City puts remote workers on the Field Express

The City of Mississauga, Ont., plans to build a wireless system that will give its bylaw and fire safety inspectors the means to file reports while on the road.

Mary Mayo, project manager for the City of Mississauga’s Field Express (FX) mobility project, said it is not just the field inspectors who will benefit from mobile connectivity – residents stand to reap the rewards as well.

Fujitsu Consulting (Canada) Inc. and Octanewave Software Inc. won the contract to provide Mississauga, located just west of Toronto, with mobile applications and a wireless enterprise architecture.

According to Jon Barry, a Toronto-based vice-president at Fujitsu, the city was looking for a way to make its fire suppression, prevention and building inspectors and by-law enforcement officers more efficient.

Barry said Mississauga’s civic inspectors deal with “paper-based, time-intensive” tasks. “They would go into the office and pick up their list of places they need to go, go out and perform the reports, writing everything down by hand, and then go back to the office and fill everything out.”

Then inspectors would enter the data into the city’s database, but not daily. As a result, “there wasn’t timely information,” Barry added.

The solution begins with Octanewave’s Wireless Enterprise Platform, which ties mobile applications residing on inspectors’ computers to the database at headquarters.

Mississauga officials still have to select which devices the inspectors will carry – likely tablet PCs – and the city hasn’t decided on a wireless carrier. A request-for-proposals (RFP) process for those elements is likely to be undertaken soon.

Although Barry couldn’t say when the project would be complete, “the original intention was to have it up in mid-2004.”

Mayo said the project has been two years in the making for Mississauga. It all started with a detailed business opportunity proposal to the city from the FX team, followed by a business case report.

“We surveyed other municipalities, organizations that had gone before us because we wanted to learn, ‘if you had to do it all over again, would you? Would you do it differently? What advice do you have for us so that we can be successful?'”

Three key tips stood out: get the end users involved from the beginning; start small; and spend a lot of time training.

In 2003 Mississauga also implemented IP telephony to better connect various departments and consolidate numerous separate phone systems.