Computerworld Honors Award
The Computerworld Honors Program
Honoring those who use Information Technology to benefit society
Lincoln, NE, US
City of Lincoln, Nebraska
Palm Treo Smartphones
Short SummaryThe City of Lincoln takes seriously the need for local governments to implement enterprise wide deployment strategies to optimize the appropriate expenditure of available taxpayer dollars. Included in this strategy are the selection and positioning of best of breed hardware and software solutions. Since our goals are enterprise wide in nature, our case study does not lend itself to a single project but rather a variety of wisely selected projects that exploit the strengths of hardware/software solutions and how we applied them in the most productive and cost effective manner. In particular this case study focuses on our reasoning to deploy Palm Treo Smartphones and related software applications that we developed to positively impact both our mobile government workers and the citizens of Lincoln / Lancaster County Nebraska.
Introductory OverviewOur relationship with Palm products took a dramatic turn in January of 2000 when we performed R&D on the Palm VII, Palm's first wirelessly enabled device. Palm also provided a method to utilize this device with an Internet Service that allowed our expert technical staff to gain access to all of our back-end data bases. Lincoln was the first local government in the nation to access an IBM Mainframe DB2 database and deliver that information real time in the field via the Palm VII. Our proof of concept project, Animal Control and Tracking, was cited by Palm in the nationally published 'Customer Success Stories'. All twelve of the Animal Control Officers, (ACO's), carried that device which allowed each of them to access real time information about the owner, animal details including vet and rabies vaccinations, bite/attack history, previous dispatches, citations written, and impoundment data. This new technology allowed the ACO's to become virtually independent from the previously used public safety radio system that required someone at the dispatch center to verbally communicate the requested information back to the ACO. Lincoln, being an early adopter of this technology, was featured in a number of national publications including Business Week, Government Technology, Federal Computer Week and Government Computer News. Since that time we have continued to expand the deployment of the latest wireless Palm devices in other applications like the Parking Ticket System, and most recently the County Weed Control Inspection System. The Treos are also being utilized by department, division, and sections heads to access our enterprise wide Notes e-mail and calendaring system which has eliminated the need for any periodic syncing procedures. In addition, due to the inclusion of the Treo's robust browser, we have created a citizen friendly handheld version of InterLinc, the official joint web site of Lincoln and Lancaster County. The InterLinc Mobile portal provides citizens with real time access to Animal Tag lookup, Fire runs, Property Tax information, Street Finder with GIS mapping, 29 Traffic Cams, and even a lookup for government employee phone numbers. Lincoln was again the first local government in the nation to deploy 'InterLinc Desktop Alert Software' that directly impacted both citizens and local public safety agencies. This unique software application disseminates National Weather Service Alerts, Homeland Security Alerts, Nebraska Amber Alerts, and most importantly supports locally issued public safety alerts directly to desktops and devices like Treo Smartphones. Now, for the first time our local police, fire, sheriff, public health officials, and emergency coordinators can send needed information within seconds to desktops or SMS enabled phones. More information on a few of these featured applications will be expanded later in the case study, space permitting. In closing Lincoln's prestigious ranking, (#2 in the nation) by The Center for Digital Government as a "2006 Digital City Award Winner" was certainly due in part to the success we have achieved with the strategic deployment of wireless applications that our I.S. staff have developed utilizing the Palm Treo Smartphones.
BenefitsHas your project helped those it was designed to help? Yes
What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
We believe an important measure of 'good government', especially as the gate keeper of public records, is how well we make information available to the citizens we serve. InterLinc, (City/County Website) has been a leader in providing web enabled information via the net since its inception in 1995. The mission statement in the original grant award from the Department of Commerce that established the funding for InterLinc was to "Educate, Support, and Empower all our citizens" We have continually strived to meet that standard for over 11 years and believe one example of that commitment is making government information available on alternative technologies such as wireless handheld devices. In addition to our philosophy of an open government is our desire to serve as efficiently and effectively as possible. We believe making wise technology choices that address the specific informational needs of a citizen, business, or government worker helps accomplish that goal.
Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed? Yes
How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
Being an early adopter of wireless handheld devices, coupled with our experience in developing software applications, has had many benefits for us locally. The cost savings alone in deploying Treo's compared to laptops or harden Mobile Data Terminals when all that was really needed was fast, secure access to information becomes obvious. More importantly are all the 'lessons learned' that we have acquired over the years that we share with other communities that are just now seeing the value in solving some their informational needs by right sizing the technology solution. Elected officials in Lincoln have recognized the leadership by the Information Services staff in this arena and have shown their support with additional new development funding and allowing our staff to demonstrate these advances at conferences both regionally and nationally. Sharing our knowledge base has even extended to our business community where we are sought out for advice on wireless strategies which has led to new positive relationships within organizations like the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. At a minimum our elected officials, citizens, and the business leaders view Lincoln as a technically savvy community. Since all our applications are funded by public dollars we considered them open source to other government entities that have an interest in this technology.
The Importance of TechnologyHow did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
Palm's original wireless offerings were the catalyst for all of our early R&D efforts in this exciting area. Our advances in providing new and improved software solutions over the years have been directly tied to Palm's advancements in functionality found in each new device series. The original deployment of Palm VII's were migrated to the i705's, then the Tungsten W series, then the Treo650 with EDGE, and most recently to the Treo700 series that gives us broadband EVDO speeds. (See appendix 1) Having the capabilities of voice, data retrieval, and use of a camera in one device has been the dream of everyone in the IT industry since the first Dick Tracy comic books. The reality is that we literally have in our hands what we believe is the first generation of devices that will allow us to leverage our software aspirations to solving many meaningful communication challenges in the future. This technology changes everything when applied in the appropriate setting. We want to make it clear and not suggest that small form factor devices like the Treo700's are the one size fits all problem solver. There still needs to be the proper positioning of full size screen laptops/tablets, Pocket PC's and others. What we firmly believe is that more consideration in the strategic planning stages is needed for devices like the Palm Smartphone. For example, Lincoln's existing public safety radio network could not support the speed nor the volume of data packets required to give real-time access to the Public Service Officers, (PSO's) on the street. Valuable criminal justice data like wants/warrants, and even tow lists could only be loaded once each morning on the old devices. PSO's would write tickets all day to that device and then be required to off load the ticket data each evening for batch processing. We found through extensive system testing that utilizing local cell phone networks to support the Parking Ticket Application would be fast, reliable and very cost effective. The operational details of this one project utilizing the Treo Smartphone will be expanded in the next section since we believe it qualifies as a technically original concept in solving a common data communications problem.
OriginalityWhat are the exceptional aspects of your project?
We believe many of the exceptional aspects of choosing to deploy wireless applications can be found in the cost savings, ease of access to mission critical data, and the acceptance of the technology by our employees. Anytime you solve data communication needs by letting mobile workers perform self service tasks and free up precious public safety radio spectrum at the same time you have truly improved the process. In the case of the Parking Ticket System we have used the existing cell phone infrastructure which provides both voice and unlimited data access 24x7 for a mere $59 per month. That is a fraction of the cost were we to build out and maintain a redundant government radio system with the speed capacities needed for this mobile application. Once we solved and bridged the technical barriers it became relatively easy to retrieve mission critical data from all our data environments and platforms. Lastly the limited amount of training time required and the adoption of the devices by those who use them in the field has been a positive experience for all.
How is it original?
For this section of the case study we have selected the Lincoln Parking Ticket System. It was conceived, designed, built and deployed by the Information Services staff. Based on our early experiences in wireless technology our expert staff brought three independent devices together to replace an outdated batch ticket writing system. The Treo Smartphone is used to gain access to the Internet, the Pocket PC houses the application written in .Net, and the Zebra wireless printer is used for ticket creation. (Please see appendix 2) Each of the devices are Bluetooth enabled and we exploited that fact by bonding them together wirelessly to act as one cohesive unit. We believe this is the only example of a triple blend of hardware/software deployment in production today. Each PSO in essence has their own personal area network that provides real-time access to the most current information on the Criminal Justice System. Every time a plate is entered it automatically checks for wants/warrants, and valid registration information. The PSO only needs to enter the plate and meter number to start the fully automated process that checks CJIS and fills in all the ticket information for them. All VIN information like make, model, color, owner name/address, plus meter location including cross streets, time, and meter duration are brought back in a matter of seconds. The system has eliminated data entry errors and increased ticket writing productive at the same time. We have also coupled this system with an ePay module on InterLinc for instant payment and updating of the Parking Ticket data base. Doing so has eliminate any mistaken towing of vehicles that may have, just seconds prior to payment, been on the parking ticket tow list.
Is it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind? All of the above
SuccessHas your project achieved or exceeded its goals? Exceeded
Is it fully operational? Yes
How many people benefit from it? 1000's
If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
The decision to include the deployment of Treo's as part of our enterprise strategy has benefited a wide variety of departments and individuals. From managers accessing institutional email/calendaring, inspectors viewing data and taking pictures, to parking ticket writers. Citizens and businesses have been given access to data, mapping, and even traffic cam's via the InterLinc Mobile portal. It is very difficult to measure directly or indirectly the specific number of people that have benefited by this project as the previous question asks. Many benefits are intangible in nature since they not only improve the process and efficiency of government workers but also provide citizens with self service opportunities.
Testimonials from various application users.
Public Service Officer: "I love it, it's very dependable and the real time data saves me time and trouble. I don't need to call channel 50, (dispatcher), any longer for the information. I also use it for safety reasons. Before going up to a house after spotting a stolen vehicle on the premise I use my Treo to check for criminal history contacts by address. If something doesn't look right I'll call for an officer backup before proceeding."
Finance Director: "I use my Treo on a daily basis to manage my schedule and e-mails. The ability to receive real-time alerts of incoming e-mails has allowed me to manage my time and respond to issues more effectively. I carry certain key spreadsheets and documents on my Treo and it has enhanced my ability to respond to questions immediately, saving time and being more responsive to the citizens of the City."
How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
Once the user gets past the initial reservations on the size of the device and they experience the full capabilities and functionality of the applications, it is completely accepted. Since text messaging is so common place on cell phones it's not surprising to get positive feed back when someone gets a real keyboard that is built into the device. Acceptance does not seem to follow any generational boundaries, we see it utilized by baby boomers and younger workers alike. The fact is that the convergence of voice, data, and camera into one device makes it an easy sell since many of our mobile workers have always been required to carry a cell phone anyway. We are past the stage where we need to 'pitch the concept'. Now, they contact us to see when they can get one and how soon. The demand is high enough that the purchasing agent, on open bid, awarded a negotiated contract with Alltel for all Treo Smartphones with related discounted voice and data plans
DifficultyWhat were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
The Information Services Division in Lincoln has a proud tradition of leadership in the technology field. Some of those pioneering visions have been mentioned in this case study. Lincoln is very fortunate to have a strong technology staff coupled with the support of elected officials. I will not down play the initial technical challenges our staff faced in this coordinated effort but in all honesty they found most of the solutions without a tremendous amount difficulty. Once the vision and goals are established for a project our staff simply approaches R&D as an exciting challenge. The joint efforts and consensus building between management, technical staff, and the customer base in each project is what makes our projects successful. The challenge is to make sure that all three elements are in place before attempting enterprise wide efforts, especially when introducing new technologies. Such was the case for the Treo Smartphones.
Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
Since the Information Services Division has a solid track record of delivering or exceeding what was technically expected, on time and within budget, we rarely find it necessary to 'fight for funding'. The trust we have built with elected officials and the funding sources has benefited the I.S. division directly and our citizens as a whole. Each project is carefully selected, introduced, managed, and monitored throughout the life cycle of the project. Current project information is routinely reviewed by the appropriate oversight bodies so everyone is kept informed of the status of each effort. Project management and information sharing, along with successful outcomes, appear to be the primary keys to continued support and funding.
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