Rodney District Council

Rodney District Council is a local government entity based near Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. One of its departments has responsibility for following up any calls regarding stray dogs, tracking them down and capturing them to return them to their owners.

The challenge:
“Our inspectors needed a way of accessing the database of pet owners’ details from the field,” recalls Bill Westphal, acting information services manager. “Initially these details were printed out weekly on a huge report, the Dog Register, which contained information about every dog in the district, but this was time consuming and costly and didn’t provide the most up-to-date information. We then tried giving the rangers a portable computer with a mobile phone that could connect to the corporate database, but that proved to be too cumbersome.”

“We tried a number of methods, but had been struggling with the problem of delivering live information from our corporate database for a while. Most solutions we investigated were too expensive. Our CEO, Wayne Donnelly, encouraged communication initiatives and innovation to help improve the situation, so we started looking at alternatives,” added Westphal.

The Solution:
Rodney District Council uses a specialist ERP system for local councils called GEMS and it was important that the chosen solution could integrate with it seamlessly. Its local distributor, MPA, introduced the council to Fenestrae, a provider of mobile application middleware. The MPA team felt that Fenestrae’s mobile solutions could be the solution to the problem and the Council selected it for a trial scheme. Implementation followed shortly after.

Fenestrae’s solution empowers the council’s inspectors to access critical information from any server or database, using any mobile device over any network. “When they find a lost dog, inspectors send an SMS message via their mobile phone to the system with the dog’s tag number, and Fenestrae’s mobile solutions queries GEMS and returns the owner address and contact details to the inspector,” said Westphal.

“Feedback from users was that portable computers took a while to get used to. However, they were all familiar with mobile phones and sending SMS text messages, which made our lives easier. The system didn’t take as long to implement as the portable computers had done and the users were far more productive instantly.” After this initial success, Fenestrae’s mobile solutions were implemented for real.

“At the moment, everyone has mobile phones. Only a few have WAP-enabled phones, but we aim to increase that number as we’ll be able to display more information through the Fenestrae mobile solution WAP interface. Currently they are used only by the dog rangers to access dog tag information, although I’ve set up a few other people so that they can access their email when on the move,” added Westphal.

Frequency of use varies and depends on the number of loose dogs and complaints. “On the whole, it is used mostly at weekends and after business hours. It’s also worth noting that on the few occasions when the system isn’t available, I always get complaints, which is a sure sign that the technology is being missed and that it was a good purchase. At the end of the day, our aim is to provide access to corporate information to staff members and managers in the field, 24 hours a day. If it does that, then I’m happy.”

Benefits to date
“Using Fenestrae’s mobile solutions, we’ve been able to make cost savings and experience real benefits across the whole organisation. Firstly, we save the time and materials it took to print out the Dog Register weekly, which was about an 800+ page report printed on fanfold paper.”

“Secondly, mobile phone calls to staff members back at the office were expensive and interrupted office employees from their work, resulting in poor productivity and duplication of resources. SMS messages to the Fenestrae system only cost about 18 cents, versus a mobile phone call that costs 70 cents per minute.”

“Finally, set-up and maintenance of the portable computer was quite often time consuming, and it took time to train the rangers to use it. Portable computers are much more expensive than mobile phones, which every ranger already had, so this avoided the time and cost involved in training them.”

Future expansion
“Although primarily used for database access, the Fenestrae’s mobile solutions also enables those working remotely to access email, calendars and other useful information held on our main servers,” said Westphal. And it’s not just dog inspectors that are using it. “We also plan to use it for other departments that have people in the field. Currently, all water meter readers, building consents officers and engineers have to call staff members back at the office to retrieve information from the corporate database. Using Fenestrae’s mobile solutions they can access their email and other Microsoft® Exchange information, which is a big plus.”