Mobility speeds local inspections for Auburn City Council

The council has an IT strategy of productivity "anytime, on any network and with any device".

The Auburn City Council has embraced mobility to automate inspections and increase productivity. The council’s IT manager, Sarju Sahu, said he chose a mobile enterprise application platform by BlinkMobile to enable his any time, any device vision.

Auburn City Council is the local government for a 31-square-meter area including the Sydney Olympic Park and the Auburn Botanic Gardens. Council workers use smartphones and tablets for tree, food and fire safety inspections, and Sahu aims to expand the program into other areas like buildings and public health, he said. The workers use a variety of devices purchased by the council, including BlackBerry, Apple, Nokia and Google Android, he said.

Tree co-ordinator, Scott Wilkie, performs a tree inspection using an Apple iPad. Credit: Auburn City Council
Tree co-ordinator, Scott Wilkie, performs a tree inspection using an Apple iPad. Credit: Auburn City Council

Before BlinkMobile, tree inspections were a long and “cumbersome” process, Sahu said. When the public lodged a request, the Council staff would log the request in a CRM application. Then, the request would be printed and handed over to a tree inspector, who would go to the field with a four-page paper form. Finally, the inspector would return to the office and manually enter the data in the back-end system.

BlinkMobile allowed the Council to automate that system, Sahu said. Now when a request is logged, the process is completely automated and staff use an Apple iPad 2 to review and enter information. The information is also accessible through other mobile devices, he said. “Staff need not come to the office at all” and “the paperwork is eliminated altogether,” he said.

Under the old system, staff did about five to six inspections per day, but now they can do 10 to 20, he said.

Before Sahu started in late 2010, “there was no activity in the mobile computing area” at the Auburn City Council, he said. After doing some research, he was surprised to find 38 per cent of the staff worked in the field, but were not using technology to connect them back to the council and make them more productive, he said. They use mobile phones for calls but nothing more advanced, he said.

In response, Sahu wrote mobility into a new IT vision statement: “IT everywhere: stay productive and connected anywhere, any time, on any network and with any device.” He said the “overriding idea is to provide flexibility to staff".

“Why would we say that everyone should use the same device irrespective of if they need it or they don’t need it? I think we are better off balancing off both.”

Senior environmental health officer, Samuel Barnard, conducts a food inspection in a restaurant. Credit: Auburn City Council
Senior environmental health officer, Samuel Barnard, conducts a food inspection in a restaurant. Credit: Auburn City Council

It is critical for the system to have offline capability, because some spots in the local government’s jurisdiction do not have working wireless service, he said. Sahu sought a system that could store data offline and then send it when a wireless connection became available.

Sahu came up with three options to make his vision a reality. That included a Citrix product, but it did not have offline capability and had restrictions related to screen size and other areas. In the end, it was the BlinkMobile product that best satisfied Sahu’s goals, because it could work offline, support any mobile device and was scalable, he said.

With help from BlinkMobile’s Sydney-based partner EcoView Mobile, the council designed a pilot program that lasted three to four months, Sahu said. Getting data from the council’s back-end Pathway system to the BlinkMobile system was easy, but sending data back “was a very complex task".

Sahu said security was the main risk to a multi-device approach. “We have done everything possible to improve the security", using the mobile device management software to control passwords, provide remote tracking and application control, he said. The system also uses SSL encryption and firewalls, and a remote wiping feature to erase data on lost or stolen devices, he said.

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