Apps4Edmonton – The Gift that Keeps Giving

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the last week in Ottawa, representing the City of Edmonton in the annual Government Technology Exbibition Conference (GTEC). We are honoured to be here as the 2010 Showcase Municipality. As a leader in Open Government, Open Data and Information Technology Innovation, Edmonton had a lot to offer to this year’s conference.

These are exciting and pivotal times for leaders in Technology within Government. It was even evident in the theme for GTEC 2010 – High Performance Government. Our decisions and directions are setting a foundation for the rest of the 21st century. This was a great opportunity to connect with our Municipal, Provincial/Territorial and Federal peers. As we move forward, I’m excited to build partnerships, collaborate, engage in rich conversations and work together to serve our citizens.

It’s important City of Edmonton IT to take action, to be the change we want to see. That’s why, on September 14, 2010 the City of Edmonton was the first government agency in Canada to award prizes for an Apps Competition. Apps4Edmonton was a great way for us to show the benefits of open data (read more on (@britl) blog post on iNews880). Everyone who entered the contest was extremely innovative and inspiring people. These developers have a passion for their city and a desire to use their skills and talents to serve their community. In addition to prizes and publicity, the apps4edmonton winners were also asked to join us in Ottawa so the City of Edmonton could showcase their accomplishments to public servants from all corners of our vast country. However, not only did our two apps winners represent the innovative thinking that is taking place in Edmonton but they also left a legacy in Ottawa. A “Gift of Apps” as we call it.

GTEC 2010
Presenting at GTEC 2010.

Mitch Ronquillo is the creator of Diner Inspect a great app that merges location information from the Edmonton open data catalog and information from Alberta Health Services regarding health inspections performed in public dining establishments.  So first, Kudos to the Province of Alberta and Health services for making this information available on their website, and kudos to the genius of Mitch who “scraped” the data off of the website and imported it into his application.

“Scraping” is a technical term used when a programmer has to extract information from a website because the data is not in a machine-readable format. This process takes a lot of time and effort. In order for developers to produce applications using public data in a way that adds value to our city, province and country, we encourage all levels of government to share to their data in an open data catalogue. Once this happens, governments will find that their data will become immensely more useful. Mitch’s app is a perfect example. He has made the province’s restaurant inspection reports easier to use than the provinces website as it displays the information in a map form, one that we are all familiar with, and it rates establishments based on inspection outcomes, and provides you with happy or sad faces, colored from green to red.  Now the exciting part of the story !

As Mitch was planning on coming to Ottawa to be part of the GTEC showcase, he challenged himself to create a similar solution for the citizens of Ottawa.  He found that the inspection information was available, updated his system and Ottawa Diner Inspect was born.  So now Ottawa can enjoy the same easy to use system for checking your favorite restaurant, just like in Edmonton.  Mitch is just one of many talented people in the City of Edmonton, who is capable of delivering these types of solutions in a very short period of time.

Next let me tell you about two other talented Edmontonians, Sean Healy and Joel Jackson.  With their TXT.2.ETS app, you simply text your Edmonton Transit stop number to their phone number (858)779-4952 and within 10 seconds their system sends you back the next six scheduled buses at that stop.  It is simple and easy to use, and it works with any cellular phone/device.  In addition to making TXT.2.ETS they have also made their API (Application Program Interface) available free of charge, others are using it to build their own apps, now that is playing nicely and creating an open ecosystem.

When Sean and Joel arrived in Ottawa for GTEC, they also got the programming bug and challenged themselves to make their app work for OC Transpo. They worked on it all night on October 4th, went to bed at 3:00 am while the database was building and then got up shortly after to test the app.  Fortunately for Sean and Joel, OC Transpo provides its routing and schedule information in a GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification), invented by Google and perfected by transit authorities around the globe , just like Edmonton Transit.  So in the OC Transpo areas, you simply text your stop number to (858) 367-9243 and voila your next six scheduled bus times are returned to you.

These are very exciting apps, gifted to the City of Ottawa from software developers in Edmonton, our legacy of our time at GTEC.  Why is this important, well we are in a new economy, one based more on intrinsic values and motivation than on extrinsic drivers, more about giving away and gifting than always getting.  Author and speaker Daniel Pink articulates this extremely well in his book Drive , if you are interested in this new economy his book is a fantastic resource.

GTEC 2010 342
Apps4Edmonton winners go to GTEC left to right: Chris Martyniuk, Eugene Chen, Chris Moore (City of Edmonton), Ashley Casovan (City of Edmonton), Joel Jackson, Sean Healy, Mitch Ronquillo, Ben Zittlau, Ryan Smulan

So thank you to all of our apps developers, and to our apps winners, and to Sean, Joel and Mitch who have made an impact and a contribution to the citizens of Ottawa.  I also want to thank the team in IT at the City of Edmonton who have worked long and hard to create our open data presence, and also extend my thanks to the creative and innovative members of the various city departments who have also made their information available. What you have done has made this all possible. Thank You.

These are truly exciting times, lets work together to build the future !