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Message from the Executive Director

APWA InfoLink: A new generation tool

Peter B. King
APWA Executive Director

In last month’s issue of the Reporter, we highlighted information technology and how practical applications are enhancing delivery of public works services. From GIS systems for flood preparation to use of Palm Pilots in the field for building inspection data gathering, applications in the public works arena seem limitless. President Jerry Fay’s article pointed out how our daily work has been transformed by the “virtual office” that can be packed into a bag and transported anywhere. He also stressed the need to focus on defining our needs and embracing technology that meets those needs, as opposed to using the latest, fastest, and most cutting edge because it is the latest, fastest, and most cutting edge-whether it truly meets our needs or not.

In the past few years, we have all experienced the explosion of the use of the Internet for both work and daily living. Use of the APWA web site continues to grow as we enhance the resources available to members, and we streamline and improve its functionality (have you signed up for one or more of our infoNOW subject-area communities?). Our most recent educational offering-a “Click, Listen and Learn” seminar using teleconference and web-based delivery-is yet another example. And the changes and enhancements are continual in this rapidly changing environment.

The news has been saturated with the “dot com” world, the “new Internet economy,” business-to-business (B2B) applications, and daily announcements of billion dollar mergers. “E-government” applications are queued up and not far behind. Anyone who questions whether this change is permanent needs to look no further than down the hall in the workplace. How does that recent college graduate entering your work force think and apply this tool she or he has grown up with? The question of whether Internet applications have permeated our daily lives-and whether they will stay there-was answered for me personally six months ago by my eight-year-old, second-grade son. Upon seeing the price of Polaroid film he needed for his new camera, he boldly stated, “I am not paying that! I am going home and checking Polaroid dot com.” Out of the store he marched.

It is against this backdrop that APWA has embraced and is moving forward with the APWA InfoLink project. The vision and concept are relatively simple. There are innumerable public works-related activities that lend themselves to Internet-based, real-time information sharing and “get it done now” applications. Many of our public agency members are on the cutting edge of the “e-government” movement and are already providing citizens with access to services via the web. APWA InfoLink is a project designed to enhance the sharing of information among parties that need it, and to identify-and make available-applications that can be most effectively used by members universally. A relatively simple concept, but a powerful set of services that we have in mind.

InfoLink origins

How did APWA InfoLink come about? Not surprisingly, the creative seed started with a group of members in the Kansas City Metro Chapter. In the early 1990s, chapter members conceived the idea of a “fax back” service to provide a “one stop information site” for the planning, design, and construction community in the seven-county metropolitan Kansas City area. (This was outgrowth of a 1980s project of developing a reference source that listed contacts and regulations related to excavations within rights-of-way.) Initial seed money for the “pilot” project was provided by Bell Atlantic and Ameritech Corporation; APWA National managed the funds for the chapter’s project.

Due to the emergence of the Internet at the time, the “fax back” system was abandoned in favor of a web site, and the APWA InfoLink “pilot” was launched in October of 1998. In its pilot format, APWA InfoLink was a database of links to information. It included information on such items as design standards; links to local, state, and federal agencies; permits; development guidelines; planning and zoning ordinances; project bid lists; and meeting schedules and agendas of local governing bodies.

APWA National involvement

In December of 1999, at the conclusion of the pilot phase, APWA National’s InfoLink Task Force and the Kansas City Metro Chapter recommended that the project expand beyond its current geographic and functional limits, and that APWA National assume responsibility for the project.

The APWA Board authorized me to undertake the project and begin negotiations with a private partner on a joint venture for development and marketing of APWA InfoLink. Following negotiations with the proposed private partner, we entered into an agreement with IZOIC, Inc. (www.izoic.com) to assist in the development of and jointly market internet/web-based services to benefit APWA members and others in the “infrastructure” community.

A five-member Steering Committee, composed of representatives of APWA and our private sector partner, is overseeing this project. Membership includes Larry Lux, recently-appointed member of the Board (and formerly chair of our Leadership and Management Committee), and me. The business model we are following provides that APWA will not be funding any of the “up front” or development costs of this project. The financial agreement provides for an ongoing stream of revenues to APWA via a royalty agreement as services and products are “rolled out” and used. The revenue stream, to the extent it is realized, will support our strategic plan and the education and information needs of our membership.

As potential applications are identified, teams of APWA members with expertise in selected areas will be assembled to guide the development of each application. Each team will include three to four APWA members; those interested in serving on a team should contact me.

Future vision/sample services

The project was a subject of discussion at our recent regional delegates meetings, and a number of questions came to the forefront. As we are still in the defining and development stage, some specific questions can’t be answered at this point. But the vision and sample services are there. As I mentioned, the APWA InfoLink site is a series of links to existing information. Much like the Kansas City Metro Chapter moved from a “fax back” system to a web-based platform as the technology developed, the “next generation” APWA InfoLink will be designed to be both information and application rich. It is intended to include emerging “e-commerce” applications in the public works-related “business to government” activities, much like the “business to business” applications being rapidly implemented in the private sector.

APWA InfoLink, as it is developed with APWA members and IZOIC’s collaborative infrastructure management concept, is intended to be a working tool in managing various public works functions. A specific list of priority applications has yet to be identified, as APWA members will be key players in that process. Some examples of possible applications include rights-of-way management, purchasing/procurement, and auction services-an on-line “eBay” type system for sale/disposition of used equipment.

Members are the critical link in identifying successful technology applications in public works. Your creative ideas, input, and expertise are needed. Through this special project, APWA can serve, as it has since 1938, as a catalyst in bringing the best ideas to the forefront for all members and the benefit of the public at large.