Dorset County Council (DCC) in England provides a wide range of local government services to 404,000 members of the public across the county. The council employs 15,000 people (including schools staff) in services that include social care, libraries, arts, children’s care, highways, and economic development.
Financial Constraints Prompt Effort to Increase Employee Efficiency
Due to the increasing financial constraints on UK councils, DCC constantly strives to find new ways to provide services more efficiently. One of the recent projects launched as part of this initiative involved creating a more efficient way for field personnel to perform their jobs by giving them mobile devices. This approach lowers the cost of providing services by reducing paperwork and eliminating the need to enter report information twice. Mobile computing also reduces travel costs since field workers don’t have to visit the office to pick up work schedules or return paperwork. Instead, they can spend more time in the field and handle additional tasks.
The council launched the project by providing mobile devices to members of the highway maintenance staff, who previously had to check in at the office regularly to pick up assignments and report back on the status of various projects. “The travel to and from the office reduced the number of sites the highway maintenance staff could visit, and the process required them to record information twice—at the sites and back at the office,” says Carl Dorrington, ICT Infrastructure Officer for DCC. “In addition to being inefficient, the re-keying of information would sometimes lead to errors or inaccuracies.”
DCC thus equipped the field personnel with Windows Mobile devices that could be used to remotely download assignments and upload reports on the status of each project. This approach improved the accuracy of the reports and allowed field personnel to visit more project sites each day since they no longer had to travel to the office as often.
Mobile Device Success Requires Reliable Management Platform
“As we planned the rollout, we knew the success of the system would depend largely on a reliable mobile-device management platform,” Dorrington says. “In addition to making sure council data remains secure and that we comply with U.K. regulations pertaining to mobile devices, we also needed a platform that would allow us to manage a variety of devices. This feature was important since we planned to extend the use of mobile devices to other departments, and users might need to use many types of hardware devices.”
DCC determined that Sybase Afaria met their requirements, especially since the platform can manage any manufacturer’s mobile device. “It was important that the solution we implemented gave the flexibility to manage devices that may be introduced as we develop services,” Dorrington says. “We were also impressed with Afaria’s local disk encryption, which makes it easy to lock down each device so that our information is secure. This helps us comply with U.K. regulations such as the HMG CoCo Security Policy Framework.”
Afaria also met other requirements such as the ability to easily manage mobile devices remotely along with being able to quickly install and update applications. And by using Afaria in conjunction with the NetMotion mobile VPN, DCC enables users to roam seamlessly from one WiFi connection to another.
Afaria Streamlines Device Configuration and Application Updates
To help DCC deploy Afaria, Sybase provided training on how to configure mobile devices for each user. The IT staff can now set up user groups on their own ahead of time with specific policies that apply to groups and then add users to each group as necessary. NetMotion launches a program that runs Afaria, and after a user is verified, Afaria automatically configures the device and picks up the policy based on the group the user belongs to. “Each department has a policy template—we just add users to the appropriate Active Directory group, and Afaria automatically applies the correct policy configuration,” Dorrington says.
The Afaria Session Manager feature helps DCC install and update applications with scripts created by the IT staff. “Session Manager makes our job a lot easier when it comes to writing scripts,” Dorrington says. “Once Sybase gave us a demo on using Session Manager and the other Afaria features, we were able to manage the solution on our own. The deployment went very smoothly without any problems.”
When devices are in use, DCC can monitor that they are used for the right purpose since users can connect only through the council’s mobile VPN. Dorrington also emphasizes the ease-of-use as a major benefit: “Because Afaria streamlines application deployment and updates via Session Manager, we can identify devices that need updates and then monitor to confirm that updates have gone through.”
Since information is encrypted by Afaria, DCC can give devices to users and know that information is safe even if a device is lost or stolen. “If necessary, we can easily remote-wipe the devices,” Dorrington says. “The level of security that Afaria provides will also help us respond to any compliance audits we might be subject to by letting us run configuration reports.”
Increased Employee Efficiency with Reduced Council Resource Costs
Now that end-users in the highway maintenance department realize the benefits of accessing applications to help them perform their jobs using Windows Mobile devices, the council plans to roll out the solution to other departments over time. “Social services would also benefit greatly from the ability to submit reports from the field,” Dorrington says.
DCC end users who have tried the mobile solution have given positive feedback on how much of a difference mobile devices make in helping them perform their jobs more efficiently. In the long run, DCC views the mobile-device approach as a way to reduce costs since the staff can get more work done in less time. “Everyone in the field across every department could receive assignments and submit reports without having to travel back to the office,” Dorrington says. “And with information submitted just once, fewer input mistakes will occur, which will reduce staff time further. The accurate data collection over time will also lead to improved business intelligence that management can analyze for ways to enhance our services.”