The City of Mississauga, Ont., already knee-deep in a host of major IT projects, has added another to its list: freeing 120 field inspectors from their desktops. The project, part of the city’s field automation undertaking, will allow building inspectors, bylaw enforcement, fire prevention and fire

suppression crews to wirelessly access the city’s MAX (Mississauga approvals express) application, as well as their e-mail, the Internet and the intranet.

“”In case of the road warriors that spend the bulk of their day out in the field, it’s not the most efficient and effective use of their time to have to come back to city hall to look up information to do some research,”” said project lead Mary Mayo. “”If they had this information at their fingertips out in the field, perhaps they could do more inspections. They certainly could provide more information to the client who has requested the inspection or lodged a complaint, so we want to give them the tools and the technology to allow them to operate efficiently and effectively in the field.””

Still in its early stages — rollout is planned for next summer — the city has not yet decided on either the devices it will use or the service provider.

“”Some (people) advised us to go for the hardware first and then get the software, but we took the approach that we were going to get the software first and find out what operating system the solution will run on, knowing that we have to access other applications as well,”” said Mayo.

Scalable software

The software decision is wrapped up, though: the city is working with Fujitsu Consulting and has chosen Toronto-based Octanewave Software, a wireless software developer, to provide the software. “”They (Octanewave) provided the best solution that would fit in with what we’re trying to achieve, not just now but our future needs as well,”” Mayo said. Octanewave technology is scalable and configurable, she added.

According to Brian McGregor, vice-president of sales at Octanewave, the company’s technology is unique because it uses IP-based messaging.

“”It’s completely transaction oriented,”” he said. “”That means it’s not a big database on a portable computer trying to synch with a database back in the office, say, every half an hour. Every activity, and every portion of an activity, is completed as a transaction, and that information is sent as a unique message, so that’s fairly unique in this space.””

The biggest benefit to the city, McGregor said, is that it will be able to leverage its existing investment in its Oracle database. “”We have this infrastructure layer, which really is the extension to any backoffice infrastructure investment,”” he said. “”There’s no big, huge capital acquisitions in the way of backoffice upgrades required, we use open standards, and more often than not, the processes are already in place to support what’s happening.””

But although Octanewave doesn’t care which hardware the city settles on — its software is device-, operating system- and service provider-agnostic — the city does. It’s is an important decision, Mayo said, because inspectors will also have to lug around printers so they can issue reports on the go, as well as wireless cards and docking stations. A focus group is working on a device selection strategy, and the city expects to issue a tender by year’s end. Once the four departments are up and running — and if all works well — the city is looking at expanding the project to animal services, parking control, vehicle licensing, transportation and works, as well as to firefighting and emergency response services. “”But we have to go slow and steady and make sure this is successful,”” she said. “”This is the foundation of all future mobile initiatives — they’re tied to what we’re doing, so it has to be right.””

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