Making IT mobile keeps it moving
Mecklenburg County, N.C. has a small army of workers in the field: restaurant inspectors, medical examiners, parks and recreation employees and Youth and Family Services department social workers. In the past, employees had to make frequent trips back and forth to the office between appointments to complete and submit paperwork, which reduced their productivity, increased travel expenses and delayed processing the information. Some employees were even still taking handwritten notes with paper and pencil.
Today, those workers no longer make multiple trips to the office to work on case files, thanks to the county’s One Person, One Device initiative, says Cliff DuPuy, Technical Services Director for Mecklenburg County (Charlotte is the county seat.). “Sometimes they work out of multiple offices, so they would have multiple devices, including a desktop, laptop, iOS device and other mobile equipment.” DuPuy discussed his county’s cloud initiatives in a recent American City & County webinar.
Using the Surface Pro 3 tablet, DuPuy says mobile workers can communicate effectively. “We are a Verizon shop, and we have Verizon Wireless XLTE in Mecklenburg County, so we enjoy a great deal of bandwidth on those devices.”
As part of the One Person, One Device initiative, the county implemented a document imaging system. “We took rooms and rooms full of case files that we reduced in size down to digital assets, and we stored them on Azure in a huge document imaging library,” DuPuy says. In its first year, the county saved about $500,000 in IT infrastructure costs.
“Now, county employees can go from their home and start their investigations, fire up their mobile devices and have access to all that data on the back end, bring in the images and case files, fill out their case management system right at the citizen’s home — and then file those reports,” DuPuy explains.
He adds that before the new system was installed, mobile workers faced extended travel time when the unexpected happened. “They’d be out doing their investigation, and then, as it happens sometimes, they would be called in because of an emergency. They would have to go back to the office, retrieve the case file information, and go back into the field.” With the new setup, things go smoothly, DuPuy says. “Now, they just bring up the file information back on their mobile device and go onto the next investigation.”
The cloud-based system expedites investigations, DuPuy says. “Medical examiners now can update the investigation file for non-attended death out in the field. They can update the department database quickly, so investigators have access to the information and investigation results almost immediately.”
The new equipment for mobile workers offers data security. Before, mobile employees were using a wide array of devices, and when one of the devices was unaccounted for, precious time would be spent determining the make and model of the missing equipment. The lack of a consistent mobile platform made it difficult for IT staff to remotely manage the devices and wipe sensitive data, when a theft or security breach occurred.
In 2012, the county began trying to find ways to help employees do their jobs more easily while on the move, and to make the entire mobile infrastructure secure and manageable.
The first project moved e-mail from an on-premises server to a cloud-based platform. The goal of the shift, according to county administrators, was to increase user access while simplifying IT administration and reduce the cost of maintaining on-premises hardware.
Next, county IT staff migrated more than 6,000 county workers to cloud-based Office 365 and moved the county’s disaster recovery infrastructure and data storage to the cloud.
Producing new IT tools for customer service requires time to learn about your customer, DuPuy explained in the American City & County webinar. “It’s important for me on the tech services side that I am comfortable with my customers and their IT processes. What is their business case? How do they process information?” The Technical Services team works with the county’s business process group.
“We bring them in and they help us evaluate that process. So for instance, if a resident needs to apply for heat subsistence or utility payment assistance, we ask, ‘What does that look like? What do the forms look like? What does the whole process look like? How do we tie that back into the state system so that they can get the funds needed to pay their heating bill?’”
DuPuy says his group works hand-in-hand with the customer, agency or department to understand their business case. “And then as we go back and start to build the systems, we like to touch base with the customers and ask them to look at what we are doing to make sure that we are on the right path. Does what we are doing make sense?”
DuPuy says his IT team is working with a county agency on a new code enforcement piece. “The agency is working to develop a new customer service center. We are looking at three or four different pieces of technology, bringing the technology out to the agency in various demos, parsing out the information. We’ll find out what works and what doesn’t. We tweak this and tweak that, to make sure we are on the right path.”
DuPuy says analytical tools can help sell a new project, such as the customer service center to upper management. He says that data on customer wait times within the permitting process along with an electronic dashboard presentation will shed light on the performance of the project. “You can demonstrate to upper management with the dashboard that scores are going up or going down, or that the department is able to serve more customers with the new IT arrangement. At that point the project can sell itself.”
DuPuy’s job satisfaction comes from collaborating with county departments. “I get to participate with our customers on some great opportunities. They bring me in at the front end to try to find some solution that will improve the quality of work they are doing.”
He notes that his technical services crew gets a lot of support from county management and staff. “The Number 1 thing is creativity. Upper management wants us to be creative; they want us to think outside the box. They say ‘Don’t just do something because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ That, for me, is the most fun.”
Michael Keating (Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor of Government Product News, American City & County’s sister brand.