Alberta county opens portal to the world

Bracing weather, pristine lakes, azure skies and lush forests – Wetaskiwin has them all.

This little rural county in the centre of Alberta’s heartland has been long renowned for its natural beauty.

And now it’s making waves in the virtual world as well.

“Bringing the world to you,” runs a slogan on Wetaskiwin’s Web portal – and over the past four years the county’s IT team has been beavering away – along with private sector partners – to make this slogan a reality.

The goal, according to Westaskiwin’s director of information services, Lynn Weed, is to provide residents (11,000 of them) and public servants with swift and seamless Web access to key applications and better self-service capabilities.

This transition from traditional brick-and-mortar operations to e-government is a project the county launched in 2001. “Our administrator had a vision of what he called E-Council,” Weed said. “Now we have a secure section on the Web site where we post information and agendas for Councilors’ meetings.”

She said county staff can be anywhere in the world and can access their e-mail, calendar, and anything else that is part of the Lotus Notes collaboration tool via the secure part of our Web site.

“Our county is long and narrow,” Weed said. “It’s about a two-hour drive for our Councilor who is farthest away to come to the office to pick up agenda packages, so that was part of what we were trying to address.”

Westaskiwin rolled out its “e-enablement” project in phases over a number of years, and there’s been a learning curve that has gone along with the Web site’s progress, according to Weed.

The Web site also wanted to have the capacity to serve County residents.

“For our ratepayers we have a business listing where they can post information about their business,” she said. “In the future ratepayers will have access to their utility or tax accounts and a spot on the Web site where they can advertise their events like Rodeos or (other) community events.”

With help from IBM and IT services provider Microage Solutions, Wetaskiwin fully integrated its Web site with its back-end systems.

“When I started looking for the tools for this (project) IBM was a lot of help,” Weed said. “They helped me shortlist some of the players we looked at.”

Microage was instrumental in putting the final plan together by working very closely with the County on implementation, she said. “We relied on (Microage)’s technical skills quite a bit.”

“We had a fellow from Netherlands who was doing some work with tourism for his country, putting together information about Regions people there would like to see,” Weed said. “He found our Web site and sent us an email saying how valuable he found our site and what a great resource it was for him.”

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