Two case studies highlight the approaches taken by two government organizations towards providing field employees with mobile computing technology.
City of Fredericton Mobile Computing Pilots Among municipal-level success stories in the community access world, Fredericton’s Fred-eZone has quickly become the benchmark.
In late November 2003, the city launched Fred-eZone, a free, community-wide Wi-Fi network to provide residents, city employees, visitors and businesses with mobile broadband access from virtually anywhere within the city. Fred-eZone essentially piggybacks the city’s co-op ISP, e-Novations ComNet, Inc. by way of 110 Cisco 802.11g WiFi stations that cover approximately half of all potential users in the city. Basically a large and widely accessible hotspot, Fred-eZone was awarded the 2004 Canadian Information Productivity Award of Excellence for Innovation.
Among the many drivers for this initiative, empowering city employees is perhaps the most relevant to government IT executives. The municipal government has a workforce of more than 650 people who deliver 150 different services from approximately 20 facilities throughout the city. The city’s fibre optic network provides high-speed connectivity among city facilities and the public. With Fred-eZone up and running, providing wireless connectivity was the next logical step.
Piloting Pocket PCs
In the field, practicality is the main driver. So when Fredericton began considering what mobile solution to use, they settled on Pocket PCs – handhelds that use a version of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Already, city executives have been using these devices to access their e-mail and calendars. The city plans to test the practicality of pocket PCs in pilots with fire department records managers, building inspectors and parking enforcement personal. In each pilot, business applications are being developed for each Pocket PCs to enable these employees to access all the corporate information they require to complete off site transactions. Among other things, this means developing forms and other applications that fit within the parameters of their mobile device monitors.
In the fire department pilot, business applications will be developed to enable users to access departmental records. In the case of building inspectors, business applications will be required for filing inspection reports. Similarly, parking enforcement officers will be able to enter parking tickets into the city information systems in real time. According to Maurice Gallant, Manager of the city’s Information & Communications Technology Division, the pocket PCs will remain in the test lab as the city works out the many development details. While Fred-eZone has been promising to empower municipal employees since its inception, actually getting to that point will take some time. However, Gallant is in no rush. Asked what best practice he promotes, Gallant replies: “Crawl, walk, run.”
Understanding the Business of Your Mobile Organization
Selecting a mobile computing solution is a business decision, as one federal government regulatory organization will tell you. Just as long as PDAs have been on the market, the organization’s inspectors have been looking for ways to use them. All inspectors bring a wealth of knowledge and information to every inspection. Specifications, guidelines, regulations, policies, and legislation all factor into various types of inspections – from dairy farms to aircraft. In the past inspectors have arrived at inspections armed with the latest information in hardcopy, or as softcopy on their laptop computers. The inspection data was collected and entered back at the office manually, or transferred from laptops via docking stations.
The organization began to study the idea of providing more portable devices with secured wireless access to departmental systems. Arriving at a solution has been a sometimes arduous journey. The organization went down two paths with limited success and at some expense.
On the first path, an inspection branch of the organization decided to invest in application development in order to provide inspectors with PDAs equipped with business applications specific to their jobs. Among other functions, these applications would enable inspectors to call up relevant regulations and inspection forms, much as they currently do through a combination of paper-based documentation and CDs. This path proved frustrating and expensive.
Having become impatient with the progress of this approach, another inspection branch decided to purchase PDAs based on basic common business requirements and then planned to customize applications later. The rationale of this approach was that the level and quality of access provided out of the box would be sufficient for their inspectors. Early in this planning process, it was evident that this path did not lead to a solution either.
Both approaches failed because the organization failed to recognize the importance of understanding its business. The organization began to realize that before any application is developed, and before any solution is purchased, the department should first understand the business processes of the inspectors and then re-engineer these processes for uniformity across the organization. Understanding and re-jigging business processes is expensive and not as exciting as the actual deployment of technology; however the activity is absolutely necessary. The organization realizes now that it needs to understand how it performs inspections in order to make these processes more uniform across the enterprise.
Once completed, the business process review will result in a better sense of common business requirements, which in turn should lead to better decisions about mobile solutions and training requirements.
Thus to this government organization, as with many others, business transformation is the key to successful implementation of mobile computing devices.