John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Online moves to cost council $4m

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Tauranga City Council's drive to become a fully online organisation will cost them an additional $4 million over the next two years.
Tauranga City Council's drive to become a fully online organisation will cost them an additional $4 million over the next two years.

Tauranga City Council's drive to become a fully online organisation is set to cost an additional $4 million over the next two years.

The council this week "endorsed" the development of a digital platform needed to make the organisation more efficient and keep pace with the rapidly evolving online demands of customers.

It represented the biggest single investment to date in the way online digital technologies were tearing down the traditional ways in which the council delivered services to customers.

A total of $3 million was put into the council's 10-year plan last year to develop new online digital solutions. Endorsing the new strategy meant the council would go out for public consultation this year to add another $2 million to develop the platform.

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The Bay of Plenty Times was told after the meeting that the additional $2 million for the 2016-17 financial year and $2 million for 2017-18 was to fund fixed-term staff contracts so that council services did not suffer. A report detailed how there were 35 active and pending projects with digital components. The biggest at $2 million plus was the Ignite ERP replacement, followed by four projects worth $1 million to $2 million each. Fifteen projects were worth $100,000 to $1 million each and 20 worth up to $100,000 each.

Councillor Gail McIntosh said the council had to change the way it operated, but not at the expense of people who were digitally challenged. She was assured by the council's chief information officer, Grant Strang, that people would still be able to carry out transactions in a way that suited their needs.

Mr Strang could not give any assurances that the digital platform would lead to staff savings. He said the organisation would become more effective and empowered, enabling more value-added work. At the moment it struggled to produce reports when needed.

Councillor Catherine Stewart said she needed more certainty about where the money was going. "I need more confidence that the large amount of money spent is going in a productive manner."

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Mr Strang said they planned to bring in people on three month to six month contracts to help deliver the projects. They had already visited other councils around New Zealand that used the system Tauranga was moving toward.

It would lead to the more timely provision of information and reports, including becoming one of the first councils in New Zealand to deliver "Fix It". The platform would also deliver "Inspect It" to allow builders to send images of their work to council building inspectors, allowing them to see if builders were on the right track instead of making ad-hoc visits.

Councillor John Robson said they were trying to get a fit-for-purpose organisation that got rid of silos. Staff were manually transferring data to spread sheets and that had to stop. "It is more than just someone going online."

Councillor Matt Cowley said consent planners were currently entering the same information into three different systems.

The main drivers of council digital changes:

* Domination of smartphones and apps

* Opportunities to connect created by social media

* Customer demand for immediate and direct access to data

- Bay of Plenty Times

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