Logan City Council has armed its food and 'nuisance tree' inspectors with iPad 2 devices in a project with wider implications for the council's desktop strategy.
Chief information officer Jim Barclay told iTnews that 15 officers use an electronic form app on the iPad that captures data in the field from the device's camera to generate a PDF report.
In the case of a food inspection, the report is emailed simultaneously to the restaurant owner and to the council's document management system.
A record of the inspection, the restaurant's score and notes on "further intervention" are manually entered into a separate system. There are long-term plans to automate this process.
The iPad system was jointly designed by the council's IT team and Apple-accredited consultancy Rype and uses electronic form and mobile platform technology by BlinkMobile Interactive.
An initial five-month pilot in April 2011 involved two "enthusiastic" food inspection officers and a single "nuisance tree" inspector.
"We started from scratch," Barclay says. "We looked at what their business needs were, what forms they were currently using, where the information was stored, how they communicated [it] back to the restaurants [and] what their preferences were."
After the pilot, the system was expanded to 15 officers across the food inspection and nuisance tree areas of council in the three months to December 2011.
Barclay eventually plans to use the system as a template to mobilise other data entry processes across council, although his recent focus has been on stability and change management.
"We've thrown 15 iPads out to people who have used pen and paper for a number of years," Barclay says.
"Add a few software bugs to people who aren't used to using computers all the time and you have a bit of a challenge.
"We took a breather over Christmas and said, 'Let's have a look at it, let's stabilise it and deliver what we promised'."
The teething issues were largely resolved and ultimately did not turn officers off using the system.
"When we suggested they [officers] could go back to their manual processes until we resolve some issues, they said 'No, we'll stick with it and work around those issues because we're getting the benefits from it'," Barclay says.
"They actually refused to return the devices or go back to manual processes."
Making iPads work
Bringing iPad hardware into the corporate environment posed some early challenges.
The council did not want to give iPads to each officer permanently but rather operate a pool of hardware that could be assigned on any given day.
"iPads tend to want to marry themselves to one user [whereas] we wanted to use them corporately so any user could grab an iPad and go [offsite]," Barclay says.
"The latest OS allows the iPad to act without childing to a computer all the time, whereas in the old days you had to have it childed to a computer. We had some challenges there."
Another challenge came in integrating the various parts of the system and "binding it all together for the PDF document" to be delivered in a neat package to the restaurant owner and council.
However, change management represented the biggest challenge to the project's success.
"The real challenge is making sure the people in the field are comfortable with what you're giving them," Barclay says.
Barclay says that council was careful not to introduce too many changes and new processes at once.
"There was a big focus on satisfying the needs of the field officers rather than making it too complex for them or adding complexity or failure points," he says.
Read on to page two to see how the council's mobility strategy could afford IT some breathing space on a future SOE revamp.