November 14, 2011 By Wayne Hanson
How are city governments dealing with the issue of integrating mobile devices into their IT operations?
Digital Communities posed this question to several CIOs and public officials attending a reception at the Phoenix Convention Center on Friday, November 11 for the 2011 Digital Cities Survey Awards. The program, managed by the Center for Digital Government — operated by e.Republic, the parent company of Digital Communities — ranks cities on their usage of technology to drive efficiency and innovation. The reception was held in conjunction with the National League of Cities’ Congress of Cities.
“Right now we employ iPads, iPhones as well as Android devices,” said Bryan Sastokas, CIO of Modesto, Calif. (10th place in the 125,000 – 249,999 Digital Cities Awards population group.) “And those devices handle our legislative systems with regard to agenda management.” Sastokas said agendas are viewed, modified and approved via the devices. “In the field, we’ve outfitted a lot of our officers as well as executive staff that want to do procurement.” He said that with the city’s Oracle ERP solution, time cards and procurement processes can be accessed via mobile devices, “and we can go ahead and approve those directly off those devices.”
He said the challenge now is with public safety. “We can secure devices, and we can also secure the back end. We’re working on securing the communications, so that when a drug enforcement agent goes out to do a bust … they know they are not going to have those communications hijacked.”
Sastokas said it is important for the city to take a regional approach to IT. “As we look at the services we provide to our residents, such as public safety and public works, you have some layers there, and counties might provide those same services. Modesto is the largest population center of Stanislaus County, so if we’re providing a service that the county’s also providing, we look at those scenarios and how we can most efficiently provide those services to our residents. That’s a two-way approach, so we try to be data-driven. We poll our residents and ask: ‘What services are we providing that we could be more efficient on, and then we look at the county level and the city level for synergies to provide those same services. Then we allow ourselves to go and look at technology that best meets those needs.”
Jim Schultz, councilmember of Independence, Mo., (10th place in the 75,000 – 124,999 Digital Cities Awards population group.) said the city’s mayor and most councilmembers are using mobile devices to access a paperless agenda. “They use laptop computers, and we’re just starting to use iPads. iPads are very, very convenient for us: I can do all of my council agendas, use it for all my e-mail. But a byproduct of our technology is if — in the middle of a council meeting — we have a request for a liquor license and nobody can remember what that part of town has with regard to liquor licenses, we can go straight to Google Earth on my iPad, and I can pull up that exact location and look at the surrounding buildings to see whether it’s residential or what type of commercial it is, and then we can make the decision.”
Pete Anderson, CIO of Fort Worth, Texas, (10th place in the 250,000 and above Digital Cities Awards population group.) said the city is in the early stages of mobile device integration. “We have a mobile application so residents can take a picture of something they perceive as a code violation, send it electronically and it will go directly to the code officer in the field who then can act on it — because they’ll be out in their area as that’s their beat. They’ll verify if it is [a violation] or not, log it in as a ticket, and reply to the citizen with what happened.
“The tricky part is going another step to the employees themselves, to give them more of that capability,” said Anderson. “We are piloting some e-citation devices – which are pretty common in some cities today – for the police officers and traffic officers to be able to issue tickets … We’re just starting to do that and to integrate it into our courts and police and CAD systems. We’re really happy with the one from code, and … we’re going to do that with permits, when we upgrade our permit software in the next year.”
“We have a two-phased approach,” said Gordon Bruce, CIO of the city and county of Honolulu (1st place in the 250,000 and above Digital Cities Awards population group.) “One is the mobile apps that are being developed for the citizen so they can use them to report potholes, broken street lights, and the like. We’ve also got apps that our staff are developing – like a tsunami inundation map, FEMA protection maps, and storm awareness applications. If a citizen develops an app and wants to make it available, they give it to us, we vette it through our system, if we like it we’ll host it on our application website. We don’t even care if they charge for it. It’s up to them to support it.
“The other side is like Pete was saying. If staff want to bring in their iPads, their iPhones … we have a number of pilot projects under way right now. We’re using iPads, Droids, MacBooks, Mini Macs, and we’re vetting them through the system to make sure that they’re secure and how we’re going to manage them. I think the approach we’re going to take with them is something like: ‘Here are the procedures, here’s how you introduce it to the system, but we’re not going to support it. If it doesn’t work, it’s up to you and your carrier or whatever to determine how it’s going to work.’ That way we can get it in quickly, and then we’ll see what resources it will take over time to manage it all. But it could end up replacing some of our desktops, which means we won’t have to pay for them – which means the taxpayer won’t have to pay for them. So I like that idea.”
Anderson replied that Fort Worth has given mobile devices to senior councilmembers and a lot of the senior executives. “We’re much like Gordon described with the support aspect,” he said. “We’ll answer basic questions, but we’re not going to manage those applications or integrate them ourselves until we’ve gone through a full process to see if it makes sense. And ideally, we will be able to get rid of some laptops and desktops by going to these portable devices to use in the field.”