City of Toronto CIO Rob Meikle speaks to attendees about the city's digital transformation journey during SAP Canada's third annual Smart Cities Forum on April 23, 2018.

Published: April 27th, 2018

As the City of Toronto embarks on a digital transformation journey which has included opening a civic innovation office, collaborating with one of Google’s sister companies on a smart neighbourhood, and an aggressive bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, it’s easy to overlook the role mobile devices play in its efforts.

That would be a mistake, City of Toronto CIO Rob Meikle tells IT World Canada, emphasizing that mobile devices – and their ability to connect employees and citizens alike to the internet – are key to both the development and delivery of the city’s ever-expanding list of digital services.

“Underpinning a digital government is access to the internet, and access to the internet is no longer just in fixed locations,” he says. “It’s all about enabling the consumption of information services anywhere, in any place, at any time.”

After all, Meikle says, 86 per cent of households across Canada have access to mobility, and it’s likely that number is much higher in an urban centre such as Toronto.

“You’d be surprised at the percentage of homeless people, or marginalized Canadians, who have smartphones,” he says.

More importantly, Meikle says, the burgeoning trillion-dollar-plus economy being created by the Internet of Things (IoT) represents an unprecedented data-gathering opportunity – one that requires mobile devices to be harnessed properly.

“A key opportunity for us is gathering data about our services, and our services are no longer only offered from a City Hall counter,” he says. “Whether it’s inspection, whether it’s licensing, whether it’s housing, employment, or social centres, our services are available all over the place, and with 5G on its way, the opportunities to capture user data, and design services around the citizens who provide it, are only going to grow.”

Accurately capturing the patterns of how its citizens live, work, and play will enable the city to adapt its services to better suit their lifestyles, Meikle says.

But it’s not only residents who benefit from the city’s focus on mobility, employees do as well.

“The modern worker has changed,” Meikle says. “Technology has created this convergence of work and life – they overlap. I don’t stop being a husband and father when I come to the City of Toronto. I also don’t stop being CIO when I get home. And I’m not unique in that manner.”

Where the city once treated only its field workers as “mobile workers,” Meikle says, mobile devices have made every worker a mobile one.

That’s led to the city’s efforts to ensure the appropriate infrastructure is in place, including WiFi in administrative buildings and the implementation of platforms that allow employees to access whatever information they need to conduct their jobs, whether it’s data gathering, law enforcement, emergency response, or fulfilling a service request.

“Just as mobile devices have allowed us to view our citizens as digital citizens, we view our employees as digital employees,” Meikle says. “And just like our service platforms, our employee productivity suites – software, hardware, tablets – are designed around creating a seamless, simple, and integrated user experience.”

Mobility even guides the city’s outreach efforts, Meikle says, especially when it comes to supporting Toronto’s most vulnerable residents.

“One of the foundations of our [digital transformation] is that we ensure digital access, which includes availability and affordability,” he says, noting that while many of the city’s homeless and lower-income residents might have mobile devices, the majority don’t have access to service unless they’re connected to a wi-fi network.

“If you’re in a shelter, you need that device to look for somewhere to live, or find a job,” Meikle says. “And so what we’ve realized is it’s very important to work with industry – in particular internet service providers – to make sure that we’ve got equal and affordable access across the City of Toronto.”