Kenora hypes city services with rich interactive portal

As North American cities go, Kenora is noticeably small fry. More rural than urban in setting, this little-known tourism city on Lake of the Woods in Northwestern Ontario has created some sizzle to raise its business profile and offer online public services.

Over the past few years, the City of Kenora has transformed its static municipal Web site into a multimedia-rich, fully interactive and customizable portal, offering a score of online services and engaging Web 2.0 features that encourage community participation.

It’s all about building presence, explains Ben Pawlowski, the city’s portal administrator. “We decided we needed to interact with the public more; we needed (to provide) more information and we needed to be a more dynamic site.”

With help from Mississauga, Ont.-based Imex Systems Inc. and consulting firm Connected Insight Inc. of Toronto, Pawlowski and his team took a static 300-page site and turned it into a 2,500-page full-service, interactive portal.

Residents now enjoy online access to a range of municipal services, from parking tickets and dog licences to tax certificates and building permits. Visitors can explore the wilderness all over Northwestern Ontario with GIS mapping applications, streaming video and photo slideshows; and users can interact via live chat or participate in online forum discussions, or even upload and share their own media.

The project was jointly funded by Fednor, a regional development organization under Industry Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, and Lake of the Woods Business Incentive Corp., and City of Kenora.

As a city of 16,000 residents, Kenora is primarily a tourist destination with a significant number of people coming into the city on a seasonal basis. The city’s Web site allows people to access city services even when they are miles away from the city, notes Pawlowski.

Bill payments, for instance, can be done electronically through the Web site. Similarly, requests for repairs and other city services can be done through the Web without having to physically drive to the city offices to submit requests, he adds.

Kenora’s portal also plays host to businesses and organizations within and around the city that want to build a Web presence. There are templates within the site that can help businesses, for instance, to create their own Web sites, post job openings or classified ads, says Pawlowski.

Building the site did pose some challenges for Pawlowski’s team, but many of them are around content creation such as choosing the layout and finding graphics for the site. Kenora also had to increase its server count from one to five, to accommodate the various applications used for maintaining the portal, says Pawlowski. “The technical (side) wasn’t really a challenge at all. We were primarily a Microsoft shop going into this, so we’re used to the technology.”

Pawlowski’s team took advantage of Microsoft development technologies, including .NET, SQL Server and Sharepoint Services, to recreate its Web site and achieve an interactive portal that allows easy access to city services.

Microsoft’s .Net development framework provides IT organizations the necessary expertise for Web 2.0 development, says Mark Relph, director, development

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