3-1-1 a Winning Number for Torontonians

“If your house is burning call 9-1-1; if you have a burning issue call 3-1-1.”

That’s the tag line used by John Davies, executive director and CIO, City of Toronto, to introduce the city’s soon-to-be-launched flagship e-services project – the 3-1-1 non-emergency services hotline.

Davies was speaking yesterday at a Showcase Ontario 2004 conference titled Toronto’s eCity Journey. His presentation detailed several City projects – existing and in the pipeline – that use IT strategically to make local government and services more effective, accessible and efficient.

The main objective behind the 3-1-1 initiative, said Davies, is to simplify and streamline access to City services. “Right now if you want to contact the city there are literally hundreds of numbers for its various departments. With the 3-1-1 project that will all change. Citizens will be able to reach the City with their service requests using either a single phone number, e-mail address or Web portal.” The 3-1-1 service, he said, will also be a key element in the city’s customer service access portal.

He said this multi-channel approach will bring together call centre telephony, customer relationship management (CRM)-type knowledge management applications, and a great deal of systems integration. “All these technologies will work together to provide consistent, integrated services across all channels. They will allow individuals to direct service requests to the appropriate department and track the progress of their requests.”

Davies noted that the City is currently organized along departmental lines. The 3-1-1 initiative, he said, is an attempt to break down those departmental barriers and harmonize service delivery across the City.

He said his team has worked hard over the part several months to develop a vision, objectives and a preliminary design for the project. “We have an implementation plan and a budget, and are going to be taking that to Council this Fall.” He said the City was still awaiting CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) approval of a joint municipal application for the 3-1-1 help number. “I’m not sure how long that’s going to take.”

Acknowledging that the scope of the 3-1-1 project is huge, he said he hoped the service would be implemented by 2005. “Typically, though – as examples in the U.S. have shown – it takes around three to four years for the service to get to a level of maturity.” He said all city-wide projects had several stakeholders and consequently took longer to be rolled out.

According to Davies, the eCity framework includes four main focus areas: eGovernment, eServices, eBusiness and eFoundations — a state-of-the-art infrastructure that supports all core IT projects rolled out by the city.

eGovernment, the CIO said, is all about enhancing citizen engagement and access to local government, while improving governance accountability and decision-making. He discussed projects likely to be launched in the near future that support this vision – including an election results portal, live video streaming of Council meetings, and online polling and voting.

As part of its eBusiness focus, he said the City planned to create an SAP AG centre of excellence. “SAP will eventually be the hub for all applications in the city. To that end, we are putting in place a business re-engineering plan as well as several integration projects.”

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