Brampton’s Web page update more than just a digital facelift

When the City of Brampton decided to revamp its Intranet and Internet portals, the growing Ontario municipality was dead set on making sure improvements weren’t just skin deep.

City planners and technology decision makers were looking for a Web page that would transform the way municipal employees worked and residents accessed and received services.

“We didn’t want to make this just another IT project or a mere facelift. This was going to be a multi-year program,” said Rob Meikle, chief information officer for the city.

So far, the results of the ongoing work has reduced municipal expenses, boosted employee productivity, cut client wait times and made one of the favourite sites to surf in the city.

The original Web site managed to attract at least one million visitors each year with each visitor spending about three seconds for each page view. The city’s client-facing site that launched in December snagged no less than 4 million visitors for the first four months of 2010 with each visitor spending an average of 4.7 minutes per page view, according to Meikle.

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The new Web page also allows users to pull information from the site and push it through any device and share information in social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

More than just a pretty page

Located a few kilometers west of Toronto, Brampton has a population of more than 500,000 and is the third-largest municipality in the Greater Toronto Area and is the 11th largest city in the country. Once known as the Flowertown of Canada, the city’s economic sectors today include advanced manufacturing, retail administration and logistics, food and beverage as well as information and communication technologies.

The city expects to see its population grow further as more people flock to the so-called 905 regions. With this in mind, city officials are looking to an efficient and effective Intranet and Internet portal to help run city services smoothly, according to Meikle.

The broad vision, he said, was to come up with a service-oriented site able to support the city goals including:

  • Creating a single platform through which all resident interactions could be routed
  • Holding individual departments accountable for citizen services
  • Providing a scorecard through which performance can be measured

The city turned to Infusion Development, an international software consulting firm with offices in Toronto, New York, Boston, Houston, London, and Dubai.

Bill Baldasti, vice-president of sales for Infusion, also said that critical part of this strategy was to transform the existing Intranet and Internet pages into more interactive sites and move traffic into these sites from walk-in and call centre interactions.

To implement what Infusion dubs “Citizen Services Platform”, the company constructed both portals on Microsoft SharePoint 2010.The software is geared for collaboration and Web publishing combined under a single server. SharePoint’s capabilities include developing Web sites, portals, intranets, content management systems, search engines, wikis, blogs, and tools for business intelligence. SharePoint users access the Web-based user interface through a browser.

The Microsoft partner integrated SharePoint with Bing Maps, Microsoft’s Web-based mapping service and Microsoft Dynamic CRM, a client-server customer relationship management software package.

Infusion also used FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint to develop better intranet and people-search functions based on user context.

The original sites were not well organized, Meikle said. “It was very difficult for many citizens to find the information they were looking for because of the way data was archived.”

For example, if a homeowner wanted to look up online information about building permits, he or she would need to know to search for the information under “planning” in the “Building Division,” said Meikle. “Unless you were familiar with the specific headings, you would be lost because the search feature was not intuitive.”

Working with Infusion, Brampton developed a system that organized information according to specific community or user groups such as resident, businesses, arts and culture, tourism, and City Hall.

“The role-based model is simpler to navigate. If you’re a resident looking up permits, you simply click on the resident section and they type in the keyword permit on the search window,” said Meikle.

The city’s IT chief also said the new Intranet has improved employee productivity. Data used to be kept in silos so much so that the original Intranet was not frequently used. By opening up data to various departments, City Hall saw an increased used of the Intranet and greater collaboration between departments.

“We experienced a 35 per cent uptake on Intranet use. Staff productivity also went up by five per cent and we achieved as much as 30 minutes/day in time savings in terms of reduced order wait times and task duplications,” Meikle said.

“Moving significant amount of client contact from walk-in interactions and call centre transactions is a time and money saver as well as an efficiency driver,” according to Baldasti of Infusion.

He said studies indicate that a typical walk-in transaction costs municipalities an average of $5.00 to $5.25 to complete. The same task done through a call centre would cost $3.00 on average. However, a Web-based self-service system only costs 25 cents per transaction.

“Another bonus for citizens is that a Web site is open 24/7 and 365 days a year,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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