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At Issue: Totally Mobile — Are We There Yet?

February 6, 2012 By

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Don’t say “you can’t do that with a mobile device” to Sacramento City Clerk Shirley Concolino or her staff. In fact, a few weeks ago, Assistant City Clerk Dawn Bullwinkel read an article in Digital Communities in which a CIO said iPads were of limited use since they couldn’t run Microsoft applications.

Bullwinkel fired off an email, saying that two new apps for the iPad now run Microsoft Office applications. And if you tell them mobile security is a problem, or that iPads don't lead to productivity gains, they’ll show you an iPhone fingerprint reader they’re piloting for plan checking and contract signatures, and they’ll drag you down the trail they’ve chopped through the You Can’t Do Thats toward a totally mobile staff.

They’re not there yet, but don’t tell them they’re being unrealistic or that their flower-motif iPads are toys. Send them an email on their day off and you just might get a fast response. Their file cabinets are empty, they’re proactive and they mean business — mobile business.

Nobody uses technology to its full potential, said Bullwinkel, and so the City Clerk’s Office — which isn’t an IT shop —  supports technology and uses it to collaborate, but also serves as a business lead, especially regarding matters related to the digital repository.

The Clerk’s Office is holding a series of SPAs (Specialized Productivity Assistance sessions) to help nudge city staff to employ technology to meet their work goals. “We’re not quite to the point yet where we can live in our mobile world,” she said, “we still need to have our desktop world to integrate with this, because the IT infrastructure and applications have not quite caught up to the vision of being totally mobile.” But The City Clerk’s Office is partnering with IT to build out an infrastructure that will support a secure and viable mobile world to come.

The City of Sacramento’s 22 departments and every department head — and at least the second or third tier of managers —  is moving toward mobile computing, said Wendy Klock-Johnson, the assistant city clerk.

Photo: (Left to right) Wendy Klock-Johnson, Assistant City Clerk (Records); Shirley Concolino, City Clerk; Dawn Bullwinkel, Assistant City Clerk (Agenda/Contracting); and Stephanie Mizuno-Assistant City Clerk (Elections).

While security is important, mobile devices don’t need to be on the city network, especially since the Clerk’s Office deals with the most public documents. “We’re conducting a SPA today for [Human Resources] and the City Attorney,” said Bullwinkel, “and those two groups deal with confidential documents. So the way they are going to use mobile devices,” she said, “is very different. So the question goes back to, ‘What are you trying to accomplish, and what are the tools that will allow you to do that?’”

The city purchased the devices for the Clerk’s Office, but the user purchases the data plan and all apps, as well as all personal additions such as skins and keyboards. Some councilmembers bought their devices with personal funds, others did so with their technology allowance.

Microsoft Office on iPad

Bullwinkel said that both OnLive desktop and CloudOn enables use of Microsoft Office applications on the iPad.  “OnLive Desktop has a cloud and right now it's free in the App Store,” she said, adding that it’s valuable and won’t remain free much longer. “Also, CloudOn is helpful for people who use Dropbox extensively. It isn’t as pretty but it certainly is usable. In Dropbox we may have other documents, but CloudOn is only for those Microsoft documents: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. One of our directors is using OnLive because she likes the interface and doesn’t have a Dropbox account. And a gentleman who has hundreds of Dropbox documents is using the CloudOn app. So it’s nice to have options and I anticipate that there will be more.”

Digital Signatures

The City Clerk’s Office is piloting digital encryption for planning documents and contracts. Going from paper to digital and back to paper is a hassle. The City Clerk’s Office is now running proof of concept demos, using software from BIO-Key International and a hardware fingerprint scanner from Fulcrum Biometrics. It converts the fingerprint into a numerical code that’s unique to the user and thus should meet the California Secretary of State’s standard for digital signatures.

The City Clerk’s Office began their digital journey back in 2009, before the advent of the iPad, by just deciding to start, said Bullwinkel. “We used Kindle and netbooks, and not too far after that the iPad came out,” she said. The journey is about keeping abreast of what’s out there. And having City Manager John F. Shirey in your corner is a big help, the Clerk’s Office staff said. Sacramento’s survival through hard times, Shirey said, is grounded in technology.

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