Council mobilises enterprise apps

Enterprises may be developing their mobility strategies with simple e-mail and scheduling, but one Sydney council is unleashing its suite of back office applications into the field.

Pittwater Council on Sydney's northern beaches peninsula, started its mobility initiative back in October 2003 when it began using Airloom to mobilize Lotus Notes and now has 20 PDAs and 13 tablet PCs which are reducing back-to-base manual processing.

Chris Tubridy, Pittwater Council's IT manager, said rangers and compliance officers are using PDAs and their e-mail and calendars are synced with the server so that jobs can be pushed out to staff; a 'beep' is used to notify the recipient.

Council's core enterprise applications include Finance One and Proclaim One by Technology One, ADI's document management system, Chris for HR, and the Confirm asset management system.

To prepare these applications for mobility, the council is using Masterview to expose them to the Web.

"This enables more self-service functionality for residents, for example, with building approval documents," Tubridy said. "With Masterplan people can screen a block of land and find out what can be done with it in terms of building approvals. This is good for draftspeople and builders who can put through development applications online and print out a report which forms part of the development application."

Tubridy said this architecture is being enhanced so more information can be extracted from the back-end systems. For example, during health-oriented food shop inspections, inspectors can access a form and input information using 'yes or no' checkboxes and dropdown menus.

"This can then be pushed back to the office over GPRS and uploaded into the environmental health system," he said.

Pittwater's resultant ROI arises from less office space needed for its Rangers, hours saved, fewer physical trips, and more productive time in the field through more policing. The hard ROI has resulted from a 35 to 45 percent reduction in the council's mobile phone bill - which was around $50,000 - as field staff are now using e-mail over GPRS which costs $40 per month for 10MB of data with Optus.

"We've paid for the investment in devices and over 18 months we will pay for the whole lot," he said. "Mobility is a viable [strategy] which will save money if the processes are right."

Tubridy said the hardest thing with enterprise mobility is extracting the applications from the backend and a lot of development work for PDAs was done. Field workers also have the option of taking voice recordings and photos with the PDAs, which saves report writing, but forms are the way to go.

"Everything we can do off a template and a form we will do," he said, adding this will minimize voice recording and typing which is cumbersome on a PDA.

Pittwater's next move is to go live with a new property management system in September which has been in development since March. "For example, tree lopping or removal applications can be assessed in 30 minutes if an inspector is in the area," he said.

When it comes to security, Tubridy doesn't have an antivirus for the mobile devices but believes it is not a great security threat.

"We had CA's Inoculate IT but we got hit with a virus when someone opened an attachment," he said. "The virus spread so we had to shut the network down."

After being unable to get a new pattern file for Inoculate, Tubridy trialled Trend Micro's antivirus solution which "helped clean up the servers".

"We then bought Trend and have been happy ever since," he said.

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