Last year, Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism and Recreation began to move from paper-based to electronic questionnaires to update its records on member establishments.

The ministry keeps track of thousands of campgrounds, tour agencies, accommodations and outdoor activity centres, and relies on annual

surveys to keep its data accurate.

The project was spurred in part by a broader strategy to reduce costs associated with managing print records and to improve integration with the ministry’s larger Oracle database, says Nabeel Hamdi, senior research officer with the tourism branch.

Five vendors submitted proposals earlier last year, including two vendors of record with the province.

Some bids would have seen an electronic survey take two to three years to build — a non-starter for the government.

The ministry wanted a technical solution that was quick, simple and reusable, Hamdi says.

“”The timing was crucial.””

The project was awarded to Internet Light and Power (ILAP), a Toronto-based firm that promised to deliver in just two months. During the fall of 2003, some 6,400 member organizations were notified by e-mail that they could enter and update information via a secure Web site.

Process is the sameDespite the new medium, the process remained by and large the same, Hamdi says. “”They managed to mimic the screens as they appear on paper.””

For its part, ILAP faced a steep learning curve. The company went from RFP to project start in two months, in what was a unique process, says Scott Hicks, ILAP’s marketing manager.

“”It’s the first time we’ve dealt with a government project of this scale,”” he says.

“”The RFP for us was probably our biggest learning curve.””

In particular, working through legal language and privacy issues were challenging, given that the project involves a public medium.

Overall, the project saw a 50 per cent response rate.

The results are encouraging for Hamdi, as are the associated savings.

“”Paper administration of questionnaire costs is much more expensive,”” he says.

On a per-record basis, it costs about $20 to administer a paper survey, compared with $1.50 to $2 for an electronic version.

In the past, the ministry has spent between $100,000 and $150,000 on the survey, with fewer than 10,000 listings in its database.

Now, with more than 40,000 records, it’s even more important to keep costs down, Hamdi says.

While a final decision for future surveys hasn’t yet been made, Hamdi said he was impressed with the turnaround and results from the ILAP project.

The company could well handle the next round of questionnaires, he says.

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