Wellington City Council faces a number of challenges common to local authorities as it works on “a number of initiatives” to enhance its website for improved delivery of information, says IT manager Alma Hong.
Information to be made available is often housed in different systems and databases; it takes time and expertise to access and interpret, and considerable technical expertise to “pull it together” for presentation on the web.
“Confidence in the integrity and quality of the information needs to be very high before publishing it to the world permanently,” Hong says.
“Service to the public is improved not through the internet directly but through the use of web technology to empower the staff,” she says.
A recent success in this area was the release of an intranet web application which allows staff access to customer, property management and resource consent process data with GIS spatial referencing all on a real-time web browser page.
“These data are housed in disparate systems previously accessible only to expert users," she says. “Before such a system can go public, that is be transferred from intranet to internet, effort is required to make sure the quality of the information is flawless. In our case, we have got the architecture; we will be cleansing data and improving workflow before releasing new services and information online.”
Public information is not just about ratepayers, she notes. WCC also serves visitors to New Zealand and Wellington.
WCC’s architecture is based on an n-tier J2EE platform using JBuilder IDE and Sybase EA server as the application server. “Updates in any of the systems will be reflected immediately at the browser end." This, she says, is “a huge improvement to the traditional way of taking 'snapshots' of databases and providing static data”.
“The internet is more than just another medium of communication,” says Hong. “It can be used as a tool to improve workflow efficiency and/or generate savings when local govt interact with public. This channel of working could lead to different processes, funding, business models and culture.
“Staff should be aware of the internet as a tools of communication and process improvement. Whether or not it is written in your job description to engage in e-govt, it should be part of everybody's duty to improve their job continually using available tools.”
But there should still be room for other channels of communication. “The implicit assumption is that the internet is the appropriate or best delivery mechanism for providing ratepayer information. This is not necessarily the case. Internet [use] can be slow or costly. It’s quite nice sometimes being able to discuss [local government matters] with a knowledgeable person on the phone or face to face.”