Ottawa builds IT into amalgamation plan

Faced with the daunting task of coordinating 17,000 employees, many of whom they’d never met, managers of the newly amalgamated City of Ottawa turned to an IT solution for help and haven’t looked back, the city’s CIO says.


capital and fourth largest city has become a major user of Cognos PowerPlay business intelligence software. Ottawa-based Cognos’ flagship product, the online analytical processing software has been successfully used by a number of municipalities to improve efficiency and service delivery, says Cognos product marketing manager Colin Saravanamuttoo.

After the merger in 2000 that united 12 municipalities, Ottawa civil servants struggled with overseeing systems that managed the city’s 12,000 full time and 5,000 part-time employees, says Ottawa director of IT services and CIO Greg Geddes.

Trying to make sense of the city’s payroll systems was particularly intimidating, since the city now had to act as a single employer and had to pool payroll information coming from 15 different agencies.

“”Getting even basic information was extremely difficult,”” Geddes says. “”Especially since some of the smaller municipalities had almost completely outsourced their payroll.””

Geddes and his team decided to turn to Cognos’ business intelligence (BI) solution based on a successful, decade-long relationship the city had with its software, he says. The city was looking for flexible reporting tools HR managers could deploy fairly quickly and found that PowerPlay’s Web-based front end made it fairly easy to distribute and use, Geddes says.

“”We’ve been using the system for probably a year and a half now, and we’ve further refined it and we’ve reduced the number of payroll systems down to nine,”” he says “”We’re hoping by next June to be down to one.””

Saravanamuttoo says that the self-service capabilities of the solution also make sense for the type of user the municipality is, and this feature is responsible for the company’s success in the public sector.

“”Once the BI is in place it allows users of varying skill levels to access this information, so they don’t’ need to go through the IT department,”” he says. “”They can create their own reports, they can find the information they need as opposed to waiting for a week for the IT department to generate the report, if they were able to at all.””

“”Traditionally we’d have teams of programmers that would develop customized reports and if there were changes to them you’d have to send them back. The advantage of the Cognos tools is that what you get out of the cube is the basis for an infinite amount of possible reports,”” Geddes agrees.

Ottawa’s IT team had to invest a significant amount of time into preparing for the PowerPlay roll-out because of the complexity of the system they were trying to unify, Geddes says. However the development of the system was refreshingly swift, about a 4-month exercise, he says.

The cost of this type of solution varies greatly and depends largely on user volume, configuration and project basis, says Saravanamuttoo. In terms of return on investment, clients can typically expect payback in just over a year, he says.

Six months ago Ottawa also implemented this solution in its social services department, Geddes says, where it is using it to report on employment and financial assistance systems. As the city further integrates its agencies and services these types of tools will be used even more, he adds.

“”We started off with 12 of everything, so we’ll definitely be using these more,”” he says.

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