Inspections in the palm of your hand

 

Kevin W. Kryzda

CIO, Martin County, Florida, IT Services

 

Building inspection services in Martin County, Florida, have traditionally been performed using printed forms that are taken to the field by the inspectors. As inspections are done, each individual inspector notes the results of the inspections—like “pass” or “fail”—and may add “correction codes” or comments. The inspectors then call a building department clerk and notify the clerk of the status. This information is then transcribed, by the clerk, into the “on-line” building and permitting system. These results are then communicated to the builders and contractors.

 

This current method has evolved with the organization, through time, and has serviced both the County’s need to regulate and the builders’ and contractors’ need to service their customers well. There are, however, some new demands that are driving the need to improve this process. One of these is to provide more timely results of inspections. Another is to reduce the paper that inspectors need to carry onto the sites. There is also a need to reduce the amount of transcription that is done by the clerks. Yet another need is to increase the service level to the customers (builders, contractors and owners) by providing them with quicker response of results of inspections on their sites. Finally, there is the need to be more efficient.

 

Discussion of these needs between the Building Division and Information Technology Services has produced a solution that attempts to address most, if not all, of these needs. Previous technology-based solutions have included the deployment of laptops for inspectors to conduct inspections. Though this solution does present many benefits, it also has some drawbacks. Among them is the cost per inspector. Many of these deployments have required the use of “ruggedized” laptops because of the field conditions that they are subjected to. This “ruggedizing” adds to the cost of the laptop. In addition, there is the cost of the software that must be installed and the cost of the communication services. One last element of these solutions is the complexity of the technology that the inspectors have to deal with. This last concern is not a trivial one and requires a lot of consideration.

 

Recent advances in technology have produced a variety of tools that can now be assembled to create a lightweight, easy to use, simple, handheld device that can be connected to an “on-line” computer application, which can then present information to a handheld device using industry-standard browsers to present and gather the information for the inspectors. For the hardware, we chose The Palm Pilot IIIx, one of the latest examples of a new generation of computing devices that are simple to use, small, inexpensive, and can easily be adapted to perform many functions. Advances have also produced software that can allow database information to be “packaged” for presentation through a web browser. For this task, the county selected one of the various web browsers that are available for the Palm Pilot.

 

Another piece of technology was selected as “middleware” to package the information that is in the county’s permitting and inspection system. For the communications, the county chose another recent technology development, Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) networking, which is now available in most of the United States. This technology presents several advantages to former wireless services. Among these advantages is that the service is not volume or usage-sensitive. It is purchased as a “flat rate,” much like local telephone service. Another advantage is that these connections are “always on.” As long as the handheld unit is on, the connection is automatic and persistent. This allows inspectors to be connected to their application at all times; and the information that they can obtain, or add, while in the field is real time.

 

This solution allows inspectors to view inspections and record the results into the “on-line” permitting/inspection system almost instantly, reduces or eliminates the paper, reduces or eliminates the need to transcribe information and records results in near-real time, and provides for timelier notification to the builders and contractors.

 

This new system is a collaborative effort between KIVA—the vendor of the County’s permit/inspection system—and the County. As such, it is the first release of the system and is expected to evolve to meet the County’s needs for easier, faster, and more accurate inspection services.

 

For more information, contact Kevin Kryzda at (561) 288-5522 or kevin@martin.fl.us.

 

This article was reprinted with permission from the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), with which APWA has a partnership. URISA is the premier professional association for those involved in improving our urban and regional environments through the effective application of information technology. Visit www.urisa.org to find out more about membership, publications, and upcoming educational programs and conferences (URISA 2000 will take place August 19-23 in Orlando).

 

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