Auckland City Council has launched a property-specific Web site where home owners can access information on planning and building on their property.
The council has now developed www.akcity.govt.nz/achowto in conjunction with KPMG Consulting and aims to give information to all Auckland City isthmus customers. It is part of a broader project to improve the regulatory services the council offers, says IT and communications manager Ian Rae.
Customer research has shown ratepayers want easier access to council information, he says, so the site was developed based on ACC’s property data.
Visitors to the attractive, easy-to-navigate site can look up information on making house alterations, building fences or swimming pools, removing trees or building garages. Frustratingly, every line of questioning eventually leads to an instruction to “contact the Auckland City Planning Helpdesk” for more information but Rae says the site will be extended.
“What you see now is just the start. [Applying for consent online] is definitely on the plans at the moment and the council is looking at other e-business options. We’re investigating all customer service possibilities.”
The site was possible because “we already had solid integrated systems in place. While integrating them was technically challenging, the results are exciting,” says Rae.
In-house ACC staff and KPMG developers developed the site using Visual Basic. The HowTo application is presented using Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) with links to a Microsoft SQL database residing on an NT4 server.
Calls are made to AS/400 and HP-housed property information databases by http requests.
The site is hosted within Auckland City’s IIS and NT-based server environment running on a Compaq hardware platform.
Object-oriented technology means objects from the site can be re-used in other council development projects and the tree-based support structure makes maintenance and expansion of the site easier.
Rae expects to see significantly reduced calls and visits to the council’s Helpdesk for basic information and “fewer requests for information printed out”.
Auckland City Environments group manager Geoff Mears says he believes Auckland City is the first council to offer such a 24-hour service.
“The Web site is more user friendly [than most] because it provides information directly related to specific sites,” he says. Regulation and zoning changes will be automatically reflected in the information given.
The major challenges, says KPMG’s US seconded associate director Terry Speegle, were in designing the multi-tiered framework needed for multiple databases to be used, and “extracting a robust set of content” from the experts, city planners and regulators, which presumably means getting them to explain things clearly.
The site had only been running for four days when Rae spoke to Computerworld.
He had no information on how many ratepayers had accessed the information on the Auckland City Council Web site, “but I’ve had a number of calls from people in the planning industry, congratulating me”.