Dunedin City Council is leading the pack with its new Web site, by providing access to detailed information it holds on ratepayers.
The site, which was launched earlier this month, allows people to get a user code which they can use to find out what information the council has on them (such as their outstanding rates bill, what building consents exist for their property etc). People can also access the ratesbook online (publicly available information) to find out the rates for any property in the city, and can request building inspections be done. The site also displays other local information, such as events, as well as ways to communicate with the council (like sending a Fix-o-gram about potholes or missing street signs).
The council's MIS manager, Mike Harte, claims the site is leading the way in local government. "You can go and do an online property enquiry through the Web, or using your user code password to go in and access information - no other local authority in this country does that."
The Web site is a major delivery mechanism for a project called 24-hour Citizen Direct, which is about giving customers what they want, when they want it and where they want it, says Harte. It includes four strategies: electronic commerce, electronic business, electronic council and electronic publishing.
The council differentiates between e-commerce and e-business. Harte says the former allows people to make payments for services.
E-business is when there is a business-to-business link, which doesn't involve payments.
He sees great potential with e-council. Minutes could be produced while the council meeting is on and put on to the Web straight away.
E-publishing involves publishing council information online.
Harte believes that one day Dunedin may have a virtual council. "We eventually see more and more of our business processes being 'Webified'. Eventually, do we become a cyber-council, a virtual council? We don't need bricks and mortar - we could be working from anywhere."
The council is also investigating initiatives that would be inexpensive for people to access - without having to have a PC. They could use kiosks in supermarkets, malls or banks, or utilise other devices such as Web TV or phone, he says.
He says the council is "looking at an initiative to get Dunedin as wired as possible - a virtual community". He likes the idea of a wired city.
"One of the people we're talking to - a major telecommunications organisation - is keen to progress that, because we're not too big, we're not too small and we also have this 24-hour citizen strategy, which is in line with what they're trying to do too, so we may see some interesting pilots coming up."
The site uses the Informix Universal Server database, which has a number of data blades. The council uses Informix's Excalibur datablade for its search tool.
"That allows for searching text right through the database regardless of what type of files they are or how they're stored. One of the great things about the Informix database is you can store any data type you like."
It runs on an HP 9000 server and uses Netscape Enterprise Web server software.
The site is database-driven and a lot of pages don't exist as pages.
"Each page is built up of components . Pieces of information - components - are stored once only," he says.
So the DCC logo is only stored once and every page that uses it grabs that component to help build a page. Harte says it's efficient when changing a component because it only has to be changed once.
Before building the site the council consulted more than 300 people. Next month key people will discuss other additions to the Web site, but e-commerce is seen an important next step.
The site is at www.cityofdunedin.com