FCM Project Search Page Gets Power Platform Upgrade
Public Service | Non-Profit
Microsoft Power Platform (Power Portal, Power Apps, Power Automate), Microsoft Dataverse, Microsoft Bing, Azure Blob Storage
Since 1901, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has been a national voice for more than 2,100 municipalities. The FCM’s Green Municipal Fund (GMF) supports municipalities through capacity-building and funding of sustainability projects aimed at reducing pollution, improving energy efficiency and revitalizing public infrastructure.
FCM Power portal provides access to 1,931 approved GMF sustainability projects, valued at $1.28 billion.
The FCM had a legacy online portal that provided members and staff with access to detailed information about GMF projects. Built on legacy hardware and software that was reaching end of life, FCM wanted to ensure accessibility, while providing improved user interface, esthetic design, and mobile access.
“What we had was a search engine to view records of projects that had been funded by the GMF and information related to those projects,” says Autumn Corvus, Information Technology Services Project Manager and the FCM. “The previous approved projects database drew from an old and soon-to-be decommissioned version of our CRM system and an out-of-date content management system.”
Built on legacy systems, the site was not responsive or mobile friendly, and did not meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA standards for accessibility, which is now a requirement for all Canadian government websites and applications.
“We wanted to do better with the site. It is an important source of information of the projects GMF has funded,” he added. “The previous system was very out of date and we knew we needed to rebuild it. It was not meeting external needs for accessibility or our internal need. There was a desire to build something that was easier to use, more accessible and responsive on mobile.”
In addition, the system was running on an outdated, in-house server that FCM wants to decommission as part of the organization’s move to the cloud.
FCM was already working on a digital transformation strategy that included updating legacy solutions and migration to the cloud. It had implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM and a range of Microsoft solutions. While the internal FCM team had looked at other options for modernizing the GFM portal, the decision to use Microsoft Power Platform made sense.
This project is the first one the FCM was undertaking using Power Platform so “we wanted to make sure we had a vendor that had prior experience and has the necessary skills to do the job,” says Corvus. After researching technology partners to help make the transition, FCM selected Whitecap for this application modernization project.
“We identified a few vendors that might be a good fit and after an RFP process, Whitecap was shortlisted,” recalls Corvus. “They were attentive in the process, asked a lot of questions and had the knowledge we needed.”
With almost 2,000 GMF projects and stakeholders spanning a range of different FCM teams and stakeholders, modernizing the portal on a new platform had a lot of moving pieces.
On the surface, the legacy system might have seemed like a simple website where stakeholders could go to search for projects and filter by key criteria, but behind the scenes there is a lot going on in terms of the data, including the kinds of data available and where that data was being captured and stored. At the same time, FCM wanted to ensure the portal was user-friendly, visually attractive and mirrored GMF’s brand identity which was being updated as part of a separate process.
“We didn’t have a great, full understanding of all the variables and complications and stakeholders that were involved when we began the process,” admits Corvus, noting Whitecap helped them navigate the complexities to fine tune a solution that would meet FCM’s evolving requirements, while ensuring the system was scalable and future-proofed to handle new data structures and information sources that they were planning to add in.
The Power Platform was the right option as the backbone, with Whitecap providing the necessary customization to ensure that FCM could meet its UX goals. Leveraging a range of Microsoft tools, Whitecap helped create an intuitive, mobile-friendly and accessible website that establishes a solid foundation for the future of this system, and other FCM digital transformation projects.
To connect to project data, Whitecap needed to link to a Microsoft Azure SQL database where some of the GFM project details are stored. A model-driven Microsoft Power App is used in conjunction with a dozen Microsoft Power Automate workflows to bring the data into the Dataverse and transform it into a format needed for search and visualization. Azure Blob Storage is being used as a document repository where PDFs of completed projects are stored and available for download by portal users.
Since the site provides extensive project information and outcome data, it was important that navigating the site was streamlined and intuitive – not to mention attractive. Whitecap and FCM wanted to make sure users could filter information easily to make finding relevant projects easier.
New projects come in via the data sync. Once they are available, additional information is added to them. The interface to add data and upload files also needed to be simple and intuitive.
“This project had become a pilot project, a benchmark so that we can show to others the kind of thing we can do with Power Platform for similar projects we have in the future.”
This project is going to serve as a benchmark for digital transformation projects we are working on internally to make better use of the data and the information we have available. This project was really a proof of concept for building apps and web pages on the Power Platform and showcasing the advantage of the Power Platform and the migration to the cloud.
A key priority for FCM was providing very sophisticated search functionality to help users find projects according to a wide range of criteria. While the previous system had detailed search functionality, they wanted to enhance those capabilities in the new portal – and at the same time ensure searchability was possible on mobile.
The intelligent search function is responsive to user inputs with changing drop downs and menus depending on the criteria selected. It required a highly detailed hierarchy and extensive customization to function the way Whitecap and FCM envisioned.
“This was the most essential functionality,” says Corvus. “It’s easy to navigate so we are super pleased.”
An enhanced capability of the new portal also provides visualization of projects on a map so that users can see what projects were completed in specific locations. This was not a simple process as the project data didn’t have detailed location information. Using postal codes to classify projects by city and an API to grab longitude and latitude, Whitecap created a map using Microsoft Bing. There are plans to enhance this function in future updates to more closely pinpoint projects while improving visual representation in areas like large city centers where there are multiple projects.
One of the driving priorities for FCM’s application modernization was accessibility. The previous site did not meet accessibility standards, but FCM didn’t just want to check the box on accessibility. They wanted to ensure the site met high standards of functionality and usability.
From the image selected for the home page to how readers would deliver page information and filter searches, Whitecap and FCM worked hard to ensure the portal was functional and usable for all visitors. From the beginning of the project when wireframes were being created, through to the mock ups and design, every decision kept accessibility top of mind. Accessibility priorities for this project went beyond visual impairment to also support neurotypical individuals who can’t tolerate too much information jammed onto pages. Design ensured pages had enough white space and didn’t use moving elements.
Whitecap also made sure page readers weren’t simply reading left to right across the page but programmed it to ensure pages were read the way a typical user would want to navigate on a page. This helps to give anyone with visual impairments a better experience on the site.
“We didn’t want to just meet the standard – though certainly we did – we wanted to make sure that, as we continue developing this site, we can improve how we deliver this information and make sure the data is easy to read or consume in an accessible way,” says Corvus.
FCM In Control
Another benefit to using Power Platform was the ability for FCM to make changes and add features internally, without requiring outsourced developers or designers. The experience with the solution, coupled with training and support from Whitecap has paved the way for FCM to use Power Platform for other projects.
Corvus says this project is serving as a model for what can be done using Power Platform.
“This was a learning project for us internally. We discovered how we could work with this tool, what it was capable of, and certainly the back end is also much more intuitive than our current CRM,” says Corvus. “When I showed it to one of our internal specialists who is involved with a project that’s living on the old platform, he was very enthused. It is a huge improvement and certainly a game changer.”
Future Projects & Enhancements
“This is the way we want to go increasingly in the future and this is the pilot project to demonstrate the value of the Power Platform,” Corvus explains. “There is great satisfaction with how this project turned out.”
While FCM has been able to add in mapping functionality, there is work to do to refine the mapping and pin projects more precisely, while providing a way to navigate around locations where there are many projects in the database.
At the same time, FCM is already looking at how the system can support more data from different sources, as well as a way to more effectively present, upload and update completion reports which are currently PDF documents available for download.
“It has been a tremendous move internally and showing the merits and benefits of the Power Platform. This project has given us a lot more confidence going in this direction,” says Corvus. “We are going to continue working with Whitecap on future projects because we were pleased with the results of this one. I would have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone.”
I am very pleased to have worked with Whitecap on this project. We’re looking forward to working with Whitecap on future versions of this search page and other related projects.