Ontario launches five-year plan for online services

A partnership announced Tuesday between the Ontario Government and Bell Canada could see as many as 500 citizen services online before the end of the decade.

The five-year contract, which also includes CGI and KPMG Consulting, is worth an estimated $60 million to $90 million dollars, and will launch at the end of 2002 with 24 services initially.

The first services available will include vehicle registration and renewals and address changes. Eventually, online access will save the government money. For example, through existing channels, it costs the government $15 to process and replace a health card due to an address change. Norm Sterling, Consumer and Business Services Minister for the Government of Ontario, wouldn’t speculate how much the online initiative would reduce that cost, but said the more people use it, the cheaper it becomes for government.

Services may eventually include more complex processes like online tax payment, said Sterling. ” I think it’s important for us to get, for instance, retailers in a position where they can pay retail sales tax online,” he said. “In my view that has a two-fold effect: it probably makes our organization more efficient; it will make the business more efficient and encourage the business to use online services in other ways as well.”

CGI will be building the bridge between government legacy applications and the online services, plus the services themselves. The services will be Java-based and employ XML messaging, said CGI vice-president of architecture and technology Clive Howard. The front-end applications will be based on a similar initiative the Government of New Brunswick announced in February called Service New Brunswick, also provided by CGI.

Three hundred access terminals dedicated to this initiative will be placed in airports, bus and train stations, malls, hospitals and other public areas. The first 24 services will also be available over the telephone, either by interactive voice response (IVR) systems or through an agent.

“If you get an elderly person who’s not familiar with the Internet or cannot get to a terminal, then the phone access would be important to them,” said Sterling. The phone service may also be useful for reaching more remote areas of the province, though the government has stipulated that there must be a terminal with 40 km of every Ontario resident.

Bell Canada will provide the network through which the services will be delivered and KPMG will build an interface for the government to use Bell’s electronic infrastructure. “We actually have access to 97 per cent of the households within Ontario. That’s the biggest plus that we being to the table,” said Tony Ciciretto, vice-president of sales for the Ontario public sector for Bell. “Any access point that we have today within the public can be utilized to hop on this network.”

The consortium formed as a result of the citizen services plan will begin to pursue other online opportunities within the public sector, added Ciciretto.

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