In its drive to eliminate human error from its taxation data retrieval system a northern Alberta municipality traded pen and paper for laptops and printers.

The administration of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo — which stretches from north central Alberta to the borders of Saskatchewan

and the Northwest Territories, totaling 68,454 square kilometres — sought a solution that would put an end to the pen and paper to property tax assessments method.

“”Traditionally our staff would write out their assessments on paper and then, after returning to the office, someone would have to manually key the information in,”” explains Norm Francoeur, head of IT for the municipality. “”In doing so, there were errors. For instance, it’s difficult to read some people’s hand writing. Now we’re taking that data entry step out of the picture.

“”Now, our staff enters the necessary information (into a laptop) on the premises and they can show the taxpayers their assessed values on the spot.””

From his office in Fort McMurray, about five hours north of Edmonton, Francoeur told Computing Canada that the municipality had experimented with a slew of different laptops, but soon settled on 11 of Fujitsu Canada’s P Series notebooks.

“”The size of the notebooks, the cost, it’s Win2000 compatible, the company’s reputation and the ease of use all played a part in our decision,”” he says. “”These notebooks offer a touch-based screen, which makes it easier for our staff to use right off the top.””

Five of the 11 notebooks will be used by the Region’s Tax Assessment Group, five with Fort McMurray’s fire department, and one unit will remain with the IT department.

“”We’ll be doing a batch download with the data that’s collected. Our own application development staff will take the data from the laptops and dump them onto an AS400 server. We’re thinking of going wireless with the CDMA network somewhere down the line,”” Francoeur says. “”The fire department will be using the laptops for fire inspections and the like. There’s also the possibility of including them in our ambulances at some point.

“”We’ve tested different models and scenarios and this implementation is how we’re going to be doing it.””

Fujitsu’s pen-based, touch screen LifeBook P1000 is powered by Transmeta’s 733 MHz Crusoe, a TM5800 Processor with LongRun, and offers power management designed to save energy while still providing full processing power in battery-mode.

Christina Paquet, Fujitsu Canada’s notebook marketing manager in Mississauga, Ont., says the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is not unlike other Canadian municipalities in its need for a more efficient modus operandi with regards to daily operations.

“”They’re only using it for two applications at this point in time, but I know they will be expanding it,”” she continues. “”For now, the municipality’s fire inspectors are coupling their notebooks with portable printers in order to produce their reports on the spot.””

John Stanisic, hardware research analyst for IDC Canada in Toronto, says the ultra-portable notebook class — comprised of laptops that weigh under 5-lbs. — is a niche market in Canada that only sees about 20,000 actual units shipped per year. Traditionally, he said, IBM and Toshiba comprise 50 per cent of that market, with vendors such as Dell and Fujitsu dividing the remaining slice.

“”This notebook (the Lifebook P 1000) also touches on the handheld market with respect to mobile workers using a Palm or an iPaq,”” Stanisic says. “”Any mobile employee doing data entry in the field that’s driven by standardized forms would find the touchscreen feature on this notebook appealing.””

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