Xerris Helps the City of Medicine Hat Launch New Digital Services for Citizens on AWS
In 2021 the City of Medicine Hat, Alberta, teamed up with Xerris, a Calgary based Amazon Web Services (AWS) Advanced Partner, to launch a new citizen-facing digital strategy through an online services portal using AWS serverless architecture. The response of city residents to the new digital portal has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has empowered local leaders to develop additional citizen services in the cloud.
Getting Past the Old Way of Working
The City of Medicine Hat, Alberta, is like many small- to mid-sized cities across Canada: it’s a proud and vibrant community. Citizens have high expectations of their municipal government and close ties to it. But until recently, there was no quick and easy option for Medicine Hat residents to conveniently do business with the city online. People had three choices: phone, email, or lining up at the information counter at City Hall.
As Craig Fruin, Manager of Application Services for the City of Medicine Hat, points out, “it was pretty traditional. Come to the big glass building on 1st Street, City Hall, and we’ll point you to the right office to get that permit or pay that tax bill.”
Finding a Better Way to Serve Citizens
In the fall of 2020, the City of Medicine Hat put out a request for proposals to address this challenge. City officials were eager to find a partner that could help them make a new citizen-facing digital strategy a reality. By developing a digital strategy and updated web presence, they hoped to take a dynamic approach to serving the community. They aimed to roll out a five-year plan, starting with a redesigned website and the myMH Citizens’ Portal, to change the way the municipal government and citizens interact with each other, and improve the way the city delivers information and services.
Xerris, a Calgary based AWS Advanced Partner with expertise in custom cloud, micro services and front-end development, won the bid. They offered advice on how to select the right cloud provider and build an integration strategy that could incorporate immediate and future needs while remaining cost effective.
Building an Integration Strategy with Xerris and AWS
Xerris started by presenting the range of available cloud providers to Craig Fruin and his IT team. After City staff selected AWS, Xerris offered them training and helped set up the AWS serverless computing systems needed to integrate the myMH citizen portal with existing on-premise business software.
Many of the city’s legacy systems relied heavily on point-to-point database level integration that didn’t lead to the reuse of information. Additionally, the existing on-site server technology needed regular provisioning and maintenance. When the servers went down, it was often quite impactful to day-to-day business processes.
Leveraging the AWS Cloud ensured that ongoing maintenance, data security and data backup could all be done remotely. Phasing out on-site servers also ensured better protection from equipment breakdown or extreme weather events—like the 2013 flooding and subsequent manual relocation of the City’s data centre. Xerris also helped the team set up AWS Control Tower to oversee the system, and a VPN to connect their network to the AWS Cloud.
Now came the exciting part: Delivering the digital services and tools that would make residents’ lives easier when they interacted with City Hall.
Training and Independent Product Development Using API Gateway
With the help of Xerris, the transition to the AWS Cloud opened-up a new world of possibility and knowledge sharing for the in-house developers at City Hall, many of whom had considerable knowledge but no development experience on the cloud.
The in-house developers took part in an eight-week AWS Bootcamp to help them build out serverless applications that used AWS API Gateway, AWS Lambda, Amazon Dynamo DB and Amazon SQS technologies.
Xerris also provided project management expertise and helped set up agile and scrum processes to prioritize and map out initiatives, which encouraged independent product development.
The experience with new services such as AWS API Gateway enhanced the city IT team’s technical skills. They were then ready to focus on developing new applications that used real-time two-way communication to help their community. As Craig Fruin points out, “the best way to show progress is through working software.”
Developing Innovative Local Government Solutions
For the City of Medicine Hat, the centerpiece of its digital strategy is the new municipal website and the myMH portal, which launched in September 2021. It offers intuitive navigation, mobile device compatibility, alignment with accessibility standards, and options to do business online.
After registering on the myMH portal, residents can receive updated schedules on available services such as garbage pick-up and recycling, tailored to their specific address. The customizable dashboard includes digital widgets that leverage GIS data retrieved using AWS services. As a result, citizens can get real time road construction information from the city and plan-ahead for full or partial road closures.
In October 2021, Xerris and the Medicine Hat team used the technology to tabulate and provide up-to-the-minute municipal election results to residents in the communities. “We were quickly able to create a site that tracked results and put those into a nice-looking election results page online,” notes Craig. “This was all through AWS systems and products.”
The team is also preparing for tax season, by working on a tax and billing assessment service that will integrate the digital portal with the city’s back-office tax system. When it’s completed, citizens will be able to see their municipal tax assessment, view outstanding balances and make full or partial payments online.
A New Vision for Citizen-centered Government
The future looks bright in Medicine Hat. The city’s new citizen-facing digital strategy is part of a fiscal plan that expects to achieve $4.5 million Canadian dollars in cost savings and revenue generation over five years.
These are just the first steps, and it’s already been an extremely successful start. Developing digital access to municipal services has opened-up an array of new possibilities for residents-improvements that benefit taxpayers and ultimately make life easier. In the words of manager Craig Fruin, “the technology is about making life more efficient for the people who live in Medicine Hat. I am extremely proud of being able to help make that happen.”
About the City of Medicine Hat
Medicine Hat is a thriving city of approximately 63,018 residents. Located in the beautiful South Saskatchewan River Valley, residents enjoy the beauty and peace of the coulees and rolling prairie which boasts many species of wildlife. Medicine Hat has much to offer to residents, visitors and businesses alike - an excellent climate, a safe and healthy community, vibrant arts and entertainment, and ample recreation and leisure opportunities.
Xerris is a Calgary based technology consultancy with expertise in custom cloud, micro-services and front-end development. As an AWS Advanced Technology Partner, Xerris helps clients create cloud focused solutions that unblock innovation and free them from the constraints of legacy systems.
Published May 2022