Solutions with Staying Power, Part 1

Judges of this year's ITX Awards have weighed the evidence and cast their vote for the leading Canadian IT solution of the year. This month and next, CIO Canada looks at the four finalists that managed to keep their foothold on the island.

Outstanding IT solutions all bear similar hallmarks. They are born out of a close partnership between IT and the business. They are built on a strong foundation of innovative technology. And they not only bring exceptional value to the organization, but also bridge the gap between what the enterprise is today and what it wants to be in the future.

The Information Technology Excellence (ITX) Awards are designed to recognize such all-around exemplary solutions. They're a collaborative effort between CIO Canada publisher LTI, the Conference Board of Canada and The Globe and Mail. Judges include seasoned professionals from the business, IT and academic communities.

The 2000 ITX Award winners were fêted at a recent black-tie gala in Toronto, attended by many of the leading lights of Canada's IT management and vendor communities. Top prize went to the LLondon Police Service, and honourable mentions were awarded to TST Expedited Services (a division of Transforce), Air Canada and Canada Life Assurance.

This month and next, CIO Canada profiles this year's award-winning IT teams and solutions. First up is the London Police Service, which took top honours for the "Mobile Policeman", an initiative that is now serving as a model for police agencies across the continent. Also in September we look at TST Expedited Services and the launching of TSTracs, a Web-enabled emergency freight management system that enables customers to create and track their orders in real time, right down to the exact location of the truck, anywhere in North America.

In October, we'll look at Air Canada and its self-service airport kiosk initiative, "Express Check-in", and Canada Life Assurance, which reduced turnaround time on new quotes from 24 hours to 20 minutes with the launch of its "Rewards System".

London Police Service's "Mobile Policeman" -- Bad News for the Bad Guys It was 11 p.m. when the phone rang at the 911 Centre. The caller reported a double shooting outside a local bar. Police were dispatched immediately, and in less than 15 minutes electronic reports started to flow into headquarters from officers on the scene. By 8 a.m. the next day, there were 55 documents logged regarding the event, and investigators were well on the way to putting their case together.

Time is of the essence when it comes to frontline investigations. That's why, in London, Ont., the good guys are winning more than ever. After a seven-year effort, the London Police Service (LPS) has achieved a new level of process efficiency, backed by what is arguably the most advanced technology infrastructure of its kind in North America today.

The result: 100 per cent of all crime investigations are now managed on-line, where the information is fully accessible by all authorized users. And officers have exciting new tools at their disposal to help them do their jobs, including in-car laptop computers and a fully integrated mug-shot system. Much of this technology was not available at the time LPS began its initiative, and had to be developed from scratch.

Just as important, data is entered only once, as close to the source as possible. Not a new idea, but contemplating doing this with police officers on the beat, in a potentially hostile environment, was something completely new.

"Our goal was to improve the effectiveness of our operations right down to the constable on the street," explains Brian Collins, Deputy Chief, Administration. "For example, we can now get a police report, including the suspect's ID, within 15 minutes of an officer's arrival on the crime scene. Investigators no longer have to wait for information to be processed and distributed on paper, which could sometimes take many hours. That's the kind of efficiency we're seeing."

Bad news for the bad guys.

Established in 1855, LPS takes great pride in its record of providing strong policing services to the citizens of London. But in the early 1990s, it recognized it was time to revamp its technology infrastructure and the way it processed police work. Among other things, it needed:

- an integrated Computer-Aided Dispatch system; - an integrated Records Management system; - a new Radio Communications System for voice and data; and, - fully functioning Mobile Workstations in all police vehicles.

"We not only had to introduce new technologies," notes Eldon Amoroso, Director, I/T Branch, "we had to completely overhaul the way we process information and how we deliver services. We had to convert from a paper-based system to a system that was electronically based, and then interface this with other partners in the justice system, such as the Crown Attorney, who were still using paper."

It took a massive integration effort. The initiative affected virtually everyone in the LPS organization. The entire flow of information from the uniformed investigating officer, to the criminal investigation officer, to the courts and Crown had to become seamless.

"As far as we know, no other police agency in North America has implemented an end-to-end solution of this type," says Rick Gillespie, Detective Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Division. "For example, we were the first to put an integrated mobile computing solution in our patrol cars to enable officers to submit reports directly to headquarters on-line. We also introduced a fully integrated mug-shot system to all desktops in the police headquarters and all patrol vehicles. These systems are typically stand-alone in other police agencies."

While technology played an extremely important role in the transformation, Gillespie is quick to point out that it never eclipsed the importance of the business functions. That's why one of the critical success factors was to ensure that IT worked together effectively with the operational people at LPS. The implementation team, which numbered up to 35 people at times, brought together staff from the IT Branch, the Uniformed Division (police officers on the street), the Criminal Investigation Division (plain clothes detectives), and branches of the Support Services Division, including the 911 Centre, the Court Liaison area and the Cell Block.

"We tried to make sure the business needs were driving the technology, not the other way around," says Gillespie. "I have to give our IT group a lot of credit for this. They involved our constables from the earliest stages. In fact, our technical people went out with constables in the patrol cars and spent a lot of time listening to them and documenting the process. It was a real collaboration."

"We had to understand how police officers would make use of the system in a car at three o'clock in the morning. For the technology people on the project, that was quite an exciting experience," Amoroso recalls.

Adding to the complexity, much of the necessary technology did not exist at the start of the initiative. LPS solved this problem by teaming up with some highly innovative technology partners to develop the missing pieces. For example, the in-car mounts that position the mobile workstation had to be designed from scratch to accommodate the patrol-car airbags. LPS worked with Precision Mounts to produce a safe and effective solution that is now commercially available across North America.

Likewise, in-car reporting was a completely new concept. LPS conducted a pilot implementation with Versaterm Systems Inc., testing out a rudimentary version with 30 police officers. Thanks to their recommendations, this prototype quickly became a fully featured, street-proof system.

"This wasn't technology for technology's sake," says Collins. "If technology doesn't improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations, you can spend millions of dollars and it's all for naught. It has to support the business vision."

The LPS initiative took several years to complete, starting in 1993. When one considers how much transformation has taken place within the organization -- and the degree of technology change -- the achievement is remarkable.

Gone are the days when officers and clerical staff fill out forms manually a dozen times over, all containing common data. Documents needed for attorneys and the courts now flow from the actual occurrence, sent on-line by police officers from their laptops. This alone has eliminated hours and sometimes weeks of effort, depending on the nature of the investigation. For example, one homicide case generated 20 binders worth of documents for the Crown Attorney.

That's not all. Reports from investigating officers are available in minutes, as opposed to hours or even weeks later. In some cases, this timely reporting has resulted in the swift recovery of stolen money and the arrest of the perpetrator.

Here are some other benefits:

- Supervisors can easily monitor investigations right up-to-the-minute, resulting in enhanced case management and higher quality reporting; - Officers no longer have to make endless trips to the Central Records window to retrieve and copy occurrence reports; - While improving the availability of reports and greatly increasing the information electronically captured on an investigation, LPS was able to reassign 10 people from clerical areas, a 33 per cent reduction; - Officers on the street have access to on-line geographic maps that automatically pinpoint where their calls for service are located and outline all the adjacent houses and buildings on that street; and, - Improved officer safety results from the fact that officers are in better communication and can download mug shots of offenders quickly. This is an important plus in dangerous arrest situations.

In addition, the initiative has positioned LPS to implement a Strategic Intelligence Analysis Committee, which includes staff from both the Criminal Investigation Division and the Uniformed Division. They meet weekly to set objectives and share information on ongoing investigations.

"It is truly exciting to see this organization working as a team," says Amoroso. "It's the collaboration across all divisions of LPS that was most critical for our success. Technology is merely the enabler in the way it permits the free flow of information across divisional boundaries."

Rick Gillespie agrees. "New technology isn't enough. What makes the difference is how it all comes together to help protect the public. At the end of the day, you still have to protect the public and arrest the bad guys."

The new IT infrastructure of the London Police Service includes:

- Unix-based servers (mostly Compaq) - Informix database for the Records Management system - Oracle database for the mug-shot system - Windows NT or Windows 95 workstations running thin-client applications - Panasonic mobile workstations in the patrol vehicles TST Expedited Services' TSTRACS -- Driving the Business the Smart Way The customer on the phone is frantic. The automotive parts they ordered two days ago have been recalled due to quality issues. They need replacement parts within hours or their entire plant will shut down. Millions of dollars are on the line.

No problem. At TST Expedited Services, the answer is seconds away. With a few mouse clicks, the dispatcher has found the nearest truck, posted the order and help is on the way.

Not only that, the customer can follow the truck on its route, step by step, in real time.

It seems so simple, but according to Stuart Sutton, Vice-President, Information Technology, "those few mouse clicks represent months of planning and development."

"In our business, we have to be able to find a truck anywhere in North America within seconds, calculate the estimated time of arrival (ETA) and keep our customers informed. We needed a solution that would provide instantaneous answers. With our TSTracs Emergency Freight Management System, and its Web-enabled cousin, SmarTrax, we've effectively turned every truck we have into a roaming data entry terminal. As a result, we can manage our business in minutes and seconds, not hours and minutes."

In fact, the whole end-to-end process -- from the moment a customer calls to the moment the invoice is issued and the truck driver paid -- is fully automated and virtually paperless. And any authorized user can access the data at any point along the way.

To make it possible, TST's solution integrates a host of new technologies, including:

- Satellite messaging - Global positioning - Geographical mapping - Mileage-based software - Telecommunications - Imaging - EDI - Internet - Customized reports and central faxing These technologies work together to keep TST on the high road to improved customer service and major productivity gains.

Expedited Services is an emergency freight transportation company with a client base of thousands of companies across North America. The Windsor, Ont.-based company is a subsidiary of Transforce, a wholly Canadian enterprise headquartered in St. Laurent, Que.

TST's trucking fleet provides secure, door-to-door, emergency time-definite transportation services around the clock for large, high-value freight. It's a business where every second counts.

In 1996, TST began its quest for state-of-the-art software to speed its business processes. Its first choice was to customize a third-party solution. The initiative failed to yield the expected results, "but the failure got us to understand exactly what we needed as a business," says Sutton. "In hindsight, it was a blessing."

By June 1997, TST had launched the development of its own software for a PC network. The initiative was led by a cross-functional team, which represented all departments within the division. This team analysed and reengineered all the corporate processes and defined the rules to automate each process. External stake-holders -- including customers and truck drivers -- were also involved at every step.

"This collaboration was key to the project's success," says David Coone, Vice-President, Operations. "Our IT people worked side by side with our business people with the same goal in mind: to satisfy our customers."

The TST solution works on two levels. First, TSTracs was designed as an internal-enabling tool. It has given TST staff the ability to dispatch, communicate and interact with their fleet of vehicles in minutes and even seconds. Because the system was built from the ground up to work with existing business processes, the match was 100 per cent. Not only has it delivered outstanding results, it has provided incredible flexibility to change the technology as the business environment changed.

Second, TST created a customer-enabling tool by porting these services to the Internet earlier this year. Called SmarTrax, this solution currently allows customers to:

- Create an order; - Track the active shipment; - Grant access to the TST Internet tracking services to their customers; - Dynamically demand position updates of the truck; - Plot the location of the truck on a map of North America down to the street level; - Trace historical loads; - View scanned images of all related trip documents; and, - Generate dynamic reports of all historical emergency shipments.

In addition, TST managers can use the system to create hundreds of customized reports. "It's a great analytical tool," says Sutton. "Managers can slice and dice the data in endless ways."

SmarTrax continues to evolve, but is already winning kudos from TST customers. They particularly like being able to "ping" their delivery truck -- which means pinpointing its exact location in real time, right down to street level, anywhere in North America. Chris Dolese, Operations Manager of Landair in Greeneville, Tenn., declared the Tracking and Entering features to be "best of class." As a comparison, he explained he has even challenged a competitor of TST to "get their act together when it comes to offering an intuitive system with the capabilities of SmarTrax."

For the next phase, TST is piloting an Expedite Alliance zone that operates within SmarTrax. This feature enables TST to work with its partners in order to maximize the number of customer requests met. When TST is unable to get a truck to a customer fast enough, it will post the order to the Web site and find the right match. As Coone points out, "if just one of our partners works with TST to handle three extra loads per day, that's 15 extra loads per week. Multiply that by 20 partners, and you can start to see the potential."

"We believe TSTracs and SmarTrax is a more robust and intelligent solution than anything our competitors are using today," he says. "We're now positioned to grow our business and satisfy our customers in ways that were never before possible."

Corporate processes were implemented in five phases:

- Dispatch and operations - Rating and billing - Payroll - Internet-based track and trace - Imaging, reporting, locating, granting access TSTracs interfaces with Qualcomm's Qtracs software for satellite messaging to and from TST's entire fleet of trucks, PC Miler and Rand McNally software for mileage calculations and an Epicor (SQL Server) accounting package for updating or querying accounts receivable records.

Darlene Shura is a freelance writer specializing in information technology and IT management. She is based in Campbellville, Ont.

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