The County of Haliburton hired a consultant for an IT digital strategy – and what that means for the public is a focus on customers, with a goal of making their experience, “simple, easy, and consistent.”

This will resonate with people paying taxes, getting development approvals, licenses and permits, registering for recreation programs, and simply getting their questions answered.

Perry Group Consulting presented its findings, and recommendations, during a June 26 council meeting.

Ben Perry said, “since COVID 19, when people were forced to use online services, customers have learned and now want online convenience. A significant portion of customers want to interact online. A recent ICCS study shows that over 76 per cent of Canadians have interacted and prefer to interact with their governments.”

He added, “in Haliburton County, where there is a significant portion of second homes, the ability to interact online is considered critically important.”

He noted technology can help municipalities with their work, for example, using connected sensors, or vehicle-mounted cameras, to monitor roadway conditions, water leaks, and even full garbage cans.

Perry said technology, when done right, can make things more efficient and better. It can also be cheaper, with Perry saying face-toface interactions cost $15-30, phone $5 but online $1. The strategy emanated from the services delivery review.

He said good IT can reduce the turnaround on development approvals, speed up the number of building inspections and work orders, and reduce customer complaints. Not investing in IT can waste taxpayer dollars.

In surveying staff, Perry said they are satisfied with devices, connectivity and user support but only 64 per cent are satisfied with current online services, “suggesting a need for better online service delivery and technology training to enhance digital experience and customer service.”

He said while most municipalities are pushing more services online, it’s largely limited to PDF forms. “End-to-end digital processes for planning applications, service requests, and complaints are absent. There’s a need for improvement in social media management, alerts and subscriptions, engagement, and ideation.”

He said they could add five positions across the County (for the five governments and library service) and are not spending enough on IT.

Perry said the challenge is customers expect speed, convenience, and online access, available from anywhere 24/7/365 to municipal services that are on par with their bank, the retailers they deal with, the CRA or renewing a driver’s licence.

He suggested a budget impact of about $240,000 into 2026, which would include hiring two staff at the County, and part-time IT people for Minden Hills and Highlands East.

Warden Liz Danielsen said she was all for, “making life easier and hopefully less expensive for all of our taxpayers.”

Coun. Murray Fearrey asked, with each township at a different stage of its IT, how would they get on the same page? Director of IT, Mike March said, “we pick a solution, and then eventually, when time comes, everybody aligns with it.” Fearrey said if they can be assured there are cost savings in IT spending, it will be an easier sell.

Coun. Bob Carter said “in trying to get all sorts of people to agree on something, as we have witnessed many times in the County, that hasn’t always been successful.”

CAO Gary Dyke said upper management would work to advance change.

Perry said it is, “a bit like herding cats, and people will go off and do their own things, and one of the things we’re looking for from council is an endorsement of this strategy.” He said that would empower senior management to lead the charge. He added there would be regular check-ins for accountability. Dyke suggested quarterly reporting, including variance.

Council adopted the strategy in principle, and Perry will be presenting to the four lower-tier townships