City moves on to mobile

The City of Mississauga, Ont. 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. recently announced that they had won a contract to provide Mississauga with mobile applications and wireless enterprise architecture.

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 would 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.

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. The system would allow inspectors to update the database in real time, as reports are finished, rather than by the end of the week.

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.

“The original intention was to have it up in mid-2004,” Barry said.

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.

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

“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?'” Mayo said. “‘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. (See “Crime fighters recruit mobility,” Network World Canada, Oct. 3, 2003, page 6.)

But Mississauga in particular seems to be on a high-tech kick these days. Earlier this year it implemented IP 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 $1.2 million (a year),” said Norm Baxter, the city’s project manager, in an earlier Network World Canada 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.”

According to Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont., many municipalities are undertaking wireless and IP projects to address efficiency.

“Quite a few of them have converted their metropolitan areas, trunk-side, to voice over IP….You get rid of your office-to-office long distance.”

But she warned, if Mississauga expects to wring real estate savings by using wireless for civic inspectors, the city should think again. Even though officers might not require office space if they can do their work on the road, they may not like the idea of going completely mobile.

“People don’t want to give up the space. They feel they’d be disconnected from the organization.…If you give up your desk, even if you don’t use it, who’s going to remember that you still work there?”

– With files from Greg Enright

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