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Toronto and Region Conservation Authority hangs up on traditional business phones

From monitoring for flood to tracking salmon, TRCA is improving Toronto with help from communication tools like Operator Connect.

overview of forest

For many Ontarians, spring is the best time of the year. The long winter chill is subsiding, tulips begin peeking through the ground and huge piles of snow finally start to thaw. While most happily slip on rainboots without a second thought, one team is on high alert, diligently assessing and monitoring for potential flooding. Between melting snow piles and seasonal storms, it’s a 24/7 job and one of the most critical performed by Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

The organization has been active since 1957 with the goal of preserving the region’s natural environment, as well as protecting the community from increasingly extreme weather events, like flooding. TRCA’s jurisdiction includes nine watersheds, which is home to over 10% of Canada’s total population.

From the front desk to the forest: IT services that support sustainability

The Information Technology and Records Management team of about 25 people manage everything from connectivity to websites. Because of the organization’s unique mission, their IT needs are different than in a typical workplace. While one member of staff may be searching for invasive fish in Frenchman’s Bay, another could be installing trail counters on a walking path. Nonetheless, they all rely on IT staff like James Dong to provide effective and reliable technology solutions.

James has been with TRCA for over 15 years and is currently the Manager of Infrastructure, Security and Architecture. He works closely with Rogers Business to ensure teams have the tools they need to work effectively. “Reliable and seamless communication is the lifeblood of TRCA’s business operations,” he explains. “From daily emails to chats to virtual meetings, an exchange of information is important to the work that TRCA does, and any disruption has a noticeable and immediate impact.”

Going green: Introducing cloud-based technology

Understandably, TRCA strives to be a leader in sustainability. As part of their new 2023-2024 strategic plan, TRCA has made it a priority to work with business and industry partners, like Rogers, to inform sustainability initiatives that drive the adoption of green technologies through engagement. This includes integrating green infrastructure and technology into their planning.

The sustainability mission extends to IT practices as well. With plans for a new net-zero energy efficient head office well underway, James and his team began considering a move towards more cloud-based technology as their legacy system required hardware at each service location. “The transition to more cloud services allows us to reduce our technology footprint of static systems and use shared resources instead,” he says. “This gives us greater flexibility while supporting higher density usage of cloud resources.”

Goodbye legacy phones, hello cloud-based calling: Introducing Operator Connect

Launching a new IT solution is never easy, even for the TRCA IT team who’ve been previously tasked with challenging requests like obtaining high-speed internet in remote field offices, powering point-of-sale systems in the middle of a park and even achieving reliable connectivity in an open field for a nature class.

They were able to deliver those feats with the help of Rogers cellular modems and so James turned to  his counterparts at Rogers once again to introduce Operator Connect. The solution integrates with Microsoft Teams to allow for voice calling across Canada, even to those without Teams.

The tool is easily scalable, which is helpful for TRCA, whose staff grows from about 650 to over 1,300 during the busy summer season. “Staff now have calling capability within the same application they use for chat and online meetings, reducing the number of applications they need to switch between,” explains James. “IT management is also simplified as the fully cloud platform translates to no physical infrastructure to manage, allowing our team’s resources to focus on other strategic initiatives.”

 The pandemic push: Why TRCA was busier than ever during the pandemic

 Because outdoor public spaces were one of the few safe, accessible spots during the pandemic, TRCA found itself busy accommodating an influx of visitors during this time, making tools like Operator Connect even more valuable.  “Our ability to shift with the changing work landscape through the pandemic has been a tremendous success story for our staff, our partners and the community,” reflects James. “This is very much attributed to the connectivity services and remote capabilities that we’ve deployed and has allowed many of our business services and our workforce to continue operations.”

The path forward for TRCA

The organization is moving operations to their new headquarters before the end of next year. With solar panels, rainwater-harvesting gardens and four waterfalls, the sustainable building encompasses all the green-first values of the organization. The IT team also plans to continue their innovation with more efficient strategies including introducing Teams Phone Mobile, which will further simplify staff communication, allowing a single phone number to connect to a mobile device, the Teams app and the Teams desktop.

For James, the continued technology advancements represent much more than just adding the latest gadgets. “Throughout my time with TRCA, I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact technology can have on our organization. Continuing to evolve technology means introducing ongoing efficiencies for our staff and operations and gaining a better understanding of the needs of the communities we serve.”