Hutt City faces its community

Hutt City Council saw the need to reform its IT infrastructure so that it could support planned community-facing applications.

Hutt City Council saw the need to reform its IT infrastructure so that it could support planned community-facing applications.

“Two years ago we ran an information provision site” – the communication was one-way only -- “and we couldn’t expand it further; there was no room to move to e-services,” says IT manager Sarah Allison.

The web system’s infrastructure, originally outsourced, was moved inhouse. The new platform runs Apache on Solaris and Linux systems, using the Novell Borderware Firewall and a Secure Server Network to deliver core council information to the public.

“Moving the website inhouse has meant more integrated control and improved data management,” says technical spokesman Arthur Howard.

The new environment has given the city opportunities to aid “social, economic and business developments” through IT, working towards meeting the obligation under the Local Government Act to ensure the “well-being of communities”.

“We put information from our core databases, such as GIS and rating on the web,” Allison says. For example, the site has a comprehensive property database, where any property can be searched by its address, and a plan and associated information retrieved.

This serves not only “Joe Public” but interested parties on the business side, such as real-estate agents, she says.

Hutt City’s specification for this system has been shared with other local authorities. The city uses ESRI GIS and is happy to contribute its expertise to other councils who wish to use this system, says Allison.

“Local government is very collaborative. Yes, councils [the organisations as a whole] are substantially independent, but their IT teams are prepared to collaborate where the timing is right.”

One of Hutt City’s recent major decisions is to offer credit-card payment facilities through the website for rates and rents. Currently the council uses NZ Post’s E-bill as a rate-payment channel.

The in-house credit-card development opens up other opportunities for transactional business, Allison says.

The council now takes online notifications of broken street fittings, and the information flows to its asset database, as well as scheduling repair.

Local authority information cannot be a “Day One” development, she says. “You need to have a number of building blocks in place; [first comes] the infrastructure, then delivery, then the building of a community that can take up the services. You have to address ‘digital divide’ issues.”

This is tackled in a number of ways, from participation in the government’s Probe broadband project, through designing such considerations into the council’s major customer-facing IT projects, down to “small things like redistributing end-of-life [but not totally obsolete] PCs to community groups.”

The city’s libraries play their part in providing internet access, experience and training to those without their own PCs.

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