Wyong's field workers innovative use of forms on standard mobile phones even integrates with TRIM document management! Over the last thirty years Wyong Shire has been transformed. Sydney's urban sprawl, a freeway and faster public transport have brought this New South Wales Central Coast Shire within daily commuting distance of Sydney.
This new mobility has changed the way residents access and interact with local services. Where once upon a time a local would have raised a rates query in person at the council chambers, today many residents prefer to use their mobile phones or computers. Email, texting, Twitter and Facebook are the preferred tools and channels for many of the young home buyers moving to the area.
Wyong Shire Council has been quick to recognise the shift and to build these mobile channels into its communication strategy. In 2010 it proposed the idea of email surveys as a cost-effective, more accessible and more engaging alternative to large public forums when trying to gauge opinion. It also identified a way of using the flexibility of mobile devices to enhance its own internal communications and processes, particularly amongst field workers.
The problem with field work
Many Council employees are required to be out on the road for much of the week. Staff employed on road works, and as gardeners, parks and ground keepers, electricians and maintenance staff are just a few examples.
What Council hoped to achieve was to introduce a mobility solution that would allow field officers to remotely enter and upload data via mobile devices, removing the need for staff to return to Council premises before being able to receive new data, file reports or submit updated information. An in-field technology platform document was prepared specifying requirements for a mobile solution. It listed considerations such as network connectivity, the need for industrial strength security, and integration with Council's back end systems including Microsoft SharePoint and SQL Server databases.
Dennis Lenton, Business Improvement Officer, Database Administration at Wyong Shire Council notes, "The mobile system also had to work with HP TRIM, an electronic records and document management system that handles our statutory requirements for data retention," Lenton adds. "The real question was if we were to get data from out in the field, how would it get into SharePoint for management reporting and into TRIM so that it became part of our data repository?
"We looked at a UK-based electronic forms design system and at some other proprietary systems. A lot of the high end ones were quite costly once you considered their initial and ongoing costs," Lenton adds.
One of the vendors he approached was BlinkMobile, developer of the Council's popular BounceBack SMS service which provides public updates regarding the status of the Shire's sports fields.
BlinkMobile showed Lenton its combined myblinkAnswers and blinkForms development solution. The software enables organisations to easily create customised electronic forms that can be accessed, completed and uploaded using any device with a browser. With the application hosted by BlinkMobile, security is easily addressed simply by opening a firewall path for the Blink server into an enterprise's back end systems. What's more, myblinkAnswers does not require costly proprietary data readers hardware as it works on a variety of common devices including laptops, tablets, smart phones and Blackberries. A deal was soon clinched.
"When we looked at all the different in-field forms design tools, myAnswers blinkForms was far and away better than any of the alternatives. Another reason for selecting BlinkMobile was that they were local. It turned out to be a good decision because all the way through, they've addressed all of our issues extremely quickly," Lenton says.