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Ontario Breaks New Ground in Customer Service

Service Ontario kiosks are just one example of how Ontario is planning to improve service to the citizen in the future.

by / May 31, 1995
June 95

Jurisdiction: Ontario, Canada; Clinton administration; Ontario Ministry of Transportation; Ontario Attorney General;

Vendors: IBM; Summit Research; Ontario Ministry of Health;

Contact: David Mee, director of Service Ontario 416/235-3600

By Justine Kavanaugh

Staff Writer

Improving service to citizens has been a focal point for state and local governments since the release of the Clinton Administration's National Performance Review in 1993. Since that time, government agencies have chosen their own paths toward a more efficient, streamlined end, with a myriad of results. But Ontario, Canada is one jurisdiction that has managed to achieve a continuous stream of improvements in efficiency and service to citizens. And in doing so, Ontario has positioned itself for even more success in the future.

But improving government processes in Ontario meant more than using technology, it meant taking a new look at government through the eyes of the customers. This allowed them to determine what customers wanted and needed - namely, more convenient and effective access to government information and services. The next step was implementing strategies that would help get them there.


The most tangible result of the work being done in Ontario is Service Ontario, a kiosk system designed to make the Ministry of Transportation more accessible and convenient to citizens. Service Ontario kiosks allow citizens to immediately renew license plate stickers, search driver, vehicle and carrier records, update address information, pay court fines using VISA or Mastercard, and view and order graphical license plates, all in a convenient location.

The eight Service Ontario kiosks currently in use employ network architecture, which means only one version of each application needs to be updated and the number of applications that can be used is almost unlimited. The kiosks are linked to mainframe systems at both the Ministry of Transportation and the Attorney General's Office. A central switching computer acts as a gatekeeper, insuring minimal load is placed on the mainframe system, which prevents delay to the end user or host systems. This translates to more real value for citizens who use it.

IBM lead in the development of the current Service Ontario kiosks, forming a team of six companies with various areas of expertise. This effort made it possible for IBM to deliver the kiosks in just six months.

"Normally, this type of system could be up to four years in development," said IBM Project Director Bill Clarke. "But because of our tight-knit team, we were able to deliver in just six months."


Francie Mendelsohn, president of Rockville, Md.-based Summit Research Associates Inc., spent over two years visiting and using kiosks throughout the world to compile her report "The Kiosk Connection - One Stop Shopping for Government Services," which was published in January of this year. Mendelsohn said Service Ontario was one kiosk system that stuck out in her mind. "After you hear about a kiosk system, see a video on it, and hear all about what it's supposed to do, most really don't measure up when you see them in person. That was not the case with Service Ontario," she said. "There were never less than six people in line waiting to use it, and that's something I've never seen before. I think the key is that Ontario was able to give people real value, not just information."

Mark Clancy, Service Ontario implementation coordinator, said that vendor responses to an RFP to design and release 60 new kiosks late this year - or early next year - are currently being reviewed. "We plan to add more features along the way, and to extend the range of services citizens can get at the kiosks," he said. "The new ones will include things like a used vehicle information package that will give a history of the vehicle, who's owned it, what condition it's in, etc."


Though the Service Ontario kiosks are improving customer service in Ontario, they are just one result of an overall effort to redefine government's roles in the community. "We are facing an increasing requirement to deliver services in a variety of ways," said Kim Devooght, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Transportation, who talked about Canada's strategies at the Service to the Citizen Summitt last February in Denver. "But Service Ontario is just one tool in our point of service strategy."

Devooght went on to explain how providing better service to the citizen in Canada involved a lot more than technology. "You need a vision," he said. "You need a strategy, and you need to be able to demonstrate and measure your results."

According to Devooght, a very solid planning framework was the key to successful change. "If you start with the technology, before you decide on where your organization is going, what business you're in, or what you want to achieve, you're going to be in serious trouble," he said.

Devooght's leadership at the Ministry of Transportation allowed his organization to create a vision and develop goals that had the effect of steering his organization in a new, enlightened direction. "Organizational lines in government are blurring, and they are irrelevant and confusing to customers anyway," he explained.


The Ministry of Transportation's reengineering efforts lead to a cooperative partnership with the Ministry of Health when that organization found it necessary to put digitized photos on Canadian health cards to protect against rampant fraud. The only way the organization could do this was to have each person come to one of their 19 offices to have a picture taken. "We realized there was no way they were going to be able to pull that off without major problems," said Devooght. So he suggested the two agencies join together and pool their resources. The end result was that citizens went to the Ministry of Transportation - which has over 300 offices - to get a driver's license and get their picture taken for their health card at the same time. "If we already have the tools in place, why not share them?" said Devooght.

As Service Ontario expands in the coming months, there is little doubt it will become more useful and valuable to Ontario's citizens. And as Ontario continues to take an innovative look at sharing, cooperating and improving, there is no doubt that improved service to the citizen will become a dream one step closer to reality.

"Ultimately, we should all be looking everyday for ways to spend less of the taxpayers money and deliver a wider range of products with more efficiency and less confusion," said Devooght. "That starts with understanding what customers need."

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