is a desire in small Canadian communities to access services online, according to a recent IDC Canada Ltd. survey of 2,000 Canadians. In communities ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 citizens, 41 per cent said that e-government services were “”very important.”” In communities under 10,000 that response dropped slightly to 35 per cent, but was still higher than large communities (over 500,000).

Conversely, large communities are the biggest users of e-services compared to only nine per cent of citizens in communities under 10,000. “”I think that points out the fact that they do think (e-services) are very important, but they’re just not available to them,”” said IDC Canada analyst Joe Greene. “”I think that would bode well if smaller communities and municipalities could get to take advantage of a service that would allow them to get up and running in a fairly quick and efficient manner.””

“”Normally (smaller municipalities) don’t have the kind of resources to put up large, sophisticated systems,”” said Walter Gasparini, the director of information services for the regional municipalitity of Waterloo, Ont. “”Certainly, as a general principle, if there was a product that was easy to implement, that was economical . . . it certainly would be something they would be interested in.””

The regional municipality of Waterloo comprises about 400,000 citizens. According to Gasparini, the region is currently developing strategy for e-services, to be completed by end of summer. Gasparini said he would sooner outsource his online IT needs than develop them in-house.

Interest in gBiz isn’t just restricted to Canada, said Freeman. CGI recently helped the city of Sunderland U.K. get its services online using gBiz, albeit without the .Net framework.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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