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Memphis received a lot of criticism last year when a local TV station filmed DPW workers hanging out instead of doing their jobs, and an incident where a city inspector was killed after he knocked on a citizen's door to issue a summons. Inspectors were using netbooks, which interfaced wirelessly with DPW's Oracle database, in the field to do reporting. But they would spend up to three hours daily transcribing handwritten reports into the IT system so that the database could run daily reports. The city also had no way of tracking its workers or making sure that they were safe.
In June 2012, Michael Jones, deputy CIO of Memphis' city government, and his team launched a major overhaul of the old system. Through its service provider AT&T, Memphis found Xora StreetSmart, which consists of a suite of configurable mobile apps and a Web-based management application. Xora gave the city some much-needed capabilities, including location awareness, mobile forms and a job-workflow engine. DPW worked closely with Xora to add other capabilities that were missing, such as a search feature.
"Oracle can be hard to use if you don't know the interface, so we needed something more user friendly," said Jones. "We were able to challenge Xora to think and do things differently than they were doing to help us come up with a solution to our mobility issues."
[ Want to know how cities are using technology to solve tough problems? See 10 Cities Raise Tech IQs In IBM Challenge. ]
The city is now training its workers, who have been equipped with Samsung tablet computers that run Xora's apps; these include time sheets and summonses that can be filled out using pull-down menus and printed out in the field. The collected information is sent to a Web console at DPW headquarters that has been integrated with the Oracle database. Reports are automatically complied so inspectors don't need to spend hours transcribing. The initial results are promising. Processing one violation, for example, used to take five minutes, and it has been reduced to less than a minute, said senior inspector Eric Muhammad, who worked closely with Jones on the project.
Supervisors will monitor inspectors by using GPS location data and time stamps, thus addressing safety issues. GPS tracking will also be used to hold inspectors liable for their work. Supervisors will know when workers clock in, take lunch and breaks, and clock out. "We've had situations with workers taking breaks and not being truthful. [Xora] really helps with accountability," said Muhammad.
When Memphis goes live with Xora in April, it will be used primarily by code enforcement officers who handle building inspections and outside contractors who are working to clean up 10 square blocks at a time of urban blight.
"This deployment has been a monumental deal for the city and it has taken a lot of time," said Jones. "But we hope it'll be successful in helping our inspectors become truly mobile and get out in the field much faster than before."
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