Presented by the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), the Ingenious Awards celebrate the smart use of technology to improve the performance of organizations and companies across Canada. Nominations are rigorously assessed by two panels of judges, identifying projects with the highest standard of excellence that achieve outstanding results. ITAC is proud to present the 2015 winners. Their stories represent innovative, transformative – and downright ingenious – approaches to challenges and opportunities.
LARGE PRIVATE CATEGORY
System drives efficiencies for contractors, curbs gridlock agony
Traffic congestion is one of the most ubiquitous and vexing problems of urban life, causing untold frustration and lost productivity. Construction necessary to maintain and improve the road network exacerbates the problem, especially when several projects happen simultaneously. Indeed, given Canada’s cold climate, such work is condensed into just a few months, often referred to as “construction season.”
Managing and co-ordinating roadway lane restrictions and closures – as well as communicating about them to drivers – helps limit the inconvenience they cause. A new Roadwork Scheduling System (RSS) developed by Parsons Corporation for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) demonstrates the power of technology to improve efficiency, starting with the morning commute.
The MTO handles tens of thousands of road closure requests from hundreds of contractors each year, says Mark Conrad, the RSS project manager at Parsons, a global engineering, construction, technical and management services firm with Canadian operations based in Markham, Ont. Processing such requests is demanding and time-consuming, he notes. “The previous paper-based, manual database entry process often had errors and omissions in contractor-submitted road closure requests, requiring follow-up by the ministry and resulting in resubmission by contractors.”
He says that Parsons, working closely with the ministry, set up the new streamlined system based on MTO’s detailed workflows and system requirements. The result was a secure web-based platform to process, manage and disseminate information related to roadwork scheduling. The application allows hundreds of users across many organizations to use it, including contractors applying for road closure permits and MTO officials processing them.
Since the RSS launch, some 1,000 contractor staff have registered and more than 40,000 closure permits have been issued, Mr. Conrad says. Contractors report time savings of 40 per cent in submitting closure requests, while the number returned due to conflicts and incomplete information has decreased by 80 per cent.
Nancy Adriano, head of safety, traffic information and roadwork co-ordination in MTO’s central region traffic office, says the online application saves the ministry 1,540 hours of staff time annually. “It also saves more than 15,000 sheets of paper,” she notes.
Mr. Conrad says that road closure details are also more quickly provided to the public, so motorists can make informed travel choices and plan their routes around closures.
“This information means fewer delays for freight carriers who drive the overall economy of the province,” he adds. “It increases safety for road workers and the travelling public, reduces traffic gridlock and saves motorists fuel costs.”
LARGE PUBLIC CATEGORY
Public health officials get a better shot at tracking immunizations
When the news came late one afternoon in February 2015 that a 14-year-old Niagara Region girl had tested positive for measles, the local public health unit was ready.
Staff in Niagara quickly reviewed the immunization records of almost 1,400 students in seven schools at risk of exposure to the disease, identifying those whose records were incomplete, who were partially immunized or unimmunized. They followed up with phone calls to the parents, saying their children needed to get their vaccinations up to date or be excluded from school.
By the time the bell rang the next morning, a list of such students was in the hands of all the principals. A total of 25 children were excluded until the risk subsided.
“Further spread of the disease was eliminated,” recalls Dr. Robin Williams, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, noting that the timely and accurate information at the heart of the case came from a new repository that centralizes, integrates and standardizes vaccination records across the province.
The Panorama Immunization System, implemented by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care as of July 2014, has so far allowed public health units to collect, manage and store more than 83 million immunization records in Ontario.
Dr. Williams says the need for the system was underlined by crises such as the SARS outbreak in 2003, when she was a regional medical officer of health. Although SARS turned out not to be a vaccine-preventable disease, it led to a full review of the communicable disease system in Ontario. There were weaknesses and gaps in decades-old, paper-based vaccination records, she remembers, especially with disparate systems at each of the province’s 36 public health units. Immunizations were noted for parents on yellow cards that went missing or were forgotten in drawers. Duplicate and out-of-date records resulted in over- and under-immunization and an inability to quickly identify those at risk during outbreaks.
“We’re all speaking the same language now,” says Dr. Williams, noting that the system incorporates data such as vaccinations given at immunization clinics, recorded using mobile devices. Instead of yellow cards, parents have an electronic version of their child’s immunization status, accessible anywhere.
Work continues to expand the repository to include children earlier than school-age as well as adults, Dr. Williams adds. “We want to get all our kids – and all Ontarians – immunized with the right vaccination at the right time for the best protection. Panorama has helped us do this.”
SME PUBLIC CATEGORY
Virtual classrooms connect, inspire northern students
The statistics starkly illustrate the educational challenges in Canada’s North: 30 per cent of students in the Northwest Territories drop out and three-quarters of all Inuit children do not graduate from high school.
Academic underperformance both arises from and worsens the economic and social problems in so many northern communities. And when opportunities do develop in the region, Inuit and Aboriginal youth find themselves disadvantaged in terms of their ability to seize new employment possibilities.
Like other educators in the North, John Fanjoy recognizes the need for innovative approaches not only to keep young people in school, but to inspire them to get the most from their classroom experiences. That’s why in 2011, Mr. Fanjoy, vice-principal of Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit, embraced the opportunity to conduct a pilot for the Connected North program, in partnership with Cisco Canada, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and SSi Micro, supported by a consortia of more than 30 private-sector partners.
“We saw the program’s great potential for giving our students the learning opportunities they deserve – the types of opportunities that students have in southern Canada,” he says.
High-definition two-way video made possible by Cisco’s TelePresence technology delivered science content such as lab activities, real-time tours of science facilities and talks by experts to students in Grades 6, 7 and 8, creating a dynamic educational experience.
“Our students were exposed to lessons and activities previously unimaginable for an isolated northern community,” says Mr. Fanjoy. “The students found the content very engaging, and we know that engaged students learn more.”
Connected North has expanded to more classrooms in the school and six other schools across the North. It also provides professional development sessions for northern teachers and two-way connections with classrooms in the rest of Canada, such as Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, Aqsarniit’s sister school.
“The students collaborate on projects while sharing their cultures – learning about what it’s like to live in Toronto, compared to growing up as an Inuit person in Iqaluit,” Mr. Fanjoy explains. “We’ve done sessions with drum-dancing and throat-singing, and elders have spoken to the Toronto students about traditional ways of life.”
Connected North is one of the factors that has contributed to improved attendance at the school in the last couple of years, he adds. In a recent survey, 89 per cent of students said remote learning makes science “more enjoyable,” and 81 per cent said they “learned more in the virtual sessions” than through traditional classroom learning.
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