Centre Wellington Township uses xRM for automation

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – An Ontario municipality is using the same Web services and software development kit behind Microsoft’s customer relationship management product to create a series of line-of-business applications that promise greater integration than ever before.

Centre Wellington Township used this year’s Municipal Information Systems Association (MISA) annual conference to demonstrate how it is turning itself into a poster child for the rapid application development and development (RADD) approach to business process automation. This includes a new system for building management that will help automate inspections and permitting, and animal licensing is slated for later year. Applications for the fire department were the first to be launched through the initiative, which has been under way for about two years.

Centre Wellington, which is primarily comprised of the communities Elora and Fergus, has a population of more than 26,000 and is situated in on the Grand River in the south-central area of the province.

According to David Boyle, Centre Wellington Township’s director of IT and services, the municipality offers approximately 64 services to the public, as well as a number of internal services such as HR to employees. As the area has grown – it is currently in the top 12 per cent of Ontario municipalities in size – the automation behind some of its processes has gotten increasingly complex, he said.

“It’s not just that there are a larger number of services, but there are also a wide variety of services,” Boyle said. “And no two municipalities offer the same set of services.”

Enterprise services, for example, could include finance, operations, GIS and business intelligence, Boyle explained. These are primarily not public-facing. Line of business applications, on the other hand, could include everything from animal licensing and incident reporting to building permits and property standards.

“In building permitting, for example, we want to share information with the corporate Web site,” Boyle said. “That includes corporate cashiering – we want to allow people to pay for services. But then you also want to be able to share information with Finance when transactions happen. You also want to be able to look in property ownership that you have the right owner. And you want to share information with GIS for civic addressing.”

Most of these things happen manually today, but as Centre Wellington tried to automate these processes it required new interfaces to be developed. Therein lies the challenge. Four enterprise systems and 12 line of business applications would demand 50 custom interfaces, Boyle said.

“The architecture doesn’t scale efficiently,” he said. “Changes are unpredictable. Point solutions change frequently. In many cases there’s no support for interfaces. Overall we’ve found application integration is still immature and a low priority for most vendors.”

Centre Wellington chose the Microsoft xRM package, which provided the foundation for the company’s Dynamics CRM line, and used RADD in order to get direct results quickly and at a low costs. Working with Microsoft’s tools also offered some other advantages.

“A lot of (what we’ve built) looks very much like the standardized MS Office UI appearance, which really aids in (user) acceptance and reduces orientation training,” Boyle said.  

All applications created through the Centre Wellington project will reside on a single database, which Boyle said simplifies the creation of a service view of a customer and a BI view of service operations.

MISA 2011 wraps up Wednesday.

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