Ontario city goes mobile

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

Fujitsu Consulting (Canada) Inc. and Octanewave Software Inc. announced Wednesday that they had won a contract to provide Mississauga with mobile applications and 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 inspectors, fire prevention inspectors, building inspectors and by-law enforcement officers more efficient.

“They can get more done, more efficiently and service citizens using the same tax dollars that they’re using today,” he said, describing the project’s goal.

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 said.

The wireless infrastructure is designed to improve the situation. It begins with Octanewave’s Wireless Enterprise Platform, which ties mobile applications residing on inspectors’ computers to the database at headquarters.

Barry said Mississauga still has to choose the devices that inspectors will carry – likely tablet PCs – and the city hasn’t decided on a wireless carrier to provide connectivity. He said Mississauga would begin a request-for-proposals (RFP) process for those elements soon.

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

Mary Mayo, project manager for the City of Mississauga’s Field Express (FX) mobility project, said everyone from residents and customers to the field workers themselves will benefit from enabling the inspectors – or “road warriors” – with mobile connectivity.

“This new solution will give our inspectors access to the data, the information, the tools and the technology to keep them where they are most valuable, out in the field,” Mayo said.

She added that this project has been two years in the making for Mississauga, and all started with a detailed business opportunity proposal to the city from the FX team followed by a business case report.

After the business case was approved, the city recommended to the FX group that since the technology was relatively new to the city, it should prepare a feasibility study.

“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?'”

Mayo said that out of everything the FX team learned in its feasibility study, three key tips stood out: get the end users of the technology involved from the beginning; start small; and spend a lot of time training.

Mississauga isn’t the only municipality looking into wireless solutions to improve efficiency. The Police Service in Hamilton, Ont. recently handed out notebook computers with wireless connections so officers can access policies, file reports and peruse mug shots in their patrol cars.

But Mississauga in particular seems to be on a high-tech kick these days. Earlier this year it implemented Internet Protocol telephony to better connect various departments and consolidate numerous separate phone systems.

“The basic operating cost of our 40 different (phone) systems around the city was C$1.2 million (US$760 million) (a year),” said Norm Baxter, the city’s project manager, in a February interview. “At maturity, once we’re fully installed…our operating costs will be reduced to something in the order of $500,000 to $600,000.”