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Embracing Digitalization at City Hall

by Dr. Rouba Fattal


Along with the mayor, there are many current councillors leaving their positions at City Hall this year. In turn, this creates a wonderful opportunity to bring on board new councillors with fresh, innovative ideas.

Perhaps the most crucial of all change needed is embracing digital transformation. We can save the City millions of dollars and have greater efficiency in services by using the right tools by embracing digital technology.

It has been reported that in 2019 the city of Ottawa has been subjected to hacking threats over 8000 times. In light of increasing global political instability and increasing Digitalization due to COVID-19, public organizations are under even more pressure to protect their digital infrastructure. We have city staff working from home without the proper tools to ensure they use data safely, and this jeopardizes our private information and finances. Even charitable organizations supported through city funding are targeted.

As I chat with residents, I hear a lot of anger about mega-city projects like the LRT going way over budget and exceeding deadlines. We must utilize more efficient project management tools and increase monitoring and audit-like functions.

The city has good project managers. Unfortunately, they do not have the right tools and there are too few councillors able to think outside the box.

Implementing new AI-based project management processes, as used by the Treasury Board Secretariat, will help ensure more accurate cost and schedule estimates. The TBS is involved in doing an 'audit' before the project begins to avoid another Phoenix payroll situation.

These AI auditing tools can also be incorporated into things like bus scheduling and digital communication tools. Unfortunately, buses in Ottawa often run behind schedule and, as public servants return to work, tools must be in place to ensure our public transit is as reliable as possible. Communication delays and providing solutions can be simplified using AI technology. It is an investment that will save us from unnecessary costs and lots of frustration in the future.

Digitalization can be extended to service registration such as snow removal and tree planting. More online forms can be introduced onto the city's website to optimize service provisions. However, this does not mean that existing registration infrastructure needs to be abolished. There are still residents who prefer to call or mail in their requests. But in light of this, more workshops for digital training in public libraries for seniors and persons with disabilities would provide greater efficiency as well. Mobile libraries could also be used to visit senior residences and provide hands-on training.

Most parents have experienced headaches registering their child for city programs, particularly swimming classes. Instead of thousands of parents waiting until 9pm and overloading the system by trying to register for all levels of swimming at the same time, the city could divide registration dates for specific levels on specific days of the week. In addition to increasing the number of classes available to resolve this issue of supply and demand, the city must make the registration site more user friendly by investing in IT talents and tools.

As Ottawa welcomes more newcomers, who may not be very proficient in English, it is critical that the city incorporates digital translation into its toolbox for community resources centers. This can help with important information and vulnerable groups.

Using lessons learned from Toronto’s smart-city project, I believe that Ottawa can do a better job of guaranteeing the privacy of its residents as it looks to adopt a more robust technology ecosystem into its infrastructure and planning. We can ensure the proper implementation of this technology with our tech friends in Kanata-North.

And last but not least, exploring digital voting must be on the agenda of the new Ottawa city council. Accessibility to voting stations is an important issue. Considering the outcome of the last Ontario election, we must do everything we can to increase voter turnout. Having a digital voting option available will be an important component in realizing this goal.

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