When it comes to mobile technology, the city of Corpus Christi has a whole lot going on — probably more than most companies would be able to take on at once. But, don’t stop reading. While the city’s maze of mobile projects may be more than you could handle concurrently, its vision for technology — and the impact that technology has had on its operations — makes the city’s story an example anyone can benefit from.

Corpus Christi has a population of 305,000 across 147 square miles of land. There are 26 divisions within the city, with a variety of mobile crews employed to keep it running smoothly, including utilities crews; street crews; garbage crews; maintenance crews; inspectors; police, fire, and EMS crews; parks crews; and animal control officers. In total there are more than 1,500 mobile workers employed by Corpus Christi. The city is no stranger to technology. Significant investments in back office technology started in the 1980s with the city’s GIS from Esri and continued in the early 2000s with the deployment of Maximo, an asset management system from IBM that Corpus uses for its work orders. New to the city, however, are the steps it has taken to standardize practices across departments and take its back office technologies into the field. “We had invested for years in back office technologies, but we realized that making the same type of investment in the mobile workforce is where the payoff is now,” explains Michael Armstrong, CIO of the city of Corpus Christi.

Lack of Real-Time Communication Breeds Inefficiency

Before the city invested in Maximo for work order management, the method Corpus used to field incoming calls from residents of the city was not only unstructured, but there was also no consistency among departments. For instance, a resident may call the streets department with a complaint about a pothole and the dispatcher at the streets department would take a handwritten note and then page a streets crew worker and tell him to go fix the issue. In the recreation department, on the other hand, an issue may be reported directly to a city council member, who would then email the recreation department. The recreation department would call a member of the recreation crew and read the email to him over the phone.

“Working for local government is a lot like working for a very large conglomerate. We have 26 departments, each a separate company with a different line of business, but all under the same umbrella,” explains Armstrong. “It was frustrating to the residents, because to get something resolved they were often passed around from department to department, left to hope they’d get to the right place. We desperately needed structure.”

Besides the inconsistencies of the ad hoc approach, each system used was manual and very time-consuming. From Handwritten notes and lengthy emails to numerous pages and calls out to the field, valuable time was being wasted in each department. “There was a variety of ways complaints and requests were coming in — phone, email, the mailbox at City Hall, a call to the mayor, a note to a council member,” says Armstrong. “Further, once each department got a request, it was handled differently. Each department handled its dispatching and record keeping its own way — some effectively, some horribly — but all manual. We were always worried about the handoff of requests and the potential for them getting lost in the cracks and not addressed for months. It was a very haphazard system.”

To read the rest of this article, including which GIS and M2M solutions Corpus Christi went with, as well as the variety of mobile devices they chose to make it all happen, head over to Field Technologies Online (subscription required).

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