Web works wonders for County of Oxford

Convenience, cost savings, consolidation, and a compelling user interface – the County of Oxford experienced all this and more when it migrated to a new Web-based Land Related Information System (LRIS) from its legacy server-based system.

The migration – accomplished with the help of Mississauga, Ont.-based technology and IT services provider Imex Systems – has dramatically improved user satisfaction, simplified system maintenance and reduced operational costs.

“We’ve also implemented multi-tier security to ensure only authorized users access the system,” said Margaret Parkin, manager, GeoGraphic Information Systems, County of Oxford.

A key resource in Oxford County – LRIS is available to each of the 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 users depend on the LRIS to for tasks that include issue and tracking of building permits, verification of property ownership, maintaining land inventories, registering and tracking nutrient plans, and creation of public notification mailing lists for development applications, public work projects, and health and emergency services activities.

The LRIS comprises of an ESRI geographic information system (GIS), an Oracle database and an application tier.

Most applications were developed in-house, Parkin said, citing the example of 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.” She said – as there wasn’t a shrink-wrapped, off the shelf application that would serve the purpose – the county developed its own.

But the full potential of applications such these was not realized until the county 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 the applications and this wasn’t easy.” By contrast, she said, the new Web-based system is mouse-based and features a much more modern and user-friendly interface.” This user-friendliness, she said, includes flexibility to output documents in formats such as PDF.

Cost-savings is a crucial benefit of the migration.

Parkin noted that access to the earlier server-based LRIS system required that terminal-emulation software be loaded on user machines, “at a cost of around $400 a pop.” She said 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 new Web-based 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 the incorporation of end user feedback in the design and implementation phase. A trial rollout to power users was completed in Spring. She said Imex Systems was able to accomodate feedback provided by these users.

Imex Systems, she said, also played a vital role in getting the project completed in time and on budget. “Terms of the funding received for this project required that we meet certain timelines – and Imex helped us to do that successfully.”

Parkin said in the stipulated timeframe, 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 brand new interface and functionality.

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