Offices on Wheels
Browards Halsey said the Posse system has helped improve the quality of the reports his department makes and has increased the throughput of reports by as much as 10 percent since the department stopped making changes to the system at the beginning of the year. The system has also brought the departments inspectors into the world of high technology, equipping them with veritable offices on wheels, including laptops, digital cameras and portable copiers. Inspectors using the Posse system do not have to travel to the office as often. The department installed DSL lines in the inspectors homes so they could sync their laptops with the organizations server. "We wanted a product that would complete inspections in the field electronically," Halsey said. The system is "highly configurable" and enables inspectors to produce signed electronic inspections and print out PDFs, along with digital photos from the sites, he said."The software is all easy enough to configure that the users can do it and keep the system very adaptive to our work," Halsey said."We have the Biscayne aquifer, where we get all of our drinking water in South Florida, so its pretty important we protect that aquifer," Halsey said. "And if you have any hazardous material of 25 gallons or more, you have to get a license." Facilities that require licenses and inspections include, among others, auto repair shops, fuel stations, dry cleaners, paint shops and even dentists offices, Halsey said. "They all need licenses, and our duty is to inspect all these facilities to assess the risk to the environment and to public health." Before Posse, the department relied on a system that featured lots of manual work and hand copying. "We have seen a vast improvement over what we used to have, which was handwritten copy on top of copy," Halsey said. In addition, the department has continued to upgrade its technology, including a move to Bluetooth from USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections for the PCs and other components, Halsey said. In the future, the department may replace the digital cameras with camera phones. "The next big push is to integrate wireless technology," Halsey said. But the department must first figure which route to take. "We considered going to hot spots, but there is a political issue of not wanting to have your inspectors linking up in Starbucks [Corp. stores]," he said. "That wouldnt look too good. But we want to get rid of paying for the DSL connections in the inspectors homes." Meanwhile, based on the environmental protection departments success with the mobile database and the e-inspection system, some of the countys other departments are moving to adopt similar solutions. The countys "building code services [department] looked at what we did and tweaked it for their service, and has come up with a PDA application" for its 100 inspectors, Halsey said. And the air division in the countys environmental protection department, as well as the countys revenue division, is considering adopting the system as well, he said. Environmental agencies use IT to enhance the effectiveness of their field staff. And the flexibility of the system facilitates cooperation across federal, state and local governments, Halsey said. For Sybases Kehl, the offline mode makes a lot of sense. "We talk about it as an always-available model, where a mobile user ought to always be able to do something when theyre out in the field. ... Its a model well-suited to the realities of the current wireless environment and the limitations of the devices." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest database news, reviews and analysis.