City of Laval adds 311 as part of IT overhaul

The City of Laval, Que. is giving its residents a sizeable gift for its 40th birthday this year: a 311 system.

The system will enable the city’s 365,000 residents to call a single number for any city service. Negotiations

with Bell Canada are under way and the number is expected to be available for citizen use during the first half of 2006.

Estimated to cost $5 million over three years, the project is part of the city’s two-pronged approach to overhauling its IT infrastructure. The first stage of the project is on the front end, a citizen interaction centre, due this spring. On the back end is an ERP system built on Oracle EBusiness 11i to eliminate silos and consolidate data in various departmental systems.

Eight full-time CGI employees are working on the project, along with 20 city employees from four departments

Paul Martel, the city’s IT director, said in an e-mail interview with TIG the municipality is undertaking the work because it had too many systems to maintain with too few employees. The number of systems has grown from 32 in 1990 to 170 in 2004. Maintenance was expensive, he said, and it was extremely difficult to make the systems in each of the city’s department connect.

“The most important systems evolved separately,” he said.

The city currently has about 50 Sun servers running on the Unix-Solaris operating system, which are being migrated to HP-Linux. Other changes that have taken place over the past few years include the implementation of fibre optic cables throughout the city’s territory, the extension of its VPN links, migration from standard PCs to a centralized Citrix thin-client environment, and the implementation of a storage area network.

By early next year, the city will have migrated its financial and physical resources application to 11i. Payroll is slated for migration by early 2007, while creation of an operations centre focused mainly on territory maintenance operations is due by 2006. Implementation management reports will take place slowly between 2006 and 2009.

According to Martel, the goal is to eliminate duplication of the work being done by the city’s various departments, to shift the current workloads around and to be able to provide citizens with a time frame for getting jobs done.

“Residents will see better quality of service and less time spent between a valid request and an action from the municipality,” he said.

One of the major expected changes is the way the city’s departments work with the IT staff.

“Traditionally, the user’s department asks the IT department to develop, finance and defend a project with minimal intervention from the user’s department,” said Martel. “Now, the user’s department has to assume a leadership role in providing employee(s) who directly supervise the development of a new system with employees of the IT department. We have adopted a matrix structure for the project management.”

The biggest challenges, said Martel, are behind them.

“It was to persuade our administration to accept this profound reorganization (April 2004) and to allow the appropriate money,” he said.

Tom De Rosa, solutions specialist, public sector, at Oracle Canada, said that’s often the case in regions where 311 systems are not yet mandated by government.

Building a business case to sell the proposition to cash-strapped city councils can be tough because it’s going to cost a lot of money and it’s not clear if and when there will be any return on that investment, he said.

Most of Oracle’s work with 311 systems has been in the U.K., where the national government has decreed that 311 systems must be implemented by local authorities, he said.

“What we’ve seen in the UK is it’s government (mandate) that you must provide these services and that’s where they don’t really have a choice,” he said. “It’s a little more difficult in Canada without that government mandate.”

Several other Canadian cities, including Toronto and Windsor, recently announced plans for their own 311 services.

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