Convenience, cost savings, consolidation and a compelling user interface. Officials with Oxford County in southwestern Ontario, halfway between Kitchener and London, say they got it all when they migrated to a new Web-based Land Related Information System (LRIS) from their legacy server-based system.
The migration, accomplished with help from Imex Systems of Mississauga, a technology and IT services provider, has dramatically improved user satisfaction, simplified system maintenance and reduced operational costs, according to Oxford managers.
“We’ve also implemented multi-tier security to ensure only authorized users access the system,” said Margaret Parkin, the county’s head of geographic information systems. LRIS is available to each of eight local municipalities, as well as county administrative departments such as the Community and Strategic Planning Office, Public Works, Public Health, Emergency Services and Corporate Services.
Nearly 100 employees use the LRIS for tasks that include the issue and tracking of building permits, verification of property ownership, maintaining land inventories, registering and tracking nutrient plans and the creation of public notification mailing lists for development applications, public works projects and health and emergency services activities. LRIS includes an ESRI geographic information system (GIS), an Oracle database and an application tier.
Most applications were developed in-house, Parkin said, citing the county’s nutrient management plans tracking system. Under provincial law, she said, farmers who plan to build or expand livestock housing have to draft plans for disposing manure. “Our software – which is unique to Ontario and Canada – tracks these plans, identifying properties where the manure is generated, stored or used.” In the absence of an off-the-shelf application that would do the job, the county developed its own.
But the full potential of such applications was not realized until Oxford rolled out its new Web-based LRIS. “Our earlier LRIS system was developed in the 1980s and was keyboard based,” Parkin said. “Keyboard shortcuts were used to navigate applications and this wasn’t easy.” By contrast, she said, the new Web system is mouse-based and features a much more modern, user-friendly interface. This user-friendliness, she said, includes flexibility to publish in formats like PDF.
Cost saving is another key benefit of the move. Parkin noted that to access the earlier server-based LRIS system terminal-emulation software had to be loaded on user machines, “at a cost of around $400 a pop.” Smaller municipalities were reluctant to purchase this additional software. “Now that the system’s available over the Web, there is likely to be a broader user base.”
Security was a key consideration in the design of the system, which is only available to users over the County of Oxford Integration Network (COIN). “We implemented a three-tier security protocol – at the network, application tier and Oracle database levels,” said Parkin.
An important aspect of the project, she said, was incorporation of end user feedback in the design and implementation phase. A trial rollout to power users was completed last spring, with Imex managing the feedback.
Parkin said the county’s legacy Oracle Database, and Forms and Reports applications, were upgraded to a new Oracle platform, comprising Oracle 9i Database and Oracle Application Server 10g. GIS was integrated and applications re-engineered to provide a brand new interface and functionality.