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GIS puts Ottawa on the MAP

by David Newman

The newly amalgamated City of Ottawa has a new consolidated business information system called MAP, the Municipal Application Partnership, that supports the management of workflow while capturing inventory data. MAP started in 1995 as a public-private partnership (P3) including all Ottawa area municipalities - Cumberland, Gloucester, Goulburn, Kanata, Nepean, Osgoode, Ottawa, Rideau, Rockcliffe, Vanier and West Carleton - along with the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton (RMOC) and SHL VISION* Solutions (now Autodesk).

The partnership wanted to develop a set of municipally oriented system applications - an enterprise system that would integrate geographic information system (GIS) functionality and data with business functionality and data to create an application that would access a single shared database covering the whole region. At the same time it needed to allow each municipality to configure the system to suit its own business flows. All of the partners invested both people and money.

The result was the MAP application using AMP (Autodesk Municipal Products), an enterprise business application incorporating functionality and data for Property Information, Planning Approvals, Permit Approvals, Bylaw Enforcement, Complaints, Roads Inventory, Sewer and Water Inventory and Animal Licensing.

The old City of Ottawa implemented MAP in September 1999 as a replacement to its property information system, a mainframe system without any spatial data that was not Y2K compliant. In fact, Y2K non-compliance was a key driver that led to the more cost-effective GIS-related application. Shortly after the city's implementation of MAP, the provincial government legislated amalgamation of the Ottawa-area municipalities. MAP, chosen as the supporting enterprise system for many of the new city's business areas, was reconfigured for the new Ottawa and put into place January 1, 2001 on a 24/7 basis. There are currently some 1,500 named users of the system with peaks most days of 250 to 300 concurrent users, scattered throughout the organization.

The partnership began as a result of a proposal from SHL VISION* Solutions, which identified a need in local municipal operations, perceived a marketing opportunity and pursued it. The company first approached the political arm of municipal governments, clearing away potential hurdles, before dealing with municipal business staff.

To establish the Joint Development Agreement in November 1995, every municipal council in the area passed the MAP project. The P3 started as a three-year agreement; it was extended a further two years. It had its own identity and budget - in fact, as long as the partnership budget lasted, the partnership development activities continued. It hired Prior and Prior, a management consulting firm, in January 1996 to work on the initial stages of the project, developing an annual work plan, putting in place strategic planning and determining the functionality and focus needed. But SHL VISION* Solutions was the only real private sector partner in the project.

Laine Wyman, GIS manager for the former City of Ottawa, worked on the project from its early stages. "The project budget was created with [RMOC] picking up half the tab since they represented the whole area. The individual municipalities shared the rest of the expense with each municipality contributing based on the percentage of area population they represented. We were looking at an initial overall budget of around $7 million together with over 3,600 person days in-kind human resource contributions from the municipalities and over $3 million in legacy VISION* software and support from SHL VISION* Solutions."

Wyman points out that the P3 elements in the project were limited essentially to the development phase and evolved as the MAP project evolved. "This is not a systems integration-style agreement. We are still using the Autodesk product, but this is not an ongoing public-private partnership. We have now entered into a client-vendor relationship. Even the original agreement was not strictly a typical P3, which is why it was referred to as a Joint Development Agreement. MAP was an agreement to jointly develop software with each partner having clearly identified objectives."

Another benefit of the joint development approach was the ability to build what was truly needed, a concept that developed as the proposal was refined. "In November 1995 the partnership officially started, but that was preceded by a concept phase of a year or so," says Wyman. "It is interesting that the municipalities initially identified a need different from one SHL VISION* Solutions thought we had. VISION* was looking at a shared GIS system development project. Our focus was on the business system rather than the technology, something that could be integrated in the business of municipal management."

"Traditionally GIS technology has been a specialist technology requiring fairly extensive expertise to run the system. Users depended on the four or five 'experts' who ran the technology to do the analysis and get the answers they needed. Instead of GIS systems, what we wanted were spatially enhanced business applications. Typically, GIS focus on the spatial data. For example, a property boundary or other graphic element is what is important in GIS and its attributes, such as the address, 'hang' off it. The address is a characteristic of the property and the property is the parent. What we wanted was a peer-to-peer relationship, where the spatial data would be equal with the tabular data that is carried in the database. So we were looking for a more broadly based, business-driven kind of system than SHL VISION* Solutions were initially looking at and we worked together to develop it."

The philosophy behind the MAP application, according to Wyman, is: "Everything is configurable. One cannot plan for everything, nor was MAP initially developed to support all municipal business. For example, originally animal licensing functionality and data was not included in MAP, but we were able to use the MAP framework to extend the application to support this business area within a short time, with very little effort. MAP has the ability to add a table to the database without doing additional coding of any screen, and show the data that is on that table in a dynamically generated window within the application. MAP is built on thin layers of functionality, which can be assembled to support business functions. We can do very fast development and deployment. We have the tools we need; for example, for the new smoking by-law or for tracking parking by-laws. We have no real limit other than what makes business sense and all within a single enterprise system."

The advantage of a configurable system was recently demonstrated in the rollover to the amalgamated city. "Since MAP was developed to allow multiple municipalities, not only to share a single database, but for each to configure MAP to support their own business flows, we simply established a new organization called 'New City of Ottawa' and created a complete configuration for the new city. While the old municipalities continued to exist prior to January 1, 2001, existing users were not shown data or configurations for the new organization. This allowed us to manage the move from the configuration supporting the old business process to a configuration of the new process. We simply 'told' MAP that all users no longer worked for their respective municipalities and instead worked in the newly configured City of Ottawa. We managed to actually flip from an old configuration to a new configuration without bringing the application down. It was a done script that took 10 seconds to run."

In the business arrangement that evolved from the P3, Autodesk owns the product and, with the experience gained in developing MAP, can market it all over the world. The municipality does not have royalty or profit-sharing rights, but it does have the right to source code. If for any reason the supplier stops supporting the product, the city could develop the system further on its own, possibly seeking another operating partner or continuing to develop in-house. The City of Ottawa operates the system and runs the database. The main Autodesk responsibility is the maintenance of the product itself, though with the ability to extensively configure the system, this tends to be focused on the fixing of defects. Ottawa can extend the application on its own, in as many ways as its business requires.

David Newman is an Ottawa-based contributing editor to Summit magazine and a freelance writer and columnist for the Lac Carling Governments'Review. He is also president of Newman Communications, a consulting company specializing in coalition and alliance building and reputation management.



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