Cowtown portal sells municipal data sets

The City of Calgary has created a portal that will offer data sets about the municipality to local businesses, eliminating a lengthy in-person process to access information.

The data sets, which can include GIS maps

or tabular data like the number of licenced businesses in Calgary and or its streets and roads file, are available through its online store, which opened a few months ago. Information will be pulled directly from production servers in the city’s back end inside the firewall, allowing real-time updates, said Calgary data services analyst Peter Tablot. “”They’re not getting stale information.””

Until now, businesses that wanted a data set from the city made inquiries by phone, then had to bring down their corporate seal — assuming they had one — in person to the city offices. Officials would then produce a paper licence agreement that would have to be signed off by a commissioner, who would also administer an affidavit. A waiting period would ensue while the city “”cut”” the data for the business, Talbot said.

“”This could take anywhere from — a minimum, I would say, would be two weeks, to a couple of months,”” he said, adding that using the portal allows businesses to avoid the normal administration fee. “”The advantage of something like that to the development and commercial community is significant.””

Talbot said the 2,500 data sets are among the most important items offered at the online store, which also sells transit passes, dog licences and permits. The portal was created in response to customer service surveys conducted by Calgary’s Web business unit, which provided funding for the project. Many of the city’s users prefer to do business this way, he said.

“”A lot of them do business off hours, they work on the weekend. They do not want to come downtown,”” he said. “”They do not want to stand in line. They want the data immediately. They can’t wait two weeks to sign a licence agreement. Or they don’t want to send a courier to pick up a product.””

Peter Bennett, manager of information systems at the City of Winnipeg and the president of the Municipal Information Services Association, said Calgary is following in the footsteps of many other Canadian municipalities.

“”They’re taking what would normally be a transaction over the counter — either through a cash register or by filling out a form — and making it self-service, where it’s appropriate.”” he said, adding that these projects will raising expectations among citizens. “”I see that happening fairly soon. Within the next two years.””

Talbot said the city is considering additional services for its online store. Right now, for example, it offers a flower service where those from out of town can arrange to have flowers sent to a local gravesite. This may transition to the Web site as well, he said.

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