Technicity in photos

Technicity 2019, held on Dec. 4, celebrated the power of information technology to transform the public service and the citizen experience in Toronto. More than 250 private and public sector technology leaders were a part of this year’s conference at Arcadian Court, 401 Bay St., Toronto. 

Technology experts and senior city leaders gathered to discuss issues ranging from open data to cybersecurity and the role of technology in improving the customer experience. 

City of Toronto projects were used as case studies with associated panels and individual presentations providing insights and best practice advice.

For the second year, the city’s annual IT awards program, Toronto’s Got IT Awards of Excellence, was a part of Technicity’s program. A total of 10 awards for the best-led IT initiatives were presented by and in front of the City’s senior leadership team.

In addition to the program, attendees had an opportunity to tour a Solutions Centre highlighting innovations served up by both service providers and City of Toronto agencies.

Displays included Toronto and Region Conservation, Authority, Open Data, Toronto Police Services, ServiceNow, Cisco, Insight and Zencos. 

Visit the Technicity landing page here, and read more about Toronto’s shift towards challenge-based RFPs and how it plans to use open data here.

All photos were taken by Paul Darrow.

It’s time to buckle up for serious change

Lawrence Eta, the chief technology officer of the City of Toronto, started off by explaining how it is an exciting time to be a technologist in the city with its multitude of business partners. But, he also stressed the fact that there are tremendous demands from the public and developing trust with them is crucial.

“We are becoming increasingly digitized, there are efficiencies that we must include in our decision making to better manage public assets. The use of digital technologies increases policies and processes that are needed to be able to evaluate and to improve the citizen and the customer experience.

“Solutions need to reflect the public interest because it’s the public that holds us accountable through our governance structure,” said Eta, adding the city is developing a digital infrastructure plan to help guide it in day to day decisions.

High-quality services expected everywhere

Bob Osborn, chief technology officer of federal and public service at ServiceNow, talked about how the City of Toronto is blessed with the advice from a lot of different people, organizations, and technologies. Using Siri as an example, Osborn indicated the public’s desire to interact with public services with the same level of ease they do with ordering food or moving money around in their savings account.

Osborn moved further by saying, “The real message is that our citizens expect this type of outcome and service delivery from us, whether that be from our federal government or provincial government or our local governments.”

He explained that the thing that is really important about technologies like voice recognition etc. is that all of it is designed around people.

“All of this technology is human-centric design. How do we bring this type of experience that we are utilizing in our personal lives every day to delivering government services to those citizens that we’re serving?” Osborn told audience members.

Growing, growing, and more growing

Chris Murray, city manager, City of Toronto, started off by talking about how the population in Toronto is growing. Murray emphasized the importance of city leaders coming together at events like Technicity every year to discuss technology and its application in the public sector. He said it’s impossible to imagine how the government is going to succeed without technology being at its base, helping ensure that the quality of life that people have come to enjoy is maintained. 

“Over the last 10 years, we have grown by what amounts to a Burlington and an Oakville. We’ve added 400,000 people to the population of Toronto. And what’s driving our growth is immigration, without immigration, we don’t grow. And over the next 20 years, we’re going to grow by about another million people. People are coming here for a variety of reasons,” said Murray.

“Yes, it’s about the quality of life but I would argue, our immigration laws are probably much more positive than they are in other parts of the world, and there is a quality of life that people can experience here in Toronto that is making the investment become even more significant as the days, weeks, months and years pass.”

He ended his conversation by encouraging people to realize that the City of Toronto is going to be working to form more and more partnerships to improve the city’s software capabilities, customer experience, and build-out the smart city pilot on Quayside.

Connected Communities and Delivering the Customer Experience panel

Josie Scioli, deputy city manager of corporate services, City of Toronto oversees a wide range of city services, from business management to strategic initiatives and corporate security. Scioli took the stage and delivered some insights into what the city is doing to ensure that Toronto is a well-run city. 

“The city is on a journey. We have a great staff in this organization, and I can say that because I’ve actually worked with quite a few of them in the last seven years, and their heart is in delivering great customer service,” Scioli said. 

The panel members talked about the successes and bottlenecks involved with shaping digital interactions between governments and taxpayers. 

Jill R. Bada, director, strategic strategy and planning at the City of Toronto talked about the obstacles the city is seeing when it comes to modernization.

“The challenges that we currently face are because of our size and a number of complex services that we deliver to the public in many different ways. We have been trying to create cultural readiness within the organization and looking at service across the organization rather than just a single division. The City of Toronto has been creating an environment where people are open to the idea of changing processes and looking at how we can leverage technology to enable better service. And I think it is also about openly listening and gathering information from the public about the services that they want,” Bada said.

“In the end, we want to have a person who could sit in their PJs at three in the morning, pay a parking ticket, get a marriage license and register their kids for camp.”

Pictured above from left, Samantha Liscio, Matt Keliher, Asim Hussain, Jill R. Bada, Bob Osborn as panel members, and Josie Scioli as the panel moderator

Open Data and Analytics: Driving a Performance Management Culture panel

This session looked at the ways the City gathers personal data and how it gets the insights from the important bits. It explored how the safe and secure sharing of some of the data is paying dividends, and the discussion was also about the level of technical sophistication that is expected from the citizens in order to interact both on data entry and data consumption. 

I think the city tracks a lot of things. For some people, there’s a price of the things that we may not track so I think there is a little bit of dichotomy on what some people think. We track physical pieces, assets, we also track how people think and how they feel, the customer experience,” Ryan Garnett, manager geospatial data integration and access told audience members.

“The really interesting thing is that because open data, civic tech, open government happens in the open, you don’t have to start from a blank page, you can steal ideas from other cities that are already doing stuff in order to improve,” said Mark Richardson, chief technical officer of Rich Analytics. 

Pictured above: From left, Ryan Garnett, Mark Richardson, and Jim Love, chief information officer of IT World Canada as the panel moderator.

Attracting IT talent is a priority

Dr. Rick Huijbregts, vice-president of digital transformation and innovation at George Brown College, talked about why attracting IT talent to the public sector must be a priority. He made an argument for stronger action on skill training for the public service if it is to deliver on the promise of improving customer experience. He shared a few thoughts around everything that was discussed at the conference, and the need for aligning to education and talent creation because he said his big worry is that a hard-to-fill gap is going to be created otherwise. 

“I think what we need to invest in and focus on is the ability of all the people to embrace and adapt to the technological innovations at the same pace that we would like to transform ourselves and the companies around us. If we don’t connect the dots and really create an environment where all of us, including those that have been working for our organizations for 30 years, are able to take advantage and come along on this journey, we could be sitting here with thousands of people who are going to have a huge discrepancy and a huge disconnect.

Digital change requires partnerships

Hillary Hartley, Ontario’s chief digital officer, emphasized that a digital change requires partnerships and discussed the importance of crafting a digital strategy with partners.

“An effective digital strategy will probably enable you to do lots of things on those devices that are in your pockets. But how we get there is the hardest part. It’s about really reorienting around people, rethinking our technology so that we’re building with interoperability in mind from the beginning, and shifting our mindset. And this team, the Ontario Digital Service, is at the heart of that literally and figuratively. It’s a team in the centre of government in-cabin office that is able to act as that center of gravity for digital expertise, awareness, training and capacity building.

“We try not to just build something in isolation, we’re rather trying to get it done together so that again its tentacles reach up across the public service, in collaboration, both with partners across the government and also with partners across Ontario,” Hartley said.

“To be a digital organization, there’s a list of things to do. But, at the heart of this change is shifting how we behave, what we value, what drives decisions in our organizations, and it’s things like evaluating outcomes and identifying as well as talking about outcomes versus solutions.”

How to work with the City of Toronto

This discussion was more of a fireside chat with civic leaders about partnerships, pilots, and how to get the attention of the city with a good idea.

“The city has always tried to use aspirational goals to purchase services. We’ve always had partnerships. But I think over the last few years, there’s been a growing realization that we need to leverage those partnerships more and find more ways to bring partnerships into the fold. An example, we set up the Civic Innovation office a few years back and they helped put together the “invitation to partner” which was the challenge-based procurement process,” said Pacholok. 

“This office tried to find a different way to bring solution providers that were not our typical vendors and find ways to actually get a challenge-based procurement process. That was one way we realized that we need more dialogue with the vendor community before we even do the procurement and even while we’re in the middle of the procurement. We’ve been trying to be more strategic with some of our work and building more options like commercial conference meetings and negotiations and actually building in-market discussions in advance.”

Speaking about the current situation, Manjit Jheeta, director, office of partnerships, City of Toronto said, “We don’t have all of the knowledge and expertise to be able to address some of the really crunchy, big issues and challenges that we face as that order of government that’s responsible for ensuring that public dollars are used efficiently and effectively.”

“We’ve created things like the unsolicited proposals process which says, come and tell us your idea, we might not have thought about it, we might not have gotten an RFP out for it, but come and tell us and let’s figure this out, we’ll see whether it makes sense. The city also put in place the green market accelerator program,” she explained. 

Cyber city safety

This was the last panel discussion of the day and it was dedicated to the topic of cybersecurity. Panelists discussed how the risk of a cyber incident grows as cities adopt technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

“We used to call it information security, we used to build firewalls, it’s always been there in our DNA. But, I think what is elevated now is that it’s no longer just about technology, it’s about the enterprise. Cybersecurity is the corporate conversation that’s going on between the city manager, the deputy city manager, and it’s now a part of where the city is trying to ensure public awareness.

“What I’m happy about is that it’s no longer just the technology conversation, it’s actually a business risk conversation,” said Eta while talking about how security is now built into all city initiatives. 

“In the public sector, some of the biggest threats are nation-state actors,” Eta continued. “These are states, which will come in and remain in the environment for extended periods of time. Their mission is not to attack and bring the city down, rather it is to gather as much intel as possible, and use it as leverage to get “X” amount of things done with the city against those individuals. We need to build out a threat intelligence program that actually protects everyone and every organization.”

Toronto’s first-ever CISO, Kush Sharma, said it begins with people.

“I think the first thing is awareness. We have to raise the bar with our staff and team members, no matter if it’s public or private sector,” he said.

Pictured above: From left, Robert Drewett, A/manager, enterprise architecture, information technology services at the Toronto Police Service; Julie Chollet, information security officer at the Toronto Police Service;  Kush M. Sharma, chief information security officer at the City of Toronto; and Lawrence Eta. Jonathan Raymond, Cisco Canada cybersecurity specialist moderated this panel discussion. 


Leading the charge

Just before the networking lunch was the “Leading the Charge” session. During this session, three presentations showcased the way Toronto tech projects set the city apart. 

The projects that were showcased include:

  • What happens when you drop a Toronto cop in a tech accelerator for a year. It was presented by Ian Williams, manager of innovation and analytics at the Toronto Police Service. (Pictured above).
  • How unlocking the City of Toronto’s real estate is creating benefits for residents and workers. It was presented by David Jollimore, director of city-wide real estate program at the City.
  • Moving beyond the pilot state with blockchain. It was presented by Tina Scott, manager of business application services at the city.

Toronto’s Got IT Awards of Excellence

The conference ended with the awards ceremony – Toronto’s Got IT Awards of Excellence

There were four award categories, namely the “Service Team Awards”, “Small Project Awards”, “Large Project Awards”, and the “Diamond Award”. 

Service Team awards recognized IT operational and/or service teams that contribute to the furthering of IT and City priorities.

The Small Project awards recognized transitional projects with moderate impact on the delivery and modernization of City services.

The Large Project awards recognized large transformational projects impacting the delivery and modernization of City services.

The Diamond award recognized the most outstanding team having made a significant contribution to the City, demonstrating work excellence, improved IT value and customer service. 

Pictured above: Heather Taylor, chief financial officer and treasurer, City of Toronto announcing the Service Team award winners.

Service Team Award Winner (Bronze) – Solid waste collection tracking and transportation permit management

Solid Waste Management Services is responsible for collecting, transporting, processing, composting and disposing of municipal and some private sector waste. This includes garbage, blue bin recyclables, green bin organics, yard waste, oversized and metal items, as well as household hazardous waste and electronic waste.

The solid waste collection tracking and transportation permit management IT support team delivers system solutions that improve customer service and modernize efforts and help generate revenue for the City of Toronto. This team has delivered solutions that include but are not limited to the road allowance control system. This is a system that supports the management of issuance of permits for road closures and generates $24 million in annual revenues.

The weighscale system is part that ensures weighted material collected at transfer stations and landfills are accurately tracked and managed. The solid waste application portal generates $35 million in annual revenue and helps fill residential waste by frequency, type and volume. The permit parking systems issues 13,000 new permits, 78,000 renewals, 300,000 temporary visitor permit, generating a combined $15 million in annual revenue.

Service Team Award Winner (Silver) – Web Planting Tool

The Web Planting Tool helps the City make Toronto more livable and green. Urban forestry annually plants 100,000 trees in parks and designated natural areas in the city. The web planting tool’s service team has modernized tree planting by replacing a set of manual processes with an automated tool to ensure standardization and tracking of planting plans.

This database includes specifics of tree species, planter notes, details on planting progress and this information helps improve the data quality, which then can be used to identify where bottlenecks are and making trade plans easier and faster.

Service Team Award Winner (Gold) -The Cloud Service Team

It is a team that proves that being in the cloud is not always a bad thing. The cloud service team leverages cloud technology to modernize IT, improve customer employee experience and help achieve financial sustainability.

In 2016, the City of Toronto decided to go ahead with a cloud-first strategy. The goal was to modernize the infrastructure by moving services to the cloud, instead of relying on on-premises equipment in wanting to provide a better experience for citizens and to save money. Since then, a lot of cloud-related projects have been implemented, including an open data portal and a revamp of the city’s own website.

The Cloud Services Team has been at the centre of it all. One of the biggest benefits of the team’s approach is improved security. It is important because municipalities have recently been targeted by cyber attackers. The cloud services team has also played a big role in educating other city workers about cloud and it has worked closely with other departments to ensure that any concerns like privacy issues were addressed. 

Small Project Award Winner (Bronze): Letter Generation Application Project

The success of vaccination programs requires high coverage in populations. Collecting vaccine records, assessing immunization status and following up with Toronto funds is a straightforward but resource-intensive process. In Toronto, every child’s information is collected and assessed, and families are notified that their child does not meet the requirements. This is done by mailing letters directly to the home and results in more than 1000 letters mailed daily, each one including personal health information and integration of information from multiple but disconnected IT systems. 

The letter generation application project helped implement a process that increased efficiency. Easy, tailored letters meet all privacy requirements and ensure good quality checks and mitigates risk. Toronto public health staff were able to assess all students in Toronto Public Schools in 2018 for the first time since 2010, which helps them become better prepared to respond in the event of an outbreak.

Small Project Award Winner (Silver): Citywide Walkability Analysis Project

This project brings new meaning to walking the walk. 

The urban core of Toronto is highly walkable. However, much of the suburbs surrounding the city are not. The growing concentration of low-income neighborhoods in the suburbs, coupled with low walkability reduces important opportunities for social interaction, physical activity and easy access to services, shops and recreational opportunities. The project team worked with transportation services to model walk lines, times for 600,000 Toronto addresses to and from 48 amenities like libraries, walking clinics, schools, grocery stores, TTC shops and stations.

The Citywide Walkability Analysis helps the City understand walkable access for Torontonians and assists them in improving service delivery and resource availability.

Small Project Award Winner (Gold): Healthy Environments Mobile Inspection Project

Torontonians, business owners and operators expect health inspection results to be readily available. But in the past it was challenging for Toronto Public Health to disclose inspection information in a timely manner due to an inefficient paper-based system. The Healthy Environments Mobile Inspection Project uses mobile technology to provide better customer service and improve the delivery of city services.

Inspectors from the healthy environments program play a vital role in protecting residents from health hazards. They make sure that food and water in the city are safe. They inspect building for dangers, check on childcare centres, and take steps to control the spread of rabies and other diseases. But in the past, inspectors had to rely on a cumbersome paper-based process to get the job done. It was a challenge to respond to complaints and report inspection results to the public on a timely basis. So, Toronto public health introduced this mobile technology to speed up the process and build greater confidence in the system.

Large Project Award Winner (Bronze): Jabber Voice/IM collaboration team

This is a voice and chat tool that allows the city to be more efficient and allow them to collaborate better. There are currently more than 20,000 employees that are using Jabber and that’s happened in such a short period of time since September. 

Large Project Award Winner (Silver): The Enterprise Customer Relationship Management Project Team

The Enterprise Customer Relationship Management Project Team transitioned all existing 311 Toronto services, channels and business processes to the Salesforce Enterprise Cloud CRM solution in order to enable the City to provide enhanced citizen-centered experience, efficiently manage all interactions with residents, businesses & visitors through the 311 contact centre and realize the target “Toronto at Your Service” customer service vision.

The team has been instituting that for the last little bit and even now, right into the day, people are much more efficient in terms of booking appointments with the city, leading to more efficiencies and happier customers.

Large Project Award Winner (Gold): Disease Control Information System (Panorama) Team

The City of Toronto plays an important role in keeping residents safe and healthy. Toronto Public Health protects citizens against the spread of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases through its vaccine program. 

This program provides over 100,000 immunizations annually to school-aged children across the city. With possible breaks of diseases like SARS, measles and pandemic influenza, it became clear that the city needed better tools to support and manage its vaccine program. That’s when it decided to work with the province and federal government on the development of a new system known as Panorama.

With Panorama in place, Toronto Public Health and all other Ontario health units now have one information system for immunization management and vaccine inventory.

binSpector, 2019 Diamond Award of Excellence 

The City of Toronto has one of the largest recycling programs in North America. It deals with 180,000 tons of recyclables per year through its program. But the city has had an increasing problem with contamination in the bins with when people put on recyclable stuff, it can turn everything into trash.

In 2018, the contamination rate reached an all-time high 29 per cent, costing the city about $10 million. That’s when they created binSpector to combat the problem. By working closely with operations, the project team was able to develop and roll out the binSpector application in only nine months. The idea was to make it easy to use just like other everyday apps and it worked. The app was a big hit with the inspectors. It’s cut 30 minutes of paperwork out of each inspector’s day.

“binSpector has improved efficiency in the field by more than 100 per cent. Using pen and paper, inspectors could do about 350,000 inspections a year. Using the binSpector, they did over 400,000 inspections in six months, so they can do twice as many inspections with the binSpector. Additionally, there is no time spent at the end of the day doing manual transcription from paper to the database. At the end of the day, they’re done,” Simon Dimuantes, manager of integrated technology services, solid waste management services, City of Toronto said in a video. 

The ability to enter data and photos directly into the system means the city has more accurate and more detailed information on bin contamination that will help to educate the public on what should and should not go into the blue bins. The inspector tool is the first of its kind in Ontario. 

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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the river Yamuna on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing fanatic who also loves to prepare beautiful, healthy and delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not. Can be contacted at [email protected] or 647.695.3494.

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