One City’s Collaborative Approach to Putting Data to Work

The thriving Canadian municipality of Mississauga is harnessing innovative technology and stakeholder buy-in to become a model for connected communities.
April 3, 2018 AT 6:15 AM
Mississauga, Ontario
Mississauga, Ontario (Shutterstock)
By Stephen Goldsmith  |  Contributor
Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program

Tucked along Lake Ontario, the Canadian city of Mississauga is a bustling hub of business, performance and innovation. While Mississauga may often be overshadowed by neighboring Toronto, the city's position as an emerging leader among smart cities cannot be disputed.

While on a panel at a Smart Cities Forum in Toronto last year, I talked with Shawn Slack, Mississauga's director of information technology and chief information officer, about the city's technology initiatives. Mississauga's overall vision of creating a connected community is propelled by well-thought-out partnerships and robust citywide development plans. Backed by enthusiastic investment and creative enterprises, the city and its leadership are enabling deeper connections among various city enterprises.

The municipality -- Canada's sixth largest, with a population of more than 720,000 -- has become an early leader in the use of sensors and fiber networks to create data-driven solutions to address citywide concerns. With guidance from Slack and Mayor Bonnie Crombie for implementing strategies from the city's strategic and IT master plans, these efforts are delivering efficient, productive and transparent services to citizens while generating buy-in from stakeholders across the city. In Mississauga's efforts to attract new businesses, the aim is to establish a reputation for the city as a "technologically sophisticated location," as Slack put it.

The city's three- to five-year IT master plan focuses on four key goals: fostering an open and accessible government; enabling decisions through research and analytics; creating a connected and engaged workplace for city employees; and improving services through innovation and partnerships. The master plan avoids over-specification, instead focusing on high-level engagement with stakeholders and the vendor community.

Stakeholders -- including city employees, residents and private companies -- are involved at each part of the process, from lending resources to designing implementation plans. "We reached out to the vendor community and spent time with them to find out what they think the future holds from a technology perspective, what are the best practices being used now, and what might work for the public sector," said Slack.

Work with stakeholders has already led to greater technological provision of public services, such as better traffic-signal coordination and an online resource that can access worldwide information for university students.

Major technology companies including Apple, Bell Canada, Cisco Systems, OnX and SAP have been enthusiastic about wanting to work with the city, leading to longer-term technological engagements. For example, Mississauga has been working with Cisco on co-development of some of its smart-city technologies, including the rollout of public Wi-Fi. Mississauga is made up of many smaller districts linked by a corridor where small businesses and tourism have collected, and the city hopes to build a Wi-Fi district throughout that corridor, including free broadband and a digital presence for small businesses on which they can advertise.

Furthermore, Mississauga recently became the first city in Canada to become a "virtual campus" through a partnership with eduroam, a secure wireless network service that allows university affiliates to use their home institution's wireless credentials to access wireless networks when visiting other eduroam-participating institutions. The city now advertises eduroam service on its free public Wi-Fi network.

Mississauga has also fostered strong relationships with Sheridan College, the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus and other educational institutions to share infrastructure and collaborate on the delivery of next-generation services, Slack said. For example, in the first week of the city's virtual-campus operations, Mississauga provided Wi-Fi services to more than a thousand visiting students from across Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Mississauga continues to work towards its smart-city master plan goals, recently entering the government of Canada's Smart Cities Challenge, which offers a cash prize of up to $50 million. The Smart Cities Challenge encourages communities to work to improve the lives of residents through innovation, data and connected technology. As part of the submission process, Mississauga will be preparing a Smart City Master Plan, outlining city-wide strategies over a three to five year period. Looking forward, Mississauga aims for smart-city principles to support projects such as expanded Wi-Fi, LED streetlight networks and better stormwater mitigation methods.

The success of Mississauga's smart-city initiatives to date -- with more on the way -- relies on leveraging existing tools with new partnerships and insights. In an age of shifting economies and fast-paced technological change, Mississauga has garnered robust, collaborative support that advances influential technological work.