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Ontario Supports Modernization of Small and Rural Municipalities

The Ontario government is providing up to $24 million to support the modernization of 224 small and rural municipalities across the province. This investment will help improve the delivery of critical programs and services that people rely on every day, while saving taxpayers’ dollars.

A total of 254 projects have been approved for funding under Intake 2 of Ontario’s Municipal Modernization Program. Municipalities will use the funding to find efficiencies and implement a wide range of initiatives to digitize, streamline and/or integrate programs and services with neighbouring communities.

The funding will help municipalities administer the cost savings measures in time for the 2022 municipal budget cycle.

Here’s the List of Municipalities who received funding for various Municipal Service Delivery & Efficiency Projects.

If you offer any of the services these municipalities are looking for, select the municipality you would like to work with and watch their websites for RFPs for any Third-Party Review or Implementation opportunities.  You might also want to watch muniSERV’s Find RFP’s section and/or bidsandtenders listings.

For more information on the Municipal Modernization Program and the June 30th announcement, click here.

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Considering a SaaS Platform for Citizen Request Management? Here are Some Key Questions to Ask

Local governments are continually looking for ways to streamline their operations. But with increasing citizen demands for more modern and accessible digital services, along with limited and declining budgets, bridging all of these needs can be a challenge. A growing number of municipalities are moving to manage these challenges by adopting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms for core operating functions.

In this article, we take a look at some of the key things to consider when selecting a SaaS solution specifically to underpin your citizen request management process.

Does the Service align well with your operational needs?

The answer to this question obviously needs to be a resounding yes, however when evaluating cloud-based citizen request management solutions it is critical to start with a clear understanding of what your true needs are – both immediate and longer term. First and foremost, preferred solutions should be designed from the ground up with the needs of local governments in mind for the best chance of a successful implementation. Where not the case, adaptation to your process requirements will likely be more difficult and prone to failure. Be equally wary of solutions that offer feature functionality that you can’t or won’t actually use as this will normally drive unnecessary cost, and also lead to sub-optimal usability and poorer uptake by staff. To fully benefit from the cost savings promised by moving to the cloud, also look for solutions that include tools that can be used by trained administrators within your organization to configure and customize the SaaS solution to your specific requirements without costly custom software development.

What considerations exist to keep the citizen fully engaged in the Service Request Management process?

In all aspects of local government operations, citizen engagement as a strategy to create better and more livable communities is seeing increased emphasis. Yet too often citizen involvement in the service request management process takes a back seat to internal tracking against the municipal assets that the requests relate to. Solutions that keep citizens at the forefront will leave them feeling well served and more compelled to contribute to the process. For example, a well-designed citizen request management platform should support multiple channels for the purpose of accepting requests so that citizens can interact how and when it works for them. Solutions should also be mobile friendly, automate communications for real-time status updates, respect WCAG guidelines for accessibility, and include on-line capabilities for citizens to view and comment on the requests they raise.

What do the SaaS vendor’s track record and reputation look like?

As is the case with any product or service purchase, an understanding of a vendor’s previous experience is a great leading indicator or whether their offer is right for you. When it comes to citizen issue tracking, look for companies that have been around for several years and that can demonstrate success with local governments having similar operations to your own. Speaking directly with appropriate reference customers should be a given. Credible software review sites like G2 and Capterra are also highly useful to gauge customer experience and success and to compare the different options that are available to you.

What happens to my pre-existing data?

If you are currently using an on-premise system for citizen service requests or have other sources of data that you have invested in over time, it is worth understanding the potential and ease with which this data can be preserved. Ideal solutions will provide administrative tools to simplify the data import process. And where source data needs to be cleaned or transformed to make this possible, your SaaS solution vendor should be able to provide professional services expertise to support required ETL efforts.

Can I take a graduated approach to switching over?

Setting aside the many benefits of a cloud-based solution, new technology will always involve change for your staff and, for this reason alone, you might be interested in starting small and evolving the use of the new platform over time. For managing citizen service requests, solutions that you consider should easily support adoption by a single department or limited number of users in parallel to other departments continuing with existing processes. This can reduce risk, provide an opportunity for user feedback and help to validate the business case for other departments.

What assurances can the vendor provide regarding security, performance and resiliency?

Continuity of your operations and security of your data are critical considerations, and a cloud approach necessarily involves placing trust in your selected vendor to have these in hand. For vendors with any significant customer base, the good news is that these requirements should have received a lot of attention and certified experts will likely have been involved in architecting and securing the hosting environment. But given the nature of citizen request data, you will want to make sure that an acceptable privacy policy exists and that handling of personally identifiable information is understood. It is also important to know what safeguards exist against DDOS attacks or other malicious behaviours, and whether redundancy exists for high availability and disaster recovery purposes. And finally, you will want to ask questions about data backup procedures that are in place, including frequency and location.

How well is integration with other systems supported?

If you find yourself in a position where you need to integrate the citizen request solution with other back-office systems, ask how these integrations can be supported for your unique use case. The principal needs are for the vendor to provide open APIs that allow for secure data exchange between systems, along with professional services to support these efforts. If a vendor has created pre-built connections to leading application integration hubs like Zapier even better as this could greatly reduce the effort and cost involved.

What onboarding, training and support resources are provided?

No evaluation would be complete without gaining a high-level of confidence that onboarding will go smoothly and that your vendor will be there to support your success with the selected citizen request management platform over the long term. Mature vendors will employ a customer experience team and provide a proven process to get you up and running quickly, train your administrative personnel and end users, and guide you through branding and configuring the solution to meet your specific needs. Also look for a searchable online knowledge base where answers to common questions can be found, and a robust and responsive ticketing process for situations where additional vendor expertise is needed.

What are the details of the pricing model?

A clear benefit of moving to the cloud is that it avoids any upfront CAPEX spend when municipal budgets are tight, however the SaaS solution that is right for you should result in lower total cost of ownership over the long term. Costs for available citizen request management solutions are highly variable so, first and foremost, look for a service that is priced right for the operating scale of your municipality. Depending on the simplicity of the pricing model, costs may vary based on metrics like user counts, data storage requirements, transaction volumes or number of modules included. As discussed above, your use of the platform could very well expand over time and any potential price increases should be easy to understand and reasonable.

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How to Persuade Employees to Embrace Records & Content Management

Records and Electronic Content Management (RM/ECM) solutions increase effectiveness, efficiency, and compliance with regulations. A big challenge can be to convince employees to actually use the new software. Unfortunately, nearly a third of RM/ECM migrations fail due to a change management issue.

Issues can arise in a number of forms, such as: 

  • Employee fear. Employees may be afraid that they will lose their jobs because the new system will make them redundant. Such employees may be actively hostile to the change and attempt to sabotage the transition; 
  • Employee routine. Some employees may have worked with a paper-based records management system for decades and be very comfortable with it. These employees may be hesitant to change their routine if they believe that they will be unable to work with the new software;
  • Key people averse to change. Even if the majority of employees are willing to change, the transition may not work if key members of the team aren’t. If the team lead or an otherwise respected or admired employee refuses to change, this attitude may spread to other would-be RM/ECM converts as well; 
  • Employers not putting the time in and/or abandoning the project. Managers can be very busy and if they don’t see quick results they may stop pushing for employees to adopt the RM/ECM solution and move on to their next project;
  • No culture shift. Switching to an RM/ECM solution is a big shift, not only in terms of efficiency and effectiveness but also in how employees think of their work. In an RM/ECM system information can be easily shared across departments, eliminating silos. RM/ECM solutions also reduce the need to print information. If employees don’t adopt these new ways of thinking it can be problematic;
  • Non-supportive software vendors. Vendors are often unaccustomed to working with local governments and don’t realize their unique needs. These vendors may be unwilling to shift their policies or customize their software to meet government requirements.

Luckily, Ricoh has over a decade of experience working with local governments and boasts the ability to implement efficient and effective transition processes. We recognize when local governments perform this transition well. One particular municipality who excelled in its transition to RM/ECM was the Township of Springwater, Ontario. Springwater implemented several of our best practices as it: 

  • Created a team including members from different departments who met frequently and discussed desired results. This ensured that the departments could request the functionalities that they needed;
  • Started the transition process from the top down. First they convinced the council to switch over to the new system, then senior management, and so on. This ensured that employees weren’t change-averse due to the attitudes of those above them. Employees could also ask their superiors if they had any questions about the system. As the superiors had received training first, they were able to effectively answer these questions;
  • Maintained open communication. Springwater regularly polled staff to learn of any questions or concerns about the software and allayed any issues. This also involved assuring employees that the RM/ECM solution would make their lives easier and not harder as some of the monotonous tasks they did before could now be automated, allowing them to focus on more important things;
  • Addressed the culture shift resulting from the transition. Springwater’s transition team spoke to each department about their current information silos and how that would change as information became easy to share. The team also spoke to employees who were used to piling paper on their desks and explained to them how the new system would make their lives easier; 
  • Replicated the old filing structure within the new repository so that employees would feel comfortable with working on the electronic records. Springwater also kept the paper records during the beginning of the transition process until employees were sufficiently comfortable with the new system and saw that the paper system provided no benefits; 
  • Arguably most importantly, Springwater decided to work with a knowledgeable RM/ECM vendor – Ricoh! As Ricoh is extremely experienced in working with local governments and creating custom solutions, Springwater received exactly what they needed. Ricoh provided extensive support throughout the transition and ensured that everything was running as requested. 

Effective RM/ECM solutions make employee lives easier and allow them to work faster. However, employees often need to be convinced of this fact. Follow Springwater’s lead and persuade your employees to adopt RM/ECM. We’ll help you do the rest.

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Being aware – situationally aware

Our world has always been in a state of perpetual change. Now more than ever, it is perceived to be doing that at an ever-rapid pace.

Positive changes such as economic growth, and technology advancements to note a couple. Unfortunately, with the positive, comes the negative. A continuous cycle of persons who wish to do harm.

Safety and Security experts inform us that violent events will continue to happen. The violent extremist motivated and driven by an ideology, to the targeting of individuals, place of business, worship, acts of violence that permeate into every vertical, sector of business and government.

Active safety and security programs are continuous reviewed, modified to face existing and the new challenges of tomorrow.

To make your safety and security programs more effective, the program needs ambassadors, staff.

Ambassadors need to be aware. Situationally aware.

Situational awareness training provides your staff with valuable intelligence & time when facing safety and security situations of potential harm or danger.

Being situation aware is truly a change in mindset.

It is a way of thinking that will focus a person’s behaviour, their outlook, and their mental attitude. People that are aware are no longer vulnerable but capable.

Capable individuals are always prepared. Capable individuals are not complacent, they use technology to enhance their preparedness and response and their planning always includes a contingency plan.

Situationally aware staff improve the effectiveness of your safety and security program.

Situationally aware individuals enhance the workplace and enhance their personal safety and security.

We can Help.

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance in Situation Awareness training, contact Michael White Group International today, and we will be happy to answer your questions.

Michael White Group International is Arcuri Group LLC approved Situation Awareness Specialist Certification Training provider.

 

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Congratulations to the Municipality of Meaford!!

Congratulations to our AccessE11 customer, the Municipality of Meaford for receiving the 2021 CAMA Willis Award for Innovation!

The Municipality of Meaford has received national recognition for its “Report a Concern” AccessE11 Website Portal from the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA).  The Municipality was presented with the 2021 CAMA Willis Award for Innovation, in the Under 20,000 population category, during a Virtual Awards of Excellence Ceremony held May 11th.

Meaford identified the need to adopt technology that would integrate and provide a streamlined process in managing citizen requests.  As a result, the municipality partnered with AccessE11 for the implementation of a cost-effective, robust, cloud-based software solution focused on the supporting the municipality’s requirements related to customer management. This is a “lean six sigma” software solution, which is deep-rooted and focused on addressing the needs of the customer first.

 “CAMA is pleased to recognize the Municipality of Meaford for the innovation and best practice being demonstrated by their website portal,” said Jake Rudolph, outgoing president of CAMA and Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Nanaimo, BC.  “Using technology that allows residents to report their concerns online is a great way to enhance limited resources, put the customer first, and gather data for planning purposes.”

Watch the video here

Congratulations Meaford!!

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Unlock the Power in Your Citizen Service Request Data

There is no question that the Covid-19 pandemic is creating hardships for local governments as recreation, illegal parking and transportation revenues decline and more money gets directed into public health initiatives. Budget cuts, where not already underway, are looming and municipal governments will need to find operational efficiencies and direct scarce resources to where they are most needed and have the greatest impact. In this post, we look at how 311 or citizen service request data can be an extremely valuable component in the toolkit of a local government trying to maintain services with fewer resources at its disposal.

It comes as no surprise that, as part of the open data movement, larger cities have been at the forefront of investing in data hubs that consolidate data from 311 service requests and multiple other sources. New York City, for example, has been relying on sophisticated data analytics for several years to measure performance and better inform the allocation of the city’s financial resources, equipment and personnel. Like many large North American cities, New York maintains a portal where the public has access to critical performance measures from multiple agencies. The benefits of this treasure trove of data for city managers are obvious, however, the very significant investments in time and cost required to get there are out of reach for smaller municipalities.

But concerns about cost or complexity should not prevent these smaller municipalities from pursuing a data-driven approach to finding efficiencies in their operations. The trick is to have a clear idea of the keys to success and the right set of tools to get there. For example:

Data Focus

When considering a goal of optimizing resource allocation in the face of budget constraints, the value across various types of data is not necessarily equivalent and therefore prioritization is needed. 311 service request data is particularly powerful because properly implemented, there should be a documented record of every touchpoint with the concerned citizen and assigned staff from the time an issue is raised to when it is resolved and closed. From a management perspective, this is extremely valuable.

The Right CRM

Regardless of municipality size, aggregation of the required data is unlikely to be successful without leveraging a CRM to manage service requests. CRM implementations should not, by default, be cost-prohibitive and there are cloud-based solutions available today that are easy to adapt and built specifically with the needs of smaller municipalities in mind.

Seamless Data Collection

The aggregation of comprehensive service request data that can be used reliably to inform operational decisions needs to happen by default. Local government service delivery will likely continue without staff increases for the foreseeable future, meaning that technology used needs to make the work of municipal staff easier in general and at the same time avoid any extra effort to collect and store the desired performance-related data. And since the primary data sources are the citizens themselves, an omnichannel approach that makes it simple to report service issues is critical. Citizens that are engaged in the way that best suits them will be far more likely to participate in making their communities better.

Flexible Analytics and Reporting

Once the data is available in one place, making sense of it is the next challenge. For smaller municipalities, the tools needed to visualize and report on service request data will, ideally, be baked into the solution used to manage day-to-day requests. Regardless of the technology that is applied, however, there are several imperatives that should be in place to fully benefit from this type of data analysis initiative. In all likelihood, various stakeholders including the city council, CAOs, and departmental managers will have different objectives when looking at the data, and these objectives will evolve over time. This speaks to the need for simplicity and flexibility for configuring and saving reports and dashboards on an individual basis. Access to configurable GIS views of the data can be highly useful as well in identifying trouble spots, prioritizing work plans, and scheduling the activities of field staff.

The bottom line is that there are opportunities for governments of any size to invest in a data-informed and results-oriented approach to finding savings in their operations. And although the pandemic will hopefully be in the rear-view mirror soon, it is not too late for municipal governments to start unlocking the power of service request data. This is a natural evolution for those with a suitable CRM already in place, but even where not the case adoption of suitable technology does not need to be onerous. Doing so will help with the immediate need to recover quickly from pandemic-induced shortfalls, and will continue to pay dividends for many years to come.

 

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What type of testing is right for your website – Understanding the difference in website testing

In the last few weeks there has been a rise in reported malware and malicious attacks on small municipalities. Testing of three small municipality websites in recent weeks by our team has resulted in failures on all sites basic security parameters. We often hear small organizations saying they don’t need to worry about attacks, they aren’t “big enough” but anyone can be a target.

Regular testing your website for known vulnerabilities and emerging threats should become a part of your Cyber Security Road Map. The first step is identifying the type of web testing that is right for your infrastructure. Here are a few key questions to consider;

1) Where is your website hosted – do you host it yourself? Is it hosted by a third-party?
2) Who is responsible for the security of the host system, the operating system?
3) Do you have a web application firewall such as CloudFlare in front of your website?
4) Is your website a static page with content?
5) Do you have a login and if so what type of data is behind the login? Customer, pricing, private personal?
6) Do you have any API interactions with other applications?

When you start down the road of testing your website you want to consider the host operating system and the application. There are two key types of testing available, fully automated scanning and manual testing. Fully automated scanning is used for both host operating systems and web applications. The host operating system scan will scan for all currently known vulnerabilities affecting that operation system. It will report back on the CVE, the risk and usually suggested remediation tips. The same is true for the web application scanning. The fully automated web application scanner will scan your website at a minimum for the OWASP top 10 vulnerabilities and report back on risks and remediation. https://owasp.org/www-project-top-ten/.

Manual testing means that you have an actual person who is using various methods to determine the security of a host or the application and If the rules of the engagement permit, they will attempt to exploit a vulnerability and gain access, modify content or download information. There are varying degrees of manual testing, the simplest is one tester and one day and the more extensive 2 testers and 5 days of testing.

The type of test that is required for your website really depends on two main factors –

 

1. Have the host and application ever been tested before?

2. What is the criticality of the data being processed or stored on this site?

 

For example, if you have a very static page of content that is hosted by a third party, chances are a good OWASP 10 scan of you site will be sufficient to let you know if you have any glaring misconfigurations that could lead to a website defacement or potential attack on your site. If your website has a login and you allow users to sign up for accounts and host dynamic content, you would want to make sure you consider a manual test at least for the first test. Once a thorough baseline has been established for the site, testing can become more routine and automated.

We recommend you develop a plan for testing and make sure to include the above considerations. There might be special notifications you have to give in writing to a third party before you test an application, you might have to have a testing IP whitelisted in a web application firewall, you may need special accounts set up in the application for testing.

If you are unsure what type of test is right for your website, reach out to us and we will be glad to discuss options with you.

http://www.mi613.ca

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The Importance of Third Party Vendor Assessments

Lessons learned from Cyber Incident Response

We are finding many companies that have experienced a Cyber Incident are not performing even the most basic Third Party Vendor Risk Assessment.

It is absolutely imperative that if you engage with a vendor you understand the associated risks.

5 simple questions can lead you to be a better understanding of your Vendor risks and a quicker recovery from an Incident:

 

  1. Is there an identifiable Leadership team?
    • Who is accountable?
    • Would you be able to escalate or contact them?
    • Where are they located?
  2. Do they have an Incident Response plan and Reporting Structure?
    • Do they have a response plan?
    • Are there dedicated phone numbers or emails for reporting incidents?
    • Are ticket numbers assigned and tracked?
  3. Who is responsible for security within their Organization?
    • Is there someone who is responsible for security?
    • Is there a defined role or is it an off the side of the desk of another role?
    • Does the company reside in a country that has Breach Reporting responsibilities?
  4. Do you have a Service Level Agreement for responding to incidents?
    • Do you have a defined Incident/Severity matrix with set response times?
    • How do you escalate an Incident?
    • What is your communication cadence?
  5. Can they demonstrate their current level of Cyber Security Compliance?
    • Can they demonstrate the framework they adhere to? (NIST/CIS)
    • Do they disclose if and when they do vulnerability/penetration testing?
    • Do they have any risk reports (SOC 1, SOC 2, PCI or DSS) they can share?
    • Do they have patch management?

It is important to develop a Third Party Cyber Security Screening Assessment before engaging in a new contract. We can walk you through the process and helping you to understand your Cyber Risks.

 

Let’s talk Cyber!

http://www.mi613.ca

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How have the pandemic adaptations affected your Physical Security?

Well into the COVID19 pandemic, organizations, governments big and small have had to take measures and make changes to their environments to adapt to the needs of their staff, customers, their service delivery model, requirements of health science, government agency regulations and perhaps “new” industry best practices and of course the ever-changing virus.

These measures have evolved into many different things. We’re going to specifically focus on physical security devices.

Two of the pervasive items that have been introduced in many environments are plexiglass and signage.

Organizations have installed plexiglass barriers at intersection points of personnel as they have the potential to interact with other personnel, customers, vendors, etc.

Informative signage itemizing physical distancing rules, self assessment health protocols have been placed all around in both strategic and random locations within the environment to ensure every opportunity for personnel and visitors to be informed.

Funny thing about all of this plexiglass barriers and signage.

In some cases, not all, we have inadvertently defeated some or many of the installed security devices functionality and purpose. That is, their ability to monitor, detect and alert (alarm).

  • Motion detectors blocked, unable to provide proper coverage
  • Cameras experiencing sun flare reflection off plexiglass
  • Nuisance alarms due to swinging signage on the increase
  • And other unforeseen affects

There are incidents where this is enough of this added material, that areas, although devices are active and functioning as per specifications, are unable to detect properly – leaving areas with no security detection or proper monitoring.

We have the answers.

Let’s go for a (physically distanced) walk and have a conversation.

Your security risk plans are more than just a motion detector or even a strategic camera placement.

We can Help.

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.

Should your Municipality need assistance, contact Michael White Group today, and we will be happy to answer your questions or provide quotations.

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$31 million Canada Healthy Community Initiative – open for proposals

The Government of Canada announced that the Community Foundations of Canada with the Canadian Urban Institute are open to receive and review your proposal for access to $31 million under the Healthy Communities Initiative.

https://youtu.be/1smdTfZF-zE

 

I attended the Canada Healthy Community Initiative launch webinar February 9 and reviewed the applicant guide which is focused on the increased recognition of social and digital infrastructure that contributes to healthy community outcomes. The applicant guide makes it easy to understand if your organization can apply.

 

The projects eligible for funding need to serve the public or a community disproportionately impacted by Covid19 and fall within three healthy community initiative themes, one of them being community projects that use innovative data and technology solutions to connect people and support healthy communities. Community projects that use digital technologies and solutions to encourage citizen engagement, use open data, online platforms or physical digital devices for public benefit.

All budget items must be project related and expenses occur between April 1 2020 and June 30 2022. Details on how anticipated expenses are outlined in the budget are included in the applicant guide.

You need to demonstrate community engagement. Planned continued engagement with the community to receive feedback on the project may also demonstrate the role of the community in delivering the project. Your team can also elaborate on your equity approach and principles for the project and how it relates to community outreach and feedback.

All projects focusing on the theme of digital solutions and any project that handles public data should demonstrate best practices of digital design and responsible data management. The good news for you and your organization is that Athena Software meets the needs for inclusive design and data management.

 

Athena can provide details on data management considerations including:

Collection – who can collect the data

Access – who can access the data

Use – Who can use the data

Openness – What data is attributed to an individual

Compliance – PIPEDA

Minimum funding is $5000. Maximum funding is $250,000

 

All budget items must be project related and incurred April 1 2020 to June 30 2022. The government provided a budget template in excel. We created a proposal for the Canada Healthy Community Initiative and integrated it with the budget template to help give you a head start on filling out the form. Let me know if you are interested in the proposal and excel budget template and we will send you the forms to begin the process.

 

The first round of funding opened February 9 2021 and will close March 9 2021 5 PM PST. Review committees begin making decisions March 10. All applicants will receive results by April 30 2021.

The second round of funding opens May 14 2021 9:00 AM AST and closes June 25 2021 at 5 PM PST. Applicants that did not receive funding in round one can apply for funding in round two. Review committees begin making decisions June 26. All applicants will receive results by August 13 2021.

 

You will need to check which region your project is in before you apply with the link to the map in the application guide. You will also identify the amount you are applying for. Any project over $100,000 will be reviewed at the national level.

 

Your application will be evaluated with many others in each community. Your application must meet the basic eligibility criteria including project rationale, community engagement, outcomes, project implementation and readiness fulfilling all of the following criteria:

 

  • Submitted by an eligible organization, and provides documentation
  • Responds to needs arising from COVID-19
  • Creates or adapts public spaces, or programming or services for public spaces in the public interest
  • Demonstrates consideration of and connections within the community
  • Serves the general public or a community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19
  • Falls within the Healthy Communities Initiative theme(s)
  • Submitted with a complete budget
  • Is requesting between $5,000 and $250,000
  • Incurs expenses between April 1 2020 to June 30 2022

Please join me March 5 at 1 PM EST for a hands-on webinar as we share ideas from communities that use Penelope to assist those most affected by Covid 19 and review proposals for new and current agencies using Penelope. You can find the registration page on our Athena web site. Hope to see you there. If you have questions before then call or email. Until then stay safe. We will see you soon.

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