Ontario fire fighters gear up for BI

They’re lean, they’re mean, and they’re technology-driven fire-fighting machines.

Municipal fire agencies and the Office of the Fire Marshall (OFM) in Ontario are turning to business intelligence tools to enhance services and drive proactive fire prevention and public education efforts.

The application they are using to accomplish all this is Performance Measurement and Benchmarking System (PMBS), a Web-based tool that tracks, measures, and reports performance for municipal fire services and departments across the province.

At the core of this tool is Metrics 3D technology developed by Toronto-based ABS System Consultants Ltd.

Launched last November, PMBS’ reporting capabilities allow users to perform peer grouping and comparative analysis, and generate and customize reports. The aim is to use the system as a vital component in the fire departments’ decision-making process, said Carol-Lynn Chambers, operations manager for OFM’s field fire protection services.

She said OFM and the fire departments needed a thin client system that could be used easily and intuitively by a large and diverse group.

“Close to 500 fire departments in the province would be using this system, so it had to be very user-friendly, very accessible, and it had to be zero footprint,” said Chambers, adding Metrics 3D provided the answers for all those requirements.

The only pre-requisite is access to the Internet.

There is a “peer-mentoring network” that enables fire department users to interact and help each other learn how to use the system, Chambers said.

She said PMBS was adopted following implementation of the Municipal Performance Measurement Program, which requires all municipalities to do performance reporting in various service sectors.

Fire chiefs, she said, wanted to be able to measure and – more importantly – to compare their performance with that of other fire departments.

The system previously used by fire departments was limited to reporting fire incidents within the province, the OFM operations manager said.

“The purpose of this project was to expand and start to look at some more proactive aspects of fire services such as fire prevention and public education, so that fire departments could do more long-term planning,” Chambers said.

The PMBS’ Metrics 3D software has given fire departments across Ontario access to a wealth of data from various sources such as Statistics Canada, municipal financial information, and municipal property assessment information.

Reporting and analysis are two main functions of the Metrics 3D application, according to ABS Consulting vice-president Seth Rudin. The software is designed for end-users belonging to senior level decision-makers.

“We provide them with the ability to access their data and create a host of their own reports, so they can really begin to see what is happening within the organization,” Rudin said.

The system, he said, effectively eliminates the tedious process of a manager asking staff for a report and never actually getting exactly what he needs. Because the manager is the end-user, he has the ability to access multiple views of the data and get just the information he requires.

Metrics 3D provides tools such as comparative analysis, peer analysis, time series analysis, and other analytical functionalities needed to create customized reports. It interfaces with various database platforms such as Access, Oracle, SQL Server, and DB2, said Rudin.

Another organization that reported tangible benefits from Metrics 3D is Hospital Report Research Collaborative (HRRC), a reporting and research organization headed by the University of Toronto and funded by the Ontario Hospital Association and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Benefits of the implementation include a more interactive medium for users and a much more streamlined production process, according to Miin Alikhan, project manager for HRRC’s Hospital Report Project.

HRRC used Metrics 3D to develop an electronic multi-dimensional scorecard that replaces the password-protected Excel spreadsheet reports provided to hospital clients. Through the e-scorecard, hospitals are given paperless access to standard reports, as well as the flexibility to customize reports as required, Alikhan said.

The system also enables users to compare themselves with similar organizations, thereby getting a better idea of their own performance, she said.

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