What better place to gamble on a new technology than on the Las Vegas strip? The Clark County Public Works Department's assets include 8,000 traffic signs; 12,000 street lights; and 6,800 lane miles of pavement markings, all dutifully logged into an ESRI ArcGIS database.

Field inspectors were already armed with mobile laptops. But faced with updating the files on 24,000 electronic pull boxes, former Public Works Systems Administrator Jim Houser was sure there was a way to reduce the average amount of time -- 18 minutes -- it took inspectors to fill in the 10 or so fields for each box on the laptop-resident form. When an article in Speech Technology magazine caught his eye, the technophile started looking for a vendor.

Since the early 1990s, according to Tompkins and Associates, voice technology has increased the speed and accuracy of task-management applications like warehouse picking. It's also the technology used in many telephone-routing systems. Houser was interested in the technology because it virtually eliminates key-stroking and can be programmed to prompt users for clarification when necessary, thus minimizing data-entry errors.

He found a solution that enables IT professionals to add voice to existing mobile applications that reside on a server, the Internet, or a single device like a PDA. But rather than doing voice-enabling a customer's application, Vangard Voice Systems teaches clients how to use AccuSpeechMobile so their own employees can roll out the capability to any other application.The process is greatly facilitated, says Houser, if the employee knows Microsoft Visual Studio. And since the key to successful deployment in any public works environment is "connecting" the asset database to the voice-enabling software, Clark County Public Works paid $9,000 for Vangard to develop an interface between its ArcGIS database and Vangard's AccuSpeechMobile.

"We went out into the field, we put on the headsets, and we ran through the program," Houser says. The voice-powered inspection took less than 4 minutes, a 78% reduction in time. "Speech will throw all your productivity scales out the window. It will bring to the table the same thing that GIS brought to asset-management."

Houser urges interested public works departments to jump in now, while vendors are trying to break into the government market. Houser budgeted $50,000 to buy 20 licenses so AccuSpeechMobile can be used to update another set of assets: 92 miles of storm drains.

"For an asset-based environment like public works, there's nothing greater on the horizon," Houser says. "It's the greatest enhancement to GIS yet."