Technicity West 2022: Improving municipal services with data

Yesterday, a panel of tech leaders moderated by Mai Nguyen, head of government relations and public policy at VMware Canada, convened at the second annual Technicity West virtual event to share their insights on the role of information technology in boosting digital transformation and sustainability in city infrastructure and the delivery of municipal services.

In Medicine Hat AB, panelist Marty Robinson, the city’s chief information officer (CIO) explained, insights captured by its automated metering system from sensors monitoring space utilization, traffic, parking and occupancy rates, create databases that help drive faster investment decisions on how to optimize space and energy utilization.

Mike Palmer, CIO of the City of Victoria B.C., affirmed that real-time data generated from Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as smart traffic counters and lights, parking sensors, fleet management, and transit scheduling data, allows city planners to spearhead better road network planning, lower operational costs, and help vehicles save on fuel costs.

In turn, that data “feeds back to the people,” who can plan ahead for parking or traffic, but also gauge their own energy footprint, explained Mario Lebar, CIO of the University of Manitoba. He added that the data shows people “they’re making a contribution to what can sometimes be seen as an overwhelming goal.”

 “I think that [data] can be really compelling for people,” added Lebar. “It could really show people that if I make some of these choices, individual choices, and we all do that together, I think there’s some real potential there for building community and for making progress. And I think big data, if we can get it organized in the right way, can facilitate that.”

Efficient use of existing assets is also instrumental to building smart infrastructure, the panelists affirmed. 

“When you are looking at that kind of scale, you’re not going to go out and find $350 million to redo everything. So you have to be smart about it, make good investments, and stretch the asset where you can and replace it where you have to.” said Lebar.

Municipal asset management systems are maturing, Palmer agreed, as the data gathered is helping promote cost savings for inspections and maintenance services, necessary when municipalities must maintain and enhance rather than throw away the existing infrastructure.

Furthermore, Robinson acknowledged, big data is improving governance and accountability to citizens in Alberta. “With provincial governments pulling back funding or basically either forcing the municipalities to raise taxes or reduce services, we need to find ways to do it better. The idea is, if we can be more efficient and effective with managing our assets, using big data that’s flowing from the assets or through the workflows on the maintenance side of things, I think we can sort of create a better mousetrap at the end of the day for how the city is run.”

Building tools to allow citizens to interact digitally with municipal actors is also key for the City of Medicine Hat, said Robinson. “We’re learning that there’s a large percentage of people that want to interact in that [digital] way; they don’t want to walk into City Hall. And they certainly don’t want to pick up the phone and talk to somebody.” 

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at [email protected]

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