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The City of Regina saves money with the cloud

By Microsoft on May 10, 2016

Filed under Microsoft CityNext

Canadian provincial capital adds automated services, saves money with cloud solution

In effort to bring its technological capabilities in line with other major cities, the City of Regina built a portal powered by Microsoft Azure to handle single sign-on for accessing city services and viewing public utility bills. The city also adopted Microsoft Office 365 to increase productivity of government employees and serve citizens more efficiently. As a result of its move to the cloud, the city enhanced municipal worker output and saves taxpayer dollars in IT infrastructure costs.

The technological hub of Saskatchewan

In the last two years, the City of Regina has become technologically progressive, continually evaluating the latest IT innovations to transform city operations and infrastructure, and serve citizens better. No one knows this better than Carole Tink, Manager of IT Strategy and Business Support for Regina. “In the past, some of our technology was quite antiquated,” she explains. “Now, we’re more high tech. One of my new employees said the same thing. ‘Wow, you wouldn’t think that Regina would be a cool IT place to work, but it is.’”

So, how did the city’s IT infrastructure go from antiquated to cool? It started three years ago. Regina adopted a policy to streamline IT systems as part of a broader initiative to further promote the Open Government Program, which included making a variety of public records available to the public through a data portal called Open Data.

The city built the Open Data portal on the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network (CKAN), an open-source data management platform, which is incredibly popular with governments, universities, and enterprises around the globe. Using Azure, CKAN takes advantage of the scalability, flexibility, and interoperability features of the cloud. Regina received valuable support from Microsoft CityNext, an initiative that delivers innovative digital services to help cities transform operations and infrastructures to better engage citizens and businesses.

Open Data contains a variety of public data sets ranging from maps, agreements, and contracts to information about associations, boards, and committees. Citizens and organizations can create applications that rely on the public data, such as garbage collection reminders and the location of the nearest ice rink, and post them on the portal.

Citizens can access other services, too. After setting up an online account (My Account – which supports single sign on and identity management), citizens can select various online services.  The most popular one lets citizens access their utility account and check their water bills and water consumption.  When answers come quickly and easily, the people have greater respect for their government. Says Tink, “Speaking as a citizen of Regina, rather than an employee, having online water billing functionality was huge for me. It was pivotal in my relationship with the city and the services it provides, because it’s a symbol of the technology-supportive direction the city is headed.”

Services that work and save

But it’s more than a symbol—it’s paying off. In the first year, nearly 10 percent of account holders subscribed to the utility account service, providing users with a convenient service and saving the city paper mailing costs. Tink adds, “Our Azure-powered identity management solution saved us [CAD] $35,000 upfront and $7,500 annually compared with a competing third-party product we considered. We also saved $360 a month by building our portal using CKAN on Azure versus a different hosting service.”

Another popular feature is election services. People visit the website to get information about candidates, find out where to vote, check eligibility, and access a link to get live election results . The site can easily scale to serve increasing numbers of people as they learn about and use its services. Tink says, “We now have a solid foundation where we can continue to put more and more data and services in the cloud.”

More services are planned, including approximately 15 interactive property tax and assessment services available to the public. “With the MyAccount functionality and security, we can give residents access to a variety of services that involve personal information,” says Tink.

Government that’s responsive and cost-effective

Another way Regina better serves its citizens is by enhancing the productivity of government employees through Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based tools. Steve Jeffery, Manager of Business Solutions for Regina, says, “Skype for Business Online in particular has improved productivity. By using instant messaging and presence, employees are definitely creating efficiencies within their specific departments.” He explains that checking if coworkers are in the office before walking to their desks saves several minutes a day, every day. “And getting a quick answer at our desks saves us time, and helps us respond faster to citizen questions and needs.”

Even today, Regina uses Skype for Business Online to eliminate costly travel. Jeffery shares some recent feedback from another Regina manager: “We had a Skype for Business meeting with vendor representatives from two cities.   We used the presenting mode to review the tender and factory build sheet line by line together. Since a lot of graphics were involved, hovering the cursor over a specific item to emphasize and clarify issues or concerns was incredibly convenient. In the past, we traveled to those cities for the same meeting, so cost saving for taxpayers and time savings for myself and my Transit customer is tangible.”

Additionally, teams now engage on the go. Says Tink, “We’ve recently started using the mobile app Outlook Groups for a lot of our activities, and we’re finding productivity increases from that.” Specifically, her team creates a group for themselves, and then, using the Planner feature, they keep her up to date on their activities all the time. “I get notifications on my mobile phone when tasks are complete. That’s taken a lot of the status update time out of our one-on-one meetings and made the conversations more about direction and career-building, which is a much better use of our time.”

Jeffery also touts the highly secure document storage and management in Microsoft OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online. “Sharing documents between employees and external parties is now far more secure and a normal part of our business. Before, we often had to get IT services involved to create a shared drive. Now, individuals can simply grant an appropriate level of permissions to different colleagues. Again, it’s all about productivity.”

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