Surrey launches tech initiatives to engage residents

SURREY – The City of Surrey has revealed two new tech initiatives designed to engage and inform the public.

In early 2014, a study released in the United States showed that for the first time more people were using mobile devices to access the Internet than a personal computer. 

Capitalizing on that change, Surrey has released a new mobile-device app to connect residents with the city.

“It’s very slick and it ties in to some of the other apps that we’ve already developed like Surrey Request,” said Coun. Bruce Hayne, chair of Surrey’s investment and innovation committee.

While Surrey has already launched several apps like Surrey Request, which allows users to quickly report things like graffiti or potholes, the new My Surrey App is designed to be a one-stop portal to all current and future apps, as well as news and information.  

Hayne calls it more of an “umbrella” for other apps than an app itself.

Currently, users can access information on cycling routes, an event calendar and job opportunities, to name a few—as well as existing apps like Rethink Waste and Surrey Library.  

Hayne said that developers will continue to add updates and new apps under the My Surrey App umbrella that are related to city issues and services.

For example, there will be apps coming from Fraser Health on Surrey restaurant inspections, said Hayne.

The My Surrey App is available free for iPhone, Android and Blackberry through your devices’ app store.

In a second announcement made Tuesday, the city officially adopted an open data service that will allow the public to easily access data and statistics from city departments.

The program is still in its beta version but Surrey boasts that when fully operational it will contain more than 300 data sets — comprising “more data sets than any other municipality in Canada.”

“Transparency is certainly one of the main goals,” said Hayne of the open data program.

Currently, anyone can access the data sets through a computer to view or download information on topics like crime statistics, city expenses, water testing and much more.

Hayne said that by making this information easily accessible it will help the public become more informed, but also save the city time and money by reducing the number of Freedom of Information requests that are made on a daily basis.

“Those FOI requests  … are very expensive over time in terms of staff time. We want to manage those requests in a timely manner so there are a lot of resources put to making those FIO request available,” said Hayne.

With the open data program in place the city will also be reporting things like council expenses more frequently.

“Up until now we have reported annually council expenses, but for 11 months of the year we get requests coming on certain expenses. These are now going to be posted quarterly,” Hayne said.

The data is presented in a number of file formats that can be downloaded to spreadsheets and sorted for easy analysis.

Tying the two tech announcements together, Hayne says that some of the data is currently being used in the city’s apps and more “open data will integrate with the app as time goes on.”

“What we’re doing is creating apps that are going to crunch and use those data sets … and putting it into a format that allows anybody to easily read it and utilize it for their own benefit,” he said.

By integrating the data with apps, people won’t have to wade through the raw data but can use the app to view the specific data they need. 

In making this information available, the city hopes that it will encouraging the app-development community to use the data sets to create apps the city has not even thought of.

“We are continually looking for ways to better engage the community and everybody is turning to tablets and devices to get their information these days and I think it’s really incumbent on municipalities to start to delivers their services and information in the format people want to get it in,” Hayne said.

The open data catalogue can viewed at www. surrey.ca/opendatahttp://www. surrey.ca/opendata.

matt@mattlaw.ca

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