Toronto calls on ITAC Ontario to organize 311 briefing

Toronto is working with ITAC Ontario to quickly organize a fact-finding event about 311 service for the city, in part to dispel any myth that a contract for the project has already

been issued or won.

Bob Horwood, executive vice-president of the Ontario chapter of the Information Technology Association of Canada, said that he received a letter from the city dated June 28 and signed by several city councillors on a 311 working group.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by ITBusiness.ca, states: “It appears there is misinformation regarding the state of readiness of the competitive process for this important Customer Service Strategy. Accordingly, we wish to confirm that 3-1-1 Technology Request for Proposal is in the early planning stages only and there is no call document ready to go to the marketplace.”

With the right infrastructure in place, the 311 phone number could be used by city residents for non-emergency municipal services. Horwood said he was approached by the city to put together an event that could bring together technology companies that could provide that infrastructure with representatives from the City of Toronto and other interested municipalities in Ontario.

The event is scheduled for Monday, July 18, and is expected to feature presentations from Chicago, Calgary, Miami-Dade, Baltimore and Houston, all of which already have some level of 311 service. Councillors from Ontario municipalities will sit on a Q&A panel to discuss 311 requirements and the event will open with a short speech from Toronto mayor David Miller.

Horwood said he expects several hundred interested vendors will attend the event, which will cost them anywhere from $250 to $3,000 depending on their participation level and membership in ITAC. The fees are going towards covering the cost of the event, he said.

“I think the issue here is that the city government wants to make sure that all of the vendors that have an interest in this kind of thing are aware of what’s going on, and, on the other side of the coin, the people in the city are aware of who all the vendors are,” said Horwood.

John Davies, the City of Toronto’s executive director of IT, said that it was important that the event be put together quickly in order for city officials to get a better idea of the cost requirements for a 311 rollout.

“Part of the sense of urgency was the councilors wanted to get a little more information so they could feel they were making an informed decision about what the budget might look like,” he said. “We wanted to get that done in fairly short order so we could in fact have a budget put into the 2006 budget cycle.”

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved 311 applications from Gatineau, Que., Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Halton, Ont., and Toronto in November 2004.

Gatineau began its 311 service offering this summer. Calgary’s started a few weeks earlier and the city is aiming for a full-service launch by spring 2006. Toronto is just taking longer because “it might be a more complex process for us than some of the smaller municipalities,” said Davies.

He said he didn’t know why there would be any vendor confusion around an RFP for the project since none has ever been issued. “I can’t speak for what other people might have thought.”

Councillor Bas Balkissoon, co-chair of the Toronto 311 Council Staff Working Group, said that the city balked at initial estimates of $40 million for a 311 rollout. “Many people just wanted to just sort of kill the project,” he said. “But some of who thought there were merits to looking at it did speak in favour of having it reviewed.”

The group started looking at other municipal 311 rollouts for inspiration. “Based on what we’ve seen, we wanted to see if we could interest Canadian companies or other companies from across the U.S. or wherever to present to us what it is they can make available. . . . What is the available technology out there? What is it that firms are capable of doing? Because we need to know. . . . That’s why we’re doing this (ITAC event).”

It’s unusual for a municipal body like Toronto to approach an industry body like ITAC Ontario for help in putting together a vendor gathering, said Howard Grant, principal with Ottawa-based Partnering and Procurement Inc., and an expert in government contracts.

“The normal process that you see is, the client would give a briefing on the initiative. Then you would see . . . a vendor consultation process one on one, generally chaired by a fairness commissioner or somebody independent,” he said.

What’s more unusual, he added, is charging a fee for a session. “I know ITAC Ontario has to make money. I’m surprised that the city would agree to it.”

Davies said he wasn’t aware of ITAC’s cost structure for the event, “but that’s their prerogative because they’re the ones that are taking this on.”

Horwood said the event is not a money-making venture and that ITAC would probably only break even at best.

Once the city has clearer information about the possible scope of a 311 rollout, “we will move expeditiously to put an RFP out into the marketplace and begin the implementation,” said Davies.

The ITAC Ontario event, dubbed “Municipal 311 Service Information Day,” will be held Monday at 7:30 a.m. in the Council Chambers of Toronto City Hall. Davies said the city may work with ITAC Ontario again for future events.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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