Amalgamating system will bring region together

Ottawa region will soon be united as one new city, and one of the first steps was to start amalgamating the computer systems of the 12 municipalities.

Dave Johnston, manager of geographical information systems (GIS) for the Ottawa-Carleton region, said it was like bringing together 12 companies that are using different technology and are at different stages in the use of technology.

“The fact that we are all using the same (GIS) technology, the same databases, it will simplify the transition to the new city to a great extent,” Johnston said.

The Autodesk Municipal Program has been adopted by each of the 12 municipalities and, according to Giulio Maffini, director at Autodesk, it is the only application which all of the governments have in common.

“Typically you would expect each of these governments would have taken delivery of this product and customized it for them, but they installed it on one server and cost-shared the operation of the central server,” Maffini explained. “In this way the smaller municipalities did not have to make a huge investment.”

Ottawa region has been using the product since September 1999. Johnston said AMP was implemented as a way to make information more accessible and keep technology more cost effective.

Jim Denyer, Signs Plans Examiner for the city of Ottawa, uses the map browser application and the new databases. He said the search criteria that can be used are “awesome.” He uses it to seek out land use, zoning and property information and permit histories.

“We’ve got building outlines, property lines, so it’s very useful to see where you’re at and what kind of environment you’re looking at when you’re giving bylaw information,” Denyer stated.

He added the system was a big change for the staff, who had been using manual procedures or a PDIS system, which had no query functions.

“The map browser replaces what we used to use…land-use maps. The browser replaces that plus (delivers) more, a lot more,” Denyer said.

He noted his job gets done more quickly now that he doesn’t have to pull out land-use maps, look at them, check permit histories and then check the old computer system.

“In that sense it is a little quicker to access because all the eggs are in one basket. Otherwise, operationally, it doesn’t change the business much.”

Denyer thought everyone using the system was finding it to be a good tool. “Everybody here uses it and I don’t hear too many complaints.”

Autodesk acquired the municipal software from MCI Systemhouse, according to Maffini, who added the initiative was not fully completed at the time and Autodesk was involved in finishing it.

“We’ve developed five major applications. One of them is properties, another is development control and management – that’s the process that deals with how one piece of property goes from one place to another. The next application is roads and traffic, which manages just that. The other application is water and sewer and that’s in development right now. The last is called a request for service, which is really a call centre application,” he said.

Maffini added each of the municipalities have implemented the suite in a way customized to their operation. The software is database-driven and has a component that allows the user to produce dynamic data windows, which extend the data model to create reviews or reports that aren’t contained in the system.

Johnston would like more of a Web interface with some components, particularly in the permit area or the requests for service. “We’re looking at those for the future. It will depend on how the new city amalgamates,” he said.

His overall impression is that this is a good example of working with the private sector successfully.

“We’ve taken the knowledge of how to run a municipal government and developed that into a suite of applications, using the skill sets of people whose business it is to build applications. We captured business knowledge in applications,” Johnston said.