Competitive municipalities explore uneasy partnerships

TORONTO — Sharing resources via an ASP model may be a way to overcome inconsistent electronic service levels across Ontario municipalities, according to the Municipal Information Systems Association.

“”To say there is no cohesive pattern of adoption . . . would definitely be an understatement,””

said MISA Ontario president Jim de Hoop, who Thursday addressed a group of government workers at the Showcase Ontario conference. De Hoop is also the information services manager for the City of Kingston, Ont.

MISA issued a progress report called “”City Hall Online”” earlier this year. Results indicate that there are many and varied initiatives underway throughout the province. The City of Waterloo, for example, is using global positioning system technology to route garbage pickup and Peel Region is experimenting with streaming video to deliver town hall meetings.

The barrier to offering e-services like these is not the technology piece, said de Hoop, but finding enough people to set it up and maintain it. He refuted claims that adding technology to government puts people out of work. “”That’s not the case at all. It’s freeing people up to do more important things.””

To overcome the shortage of skilled IT professionals, it may become necessary to pool resources between municipalities and in some cases share provincial government technology. He pointed to a pilot project in the works in the Windsor/Essex area to interface with Ontario systems to help with health-care e-services.

Last week MISA met with the Ontario government to determine how the province could collaborate with municipalities — particularly smaller ones with fewer resources — to help alleviate their burden and deliver services to constituents in a timely fashion.

But there are some serious impediments to the adoption of such a model, said de Hoop — not the least of which is overcoming the “”competition and friction”” that exists between some municipalities. There is also the issue of finding the right people who would have the clout to push through proposed changes to service delivery models and municipalities that would be appropriate candidates.

There would need to be comprehensive service level agreements (SLA) in place between municipalities to ensure that objectives are met, said de Hoop. He pointed to a project that is underway in the Halton region, which already has SLAs with several municipalities.

The private sector may be called upon to play a pivotal role. “”The private sector may be key, in fact,”” said de Hoop. “”Outsourcing (technology) is often the best answer.””

Provincial paper chase

The Ontario government said it is experiencing its own re-shuffle of resources, particularly the paper-based variety. There are more than 10,000 forms for internal government use alone and some of them are so out of date, “”there are scores of forms they never knew existed,”” said Edna Hussman.

Hussman is manager of the Fewer Forms, Faster Forms project currently underway in the province. She gave a seminar of the same name at Showcase Ontario.

The project is a combined effort from the Red Tape Commission and the Shared Services Bureau to keep forms up to date — both public internal use forms — and place them in a central database. Forms for public use have been collected and published on a government Web site.

One of the main obstacles in the way of keeping forms current is the lengthy approval procedure they go through whenever they are changed. In the case of internal forms, they must receive ministerial approval, cabinet approval and sometimes legislative approval before changes can be made.

“”People are never sure if they’re looking at a current version,”” said Alan Kirschbaum, policy analyst with the Red Tape Commission. But the Fewer Forms project is already making life easier, he said. According to Kirschbaum, 14 per cent of forms have been identified by ministers as unnecessary or redundant. He said the process to begin taking them out of circulation received the first stage of cabinet approval Wednesday night.

So far there are 4,463 forms in the central database — half are static text, half can be filled out online. Some of the static ones will be converted using an XML-based e-form utility, which will be completed in October. Not every form is suitable for online completion, though. Some will remain in view-only mode, said Hussman, and there are people — particularly in the medical profession — who actually prefer PDF forms they can print out and pass along.

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