A growing and dynamic city in northeastern British Columbia, the City of Fort St. John is like many communities across Canada, but with one key difference—the average age of its 21,000 residents is just over 30, which is more than 10 years younger than the rest of Canada.
For many young families in Fort St. John, getting to City Hall during typical business hours isn’t possible. For several years, the city considered moving to a scalable, cloud-based platform to increase access to government services. Then, almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic turned this idea of a digital option from a “nice-to-have” into a “need-to-have” — suddenly, coming into City Hall to pay tax or utilities bills was no longer viable at all.
In 2020, the city began searching for innovative solutions to make life more simple for its young population. City staff wanted to better serve residents in ways that would suit their busy, digitally connected lifestyles. So the City of Fort St. John, British Columbia worked with Cocoflo, a smart cities technology company, to implement a digital solution that could make municipal information and services more accessible through their SmartLiving portal. The solution runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
After assessing and analyzing their options, the City of Fort St. John selected Cocoflo to implement their SmartLiving cloud-based web and mobile app solution to streamline how citizens engaged with city services. Cocoflo is a smart cities technology company based in Vancouver. They have developed an innovative cloud-based solution to improve the citizen and municipal administrative experience by using a proprietary web and app platform that connects community stakeholders.
Cocoflo previously worked with AWS Partner OpsGuru, a Carbon60 Company, to deploy the solution in the cloud. OpsGuru specializes in cloud adoption, application modernization, Kubernetes enablement, managed cloud operations, cloud security, and data analytics solutions. OpsGuru has helped hundreds of customers leverage the power of the AWS Cloud to help their business scale, improve agility and integrity, and create a strong foundation for a cloud-native future. Cocoflo utilized OpsGuru’s Cloud Launchpad service to establish AWS security and governance best practices, leveraging AWS Organizations, AWS CloudTrail, and Amazon GuardDuty. This made sure that the city could comply with provincial and federal privacy and security laws; all confidential citizen and municipal data is housed on cloud servers that are located and backed up in Canada.
Cocoflo’s “virtual city hall” solution allows municipalities to select and integrate different citizen-facing digital tools based on their needs and budget. The platform allows for single sign-on, dynamic two-way communication, customizable features, and simple integration with existing systems.
Cocoflo leverages Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS), a managed container service that can be used to run and scale Kubernetes applications in the cloud or on-premises, reducing the complexities in container adoption. Cocoflo also uses Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for a scalable database in the cloud, and data is sent to AWS Backup for regulatory compliance and data protection.
By limiting redundant infrastructure and offering an efficient way to scale—while keeping costs down—the AWS Cloud enabled Cocoflo to rapidly deploy their single-tenant application in an automated and repeatable fashion.
In the 10 months since its launch, Fort St. John’s MyCityHall has already been used by close to 20 percent of eligible residents. As Jeff Martin, president and co-founder of Cocoflo put it, “We’re not trying to force a square peg into a round hole. We’re trying to offer something that fits municipalities and their citizen’s needs.” For city staff, this means being able to analyze user data and trends so they can optimize the platform’s functionalities and make changes that improve the user experience.
Most importantly, for Fort St. John’s residents, the platform addresses many of their immediate needs—including the ability to make payments online, review tax statements, and access city information all in one place, with a single login.
Critical information that keeps the city functioning is now off-site in the cloud, away from the threat of possible forest fires, other natural disasters, or equipment failure, giving the city disaster recovery capabilities. “We know the ability of AWS Cloud to provide an array of backups and redundancies,” noted Fort St. John’s Ryan Harvey, “and any time we can move away from single source on-site servers and conform to provincial data residency requirements, that’s a win from our perspective.”
And as one municipal employee added, “I like to tell people that I worked inside City Hall, and for the life of me, I could never get to the front counter to pay my water bill on time. I work in the building! Now I pay my bill through the app. That’s a pretty good use case for the technology!”