Business Impact Article - Posted 6/1/2012
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City Analyzes Data in Real Time with Cloud Application, Clears the Way for Increased Citizen Engagement
The ninth largest city in Canada, the City of Brampton wanted to accurately track the number of citizens attending its annual Brampton Day block party. Working with Microsoft Partner RedBit Development, the
city developed a cloud-based mobile application that tallies in real time the number of people attending from various parts of the city. Whereas it used to take three days for workers to manually analyze the data, the city can now do so instantaneously, giving
it the quality data it needs to increase participation at future events.
City of Brampton is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, with more than 520,000 residents and an annual population growth rate of 6 percent. In past years, the city’s Economic Development & Communications Department used feedback from ground staff
and aerial photos to estimate the number of residents attending its annual Brampton Day event, a cumbersome and labor-intensive process. Data collected from the event typically were guesses and failed to provide the accurate and detailed information the city
needed to make sure that residents from all wards were equally represented at city events.
||The application was a great proof of concept because it showed us that it’s possible to develop low-cost, effective solutions—and get them up and running very quickly.
| Rob Meikle
CIO, Financial & Information Services Department, City of Brampton
Working together with Microsoft Partner Network member
, the City of Brampton built a cloud-based mobile application that enables the city to accurately track the total number of people attending city events, pinpoint which parts of the city participants live, and display this information
in real time. “The time it takes to analyze the data, compared to when we were doing it manually, has been reduced from three days down to nothing,” says Prasanna Gunasekera, Project Manager in the City of Brampton IT Department.
Brampton and RedBit developed the application as a cloud service using the
Windows Azure cloud-computing environment and
Bing Maps from Microsoft, a process that took just two months from concept to completion. “Within two months, we basically came up with the idea and made it happen,” says Gunasekera. “It’s not like it took us two years to implement. We’re talking about
a very quick and effective solution.”
Using the application, the City of Brampton is able to obtain an accurate count of the number of people who attend city events. City officials also use it to identify which parts of the city have the lowest participation so they can improve citizen engagement
in those areas. “We can use the application to better plan and market future events,” Gunasekera says.
The Full Story
The Need to Connect Citizens and Government
Located in Ontario, Brampton is the third largest city in the Toronto area and the ninth largest city in Canada. With over 520,000 residents and an annual population growth rate of 6 percent, the city places a high priority on responsible growth, citizen
engagement, and technological innovation.
The city’s Economic Development & Communications Department wanted to increase the number of residents who came to its annual Brampton Day celebration and to draw more people from underrepresented parts of the city. To do so, it needed more accurate information
about who was actually attending.
City officials had been estimating attendance with the help of feedback from staff on the ground and using aerial photographs. This estimation process failed to generate the accurate, detailed information that the city needed.
In July 2011, the Communications Division asked the city’s IT Division to help it develop a better way to track attendance. The Communication Division needed the application for the September Brampton Day event, which was just two months away.
Quick and Inexpensive Development
To develop a solution, the IT Division enlisted Microsoft Partner Network member RedBit Development, an Ontario-based software consulting company that builds mobile applications for enterprise and consumer customers.
|Figure 1: Views of the application on Windows Phone 7
and Windows 7 slate
Brampton and RedBit decided to automate the tracking process by creating a mobile application using Windows Azure, a Microsoft cloud environment used to
build, host, and scale web applications within Microsoft data centers
. Choosing from the variety of mobile devices on the market, the city decided to run the application on Windows Phone and Windows 7 slates.
Developing the application took just two months from concept to completion. Had the city hosted the application on its own servers, Gunasekera estimates it would have taken at least two months just to lay the ground work for development to begin. “We didn’t
have to worry about firewall rules, databases, user access, security, and all of that,” says Gunasekera. “This was a very fast, inexpensive, and effective solution.”
In addition to being quick and cost-effective to develop, the application was easy to deploy. “The main advantage of using Windows Azure was the simplicity of development and deployment,” says Mark Arteaga, Founder and President of RedBit Development. “After
we finished developing the application, we ported it to our test Windows Azure account. The City of Brampton opened up their Windows Azure account, and within 15 minutes we had it working on theirs.”
By using Windows Azure, developers were able to reduce development time by focusing on writing the required functionality for the services that Windows Phone and Windows 7 slates would access, rather than setting up and maintaining servers in a secure environment.
The services were written in a way that allowed both Windows Phone and Windows 7 slates to access the same services to submit data.
Downloading the application onto these mobile devices enabled city volunteers to freely walk around as they worked with residents to collect data. Residents could zoom into the area where they live using Bing Maps, and
then move a point around on a map with a touchscreen to more precisely pinpoint their location. They could also type in their postal code and street intersection.
Real Impact for Better Government
With its mobile application in place, the City of Brampton was able to more accurately count the 4,578 residents who attended its September 2011 Brampton Day event and identify how many residents attended from each of the city’s 10 wards. The information was
displayed in real time on two widescreen television screens as volunteers walked around the Brampton Day event to collect data. “The analysis was done in real time and gave us an instantaneous, ward-by-ward report,” says Gunasekera.
With its first use of the application a success, the City of Brampton decided to use it six weeks later to track attendance at another public event, and plans to use the application at more events in the future.
By using the application, the city is able to accurately track attendance at its events. City officials are also able to identify the wards where turnout is low so they can adapt their promotions to attract more residents from underrepresented parts of the
city. “Now that we know where engagement is lower, we can focus on those areas and find out what the reasons are and then fill in those gaps,” Gunasekera says.
Gunasekera sees the application as a prototype for how the City of Brampton will use cloud-based
mobile applications in the future to improve efficiency and better engage citizens.
“We have a very large young population here, and if we want to engage the new generation, we really need to think about what media they use for their day-to-day communication,” says Rob Meikle, CIO for the City of Brampton. “The application was a great proof
of concept because it showed us that it’s possible to develop low-cost, effective solutions—and get them up and running very quickly.”
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