February 08, 2010
Accela’s Mobile Office Drives GIS in the Field
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Accela's Mobile Office Drives GIS in the Field

By Susan Smith

At the beginning of February Accela announced its Accela Automation 7.0, the newest version of its flagship enterprise application. Brian Wienke, product manager, said the new release's innovations in data management, geospatial mapping, and mobile technology are designed to boost the ability of governments to streamline critical tasks - such as permitting; licensing; code enforcement; community planning and development; asset management; and emergency response - at the same time offering greater self-service capability for citizens via the Web. The company also announced its Accela Mobile Office solution for tablet PCs, which embodies some of the same ease-of-use functionality.

Piggybacking on the trends in government to do more with less and improve transparency of data, Accela Automation 7.0 offers more user control, so that users can limit the access of a map service so that other agencies can see only certain land use layers, for example. The Accela administrator can turn off the layer so others can't see it. On the other hand, the product brings traditional counter services directly to the public.

The democratization of geospatial data is a primary concern with Accela, i.e., how people are accessing Google Maps on cellphones, and want more information than they have had before. Allowing the public to add data to maps is another aspect that is pushing maps forward.

“We want to do give the user as much information as they need,” said Wienke. “You have the mashup, the aerial imagery from Bing Maps, or the Street data from Bing Maps or ESRI and from ArcGIS servers as well, so the county can publish one map service for land use and parcel data. The public works department can have their own ArcGIS server with all their infrastructure data - their streets, lights, signs. You can have various other things displayed on the maps, such as code enforcement cases, work orders, etc. all stuffed into one map viewer.

The drag-and-drop feature is one of the primary usability features of this release. With it the user can select a property next door to a particular parcel, and once the selection tool is hit, it will tell the user what layers he or she has to choose from. The user can select the parcel, hover over it, and drag the parcel over to the map marker. It will ask if he wants to associate the select feature to this permit. If the user is out in the field working on assets, he can select the property on the map and drag it over to the order and drop it in to add to the work order. Mashups and data come from many different sources.

Accela Mobile Office

Accela Mobile Office is a wireless, tablet-based application has been long awaited by those who work in the field doing field inspections for work order management, case management investigations and others. It is fourth generation in the company's line of wireless applications.

GIS is infused into the Accela Mobile Office experience.  This screen shows the touch-enabled interface for field-based workers to manage their daily tasks, including a route on Bing Maps.

The product is designed for the tablet PC as it is the device of choice for most of Accela's mobile users. They are using not only Accela applications but also Microsoft Word and Accel “The folks that make use of this product are probably the biggest challenge to technology - the people working in the field,” said Wienke, referring to the maintenance level worker. The touch screen technology is the equivalent of Silverlight, in this case the client-side version of WPF. Those are compatible functionalities. If anyone wonders who the new Apple iPad is designed for, this is definitely one of its market segments.

Wienke said Accela offers “mapping across the enterprise.” The customer comes to the front counter, and the counter personnel can use the map to do research and analysis and create a new permit or inspection, right from the map. This is all done through a browser through Silverlight. With the same Silverlight control, Accela dropped it into the Windows WPF application called Mobile Office. With the thumbnail map in Office, a user in the field with a GPS device on their computer, could identify the location of the user and other points of interest.

Accela Mobile Office delivers real-time access to maps, work assignments, and historical data. This screen shows search results for water pumps in a specific district.

The GPS can be used via the full map viewer to locate where the user is on the street. The user can make selections of parcels already highlighted, and make a new record, permit, case, etc. The user can also add it to the route, with map control at his fingertips and using a touch screen device.

“The big change between our previous version of Accela Wireless and our new Accela Mobile Office, is more than just renaming and making it look good,” said Wienke. “We want users to map everywhere and we want it to be more role driven as well as we want to be able to show your tasks on the map.”

Job lists include various inspections. The user can go back to the server and do routing automatically. By clicking on the job list, the user is directed to the job list, showing al the jobs that are assigned to that person and where they are located and perform the routing. This routing could be the same one the supervisor or dispatcher set up in the back office, and it comes out to the mobile product and downloads it. Users can also reschedule, reassign and otherwise amend the routing just by dragging and dropping the event to the right time.

If a user sees that another hydrant down the street, for example, has the same problem as the one he's looking at, he can drag and drop that hydrant to the work order he is currently working on and record it.

Bandwidth comes up as a topic repeatedly in discussions of mobile display capability as mobile products are bandwidth dependent. In Accela Mobile Office, Wienke said the WPF handles the display of maps very efficiently. Most customers use air cards.

“Is this map going to render as quickly as it would over the internet in the office? Probably not, but I think because it is so context centric and it gives you just what you need, there's not a lot of panning and zooming that you have to do, the map it presents is the map you need,” Wienke said. “It takes 20 seconds to display that and it only has to do that one time.”

Mobile Office is not internet dependent yet users can use the internet if they're in the right location. While connected to the internet, users can get ArcGIS Server Map Services published through their ArcGIS Server in the office. “We do have the option for users to use maps in the field if they're disconnected because Mobile Office has to work whether you're on or offline, it's not a browser based app,” Wienke explained. “They can go out into the field, if they don't have aircards or wireless connectivity, if they tell us they need mapping in the field without internet connection we have an option for that, we have an app for that. We have ArcGIS Engine ability and what that does is you can download Map packages so the Accela GIS administrator will set up Map packages on the server. All the field worker needs to do is go to the settings page and go to the GIS section. They only have to hit this button for office use, they can get an email or an instant message that shows up in their Mobile Office product that says a new map package is available - download now. They download what they need, so if they lose connection or choose to be offline, they can use ArcGIS Engine and have that same mapping experience with Bing Maps,

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