Municipalities may need to do some housecleaning before they start building Web services for their constituents, according to a software provider specializing in local government.
Victoria-based Municipal Software Corp.
Tuesday held a day-long e-government tutorial in conjunction with the launch of its flagship application suite, CityView 8 .Net. The company showed an early version of CityView at its user conference in Boston last November, but has since retooled it to take advantage of Microsoft Corp.’s .Net platform for Web services. Web services are a way of building applications based on extensible markup language (XML) that make better use of the Internet while exchanging data.
Troy Kusy, Municipal Software’s vice-president of product development, said CityView would open up the benefits of the application to more staff in the company’s installed base by allowing them to look at pages on their desktops or through a browser from a variety of mobile devices. If a contractor called into city hall to check an authorization before pouring cement, for example, field inspectors could be contacted and access forms through their cell phones, Kusy said.
Governments could also use CityView to create ASP.Net Web pages, one of the building blocks for successful Web services. This will take Municipal Software beyond its foothold in the back end and into situations that have a direct impact on constituents, Kusy said, admitting that CityView has traditionally been seen as “”billing and permit software.””
Before launching Web services, however, Kusy advised municipalities to clean house by making sure pages will be correctly presented online. “”The form you use in your office may be very different from what the Web’s going to be,”” he said. “”You may have to put in sub-lines in the Web version to sure people know that some fields are mandatory. There’s a lot of things in the offline world we’re just used to.””
Kusy said municipalities should also make sure they have a good idea of what constituents want — if they aren’t interested in paying taxes online, why provide it for them?
Those are the sorts of questions Brant County, a Ontario municipality of approximately 30,000 people, is asking. Sandra Arndt, Brant County’s information services co-ordinator, said it began using CityView about a year ago to bring its billing and planning services online. Now the county is considering Web-based geographic information systems, which might be developed through a .Net-style project, Arndt said. She added her team has gotten considerable support from council to be more aggressive on e-government efforts.
“”We’re looking at it as an enterprise vision,”” she said. “”We don’t have a fibre backbone, but we’re building it now. And it’s great because the counsellors can see all these fun things you can do, and it can really impress them.””
Michael Flynn, Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager for development tools, said .Net would allow governments to reuse their investments in code because they won’t have to rewrite applications more than once. It’s a far cry from Flynn’s days at Nestle Canada, he said, where he worked on a software project that took 45 days. “”To write it for another device or another platform, it took another 45 days,”” he said. “”Today, if we were doing it in XML, it would literally take four hours.””
Kusy said Municipal Software was also interested in looking at local governments as small enterprises and becoming more involved in planning its clients’ infrastructure development.