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Using laptops from in the field, inspectors can file reports from the jobsite so they are immediately available on the county's Web site. Photo: Jefferson County (Colo.) Building Safety Division

By Timothy Carl

PRODUCT OVERVIEW

PRODUCT | AMANDA Business Performance Platform

DEVELOPER | CSDC Systems Inc.

CLIENT | Jefferson County, Colo.

COST | $356,000 in capital improvement funds

Serving customers who are spread across 774 square miles is challenging in the best of circumstances. Doing so after severe weather is even more daunting.

In the past two years, Jefferson County, Colo., has been hammered by hailstorms that caused millions of dollars in damages to homes. Permit applications for roof and siding repairs tripled. After a 2009 storm, residents requested 7,500 permits; a storm last year produced almost the same number of requests.

The county managed the spike in service requests without hiring additional employees because it had just implemented “eServices.” The field-to-office communication system consists of a central server, laptop computers equipped with wireless aircards on an AT&T service plan, and a public portal — accessible via the county's Web site — serving as an additional interface for residents. The county's 20 building inspectors filed assessments and approved permits onsite, turning most requests around within 24 hours.

“The ability to access documents without having to drive back to the county seat in Golden was a critical factor in being able to respond quickly and efficiently to citizens following these two storms,” says Ed Peck, project manager for the county's division of building safety.

In-the-field connectivity

Previously, inspectors used a desktop computer to print a paper inspection ticket and a map book before heading out into the field. They'd return to the office in the afternoon with their annotations and enter their notes into the system. The time-consuming paper-pushing limited the number of stops they could make in a day.

Now, inspectors use the laptops in the office with docking stations and in the car via floor-mounted stands. At the site, they use the unit to access work schedules, daily tasks, prioritized inspection lists, and GPS driving directions. Instead of taking calls from inspectors asking them to look up building permits, blueprints, and zoning variations, permit technicians at the office spend more time helping visitors at the service counter.

Inspectors can print documents or reports, take and upload photographs, and have citizens and builders provide digital signatures. They can also view a complete history of deficiencies for a specific record and look up violations by preloaded codes and bylaws, ensuring more standardized and accurate inspections.

In addition, citizens can submit service requests online. Once they do, the request is completely automated and transparent to county staff. Management spot-checks all transactions that have a fee attached. In the near future, the county plans to use digital documents that, when submitted, will trigger processes assigned to staff members.

Getting started

Jefferson County installed AMANDA Mobile as part of an upgrade to the AMANDA browser-based Business Performance Platform to improve citizen services and government transparency across the board. At least 10 of the county's government agencies — including the fire districts and health department — have used AMANDA for more than a decade; that track record helped county commissioners decide on the system.

While the building safety division was able to use its existing servers, the system required adding Net Motion's encrypted portal through the county firewall. Garmin USB GPS Drivers are also connected to the laptops.

As with any new system, training was required. Although project planners tried to keep most of the existing business rules, some processes inevitably changed to accommodate the system. Every user had at least eight hours of training, with some employees logging additional hours so they can work on system development and administration. The learning curve was the biggest challenge, according to Peck.

Peck says the initial data conversion was also a huge concern. Mapping data to a new system was a challenge for users as well as the county's information technology division. But, he says, “it all worked out and opened up great opportunities that weren't available in an antiquated system.”

— Timothy Carl (t.carl@csdcsystems.com) is a strategic account director at Mississauga, Ontario-based CSDC Systems Inc./AMANDA software (www.csdcsystems.com) and former development and transportation director for Jefferson County, Colo.