Enabling New Technology with Mobile Solutions

Louis Carr, Jr., CIO, Clark County
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Louis Carr, Jr., CIO, Clark County

About Clark County

Clark County, Nevada is the 13th most populous county in the U.S. It is located in southern Nevada, bordered by California and Arizona. There are over 2.1 million residents and an average of over 40 million annual visitors. The county is 8,000 square miles, so technology is a necessity to provide services to the urban and rural parts of the county. Clark County’s annual budget is approximately $6 billion because the county provides a variety of traditional county services as well as some services that cities typically provide. Traditional county services include the county airport, the county hospital, the tax assessor, district court and the marriage license bureau. Traditional city services include parks and recreation, code enforcement, business licenses, and building permits.

“A mobile solution is necessary so that inspectors can enter inspection results in the field into an online software system instead of on paper”

Why Clark County Needs a Mobile Solution

Because of the large population and the expansive size of the county, enabling technology is a must. Since the county provides services such as building inspections, business license inspections and family protective services/home inspections, it has been necessary for years to have some type of mobile technology in the field.

A mobile solution is necessary so that inspectors can enter inspection results in the field into an online software system instead of on paper. In years past, inspectors would use paper but would then have to come back to the office or a satellite location to enter information from paper into their computerized permitting, licensing or case management system. Those end-of-day travel and data entry tasks could consume 60 to 90 minutes of an inspector’s day. The value of a mobile solution is that the information is entered online in the field, giving those inspectors 60 to 90 additional minutes per day to conduct more inspections.

In the past, most mobile inspectors had expensive, heavy, ruggedized laptops. Those machines usually cost approximately $4,000 each.  Furthermore, those machines typically did not have the latest and greatest features and functionality, as compared to consumer grade laptops. Our goal in looking at more modern mobile solutions is to ensure continued (and expanded) use of technology in the field.  We also want to enable new functionality using newer technology without encumbering county inspectors with 15 pound laptops.

How we Evaluated Mobile Solutions

The county evaluated tablets based on a few criteria: functionality, cost and manageability (security, software updates, etc.). County IT ordered three types of tablets: iPads, Microsoft Surface devices and Dell Venue 11s.

From a functionality perspective, the number of iPhone and iPad applications number over 1 million, according to Apple. Those applications allow the iPad to be a traditional PC, a system for routing County vehicles for optimum fuel usage, an audio recording system for public meetings, a drawing pad for making hand-marked changes to building plans and a hundred other uses.

The Surface and Venue devices we chose had MS Windows 8.1 installed on them. So, in theory, all of our line-of-business applications that run on our Windows desktop PCs should run on the Surface and Venue tablets.

The tablets running Windows 8.1 are managed using the same technology, tools and utilities that we use to manage our 7,000 desktops. In the case of Windows tablets, it is the county’s intent to leverage existing tools to manage the Windows 8.1 tablets. As we transition to more HTML5 web applications, the operating system may become less of a factor in our selection of tablets.

Since iPads don’t run Windows, we found a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution to manage iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones. In 2014, we selected AirWatch as our countywide MDM solution. AirWatch allows us to properly secure and protect the information on our non-Windows tablets and smartphones. It also allows us to remotely wipe the devices from a central console when they are lost or stolen. The county has over 1,000 smartphones and non-Windows tablets managed by AirWatch.

Due to the number of applications available for the iPad, many field workers prefer the iPad. However, our executives had special needs for Windows software and were not enamored with the iPads. They’ve settled on Windows tablets.

Who is using tablets today

In November 2014, we ordered Windows tablets for all of the Clark County Commission liaisons, members of the county executive team and members of the legislative team as proofs of concept. These groups of users are not considered power users or tech-savvy. County IT had some familiarity with tablets, but we wanted to gauge how quickly non-technical employees would adapt to tablet technology.

As expected, there were a few minor issues along the way. For example, minor issues like getting the right type of portable keyboard, docking station or portable printer, caused a bit of confusion and some delays in adoption. IT assigned one PC technician to those users to answer questions, resolve issues and, in general, provide white-glove service during this proof of concept.

Six months later, each commission liaison and executive team member was asked if they liked their tablet and if it made them more efficient. All agreed that the tablets made them more efficient. Each had a different usage case on how the tablet improved their work lives. One commission liaison stated that she used her tablet to record the town board meetings. She would use the audio file to process meeting minutes. In her case, she said turnaround time for publishing meeting minutes went from over a week to a few days. Another liaison states that she used her tablet to take pictures at local events and then use the pictures and MS Office to quickly produce newsletters to send to commission district constituents.

Future uses of tablets at Clark County, Nevada

As Clark County continues to deploy tablet computers, there are several departments that will be ready to quickly embrace tablets and mobile computing. Public Works has ordered a few to test with their construction field workers. The Building Department will order a few to give to their inspectors to leverage new permitting software that the county will deploy in 2016. The Department of Family Services has traditional laptops, but they are exploring the use of iPads that will run an iPad version of their new case management system. The Department of Juvenile Justice is exploring the use of tablets for their probation officers to update case information in the field for juvenile offenders.

All things considered, Clark County has done a good job of figuring out how to intelligently deploy mobile devices to improve service delivery to its citizens.

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