Code Inspection Photo App Saves City 1,500 Hours per Year

The technology services department in Independence, Mo., developed an app for code inspection that increased productivity by 20 percent.

by / July 8, 2014
When code inspectors are in the field, the app uses their GPS coordinates to determine which case their photos should be associated with, and the photos are automatically uploaded into the system for easy access later. Independence, Mo., Technology Services Department

Victories in government IT often result from those who know how to integrate new technology into the existing environment without turning everything upside down. Such is the case with a mobile app used by city code inspectors in Independence, Mo.

Using their phones’ GPS capabilities, code inspectors can take photos of properties that are automatically integrated into the city’s legacy system. The city estimates the app has saved more than 1,500 hours of labor in one year of use, simplifying the management of more than 75,000 photos.

Most parts of the inspection process were already automated, but inspectors were wasting a lot of time manually associating pictures they had taken on digital cameras with their cases, explained Technology Services Director Mark Baumann. The health department came to them, he said, and asked if there was anything they could do. It turned out there was, and the app continues to make the city more efficient – inspectors saw a 20 percent increase in the number of inspections completed, year-over-year.

“It was a really complicated, time-consuming process of taking the photos, recording the photos and using them to resolve a case,” Baumann said. Now when inspectors are in the field, the app uses their GPS coordinates to determine which case their photos should be associated with, and the photos are automatically uploaded into the system for easy access later.

The app was developed entirely in-house over four months, Baumann said. The Web-based system uses responsive design and was developed using a .NET back end written in C# and a front end built using HTML5 and JavaScript. The new system cooperates with the agency’s legacy code enforcement system, which resides on an IBM iSeries power system that was developed in Visual Basic. When the inspectors came to them for help, Baumann said, they probably knew that an entire system rebuild was likely out of the question, so they went with the next-best thing, which was a modern app that could play nice with their older technology.

The app has been so successful that it’s now spreading to other government functions. Jason Newkirk, the IT manager who led the app's development, reported that the community development department now also uses the app for dangerous building inspections.

Getting the app to work well was contingent on the work the Technology Services Department did up front with those who would later use the app, Newkirk said. This was only the department's second app, he said, and the team learned a lot of lessons along the way.

One of the most important things they figured out during development was that sometimes the inspectors lose cell service momentarily, so that information was helpful in developing the app, Newkirk said – they had to ensure that the app would continue to function offline if cell service were lost. Similar lessons were only made possible by working closely with the end users at the start of the development cycle, he said.

A similar app was developed for the Department of Assessments in King County, Wash., which saved the county more than $6.1 million.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.