On the Town

Kissimmee, Fla., plans to put kiosks in places where people need them.

by / January 5, 2005
A bustling community near Orlando, Fla., Kissimmee is one of the fastest growing cities in the state. Kissimmee is in the center of Florida's vacation Mecca, located next to the Walt Disney World Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort.

The city's rising population is approaching 56,000, and like many communities facing rapid growth, Kissimmee must improve productivity and efficiency in community development, and make government services more readily accessible to citizens.

To meet this goal, the city deployed a Web-based system to help streamline the process for city employees and citizens involved with community development projects, and citizens will soon be able to access the system via kiosks strategically sprinkled throughout the city.

Step Right Up
The Development Services Department's extension of self-service functionality through the Internet and public kiosks will reduce the volume of walk-in traffic from 10,000 people per year to a more manageable level. In addition, citizens will be able to perform a wide range of community-development functions online previously provided only through direct contact with a city customer service representative.

The kiosk interface was developed with Macromedia Flash MX 2004 technology, XML and Java. The entire program runs in a single Flash file embedded in an HTML page in true Web application form. A Secure Socket Layer is used to provide high-level security and authentication.

The kiosk solution will allow citizens without Internet access to apply for building permits, check the status of license applications, schedule inspections, leave notes to inspectors and pay fees with credit cards, as well as find answers to common questions about zoning, permits, inspections and licenses.

The planned locations of some kiosks will benefit those who already have Internet access at home.

The concept of buying building supplies after work for a new fence or shed is nothing new, but imagine looking up property information, researching property zoning parameters or obtaining a permit for these items while shopping at a home improvement store.

Kissimmee has all back-end technology in place and hopes to bring government services to practical everyday places. The first kiosk will be placed in City Hall's lobby with a wireless connection to Kissimmee's network to offer Internet connectivity. Citizens will be able to access the kiosk at the start of business each day until 5:00 p.m., during commission meetings and any other time City Hall is open.

The kiosks will save city employees considerable time, and far from eliminating job functions, the kiosk will lead to efficiency gains by reducing repetitive inquiries within the Development Services Department.

Kissimmee also plans to use the new software's Web services architecture to integrate GIS data with city zoning, permits, inspections and license activities. Using a kiosk, homeowners and developers will be able to look up information on zoning, permits, inspections and licenses, and retrieve a photograph snapshot of a parcel with the zoning values pulled directly from a third party GIS system.

The City Hall kiosk will be a single portal to other city services.

This first project is a proof of concept, the success of which will pave the way for future online government services. The city plans to evaluate self-service kiosk access to other departments.

Back-End Work
In late 2003, the Development Services Department replaced its 15-year-old community-development system with an application by Innoprise Software that uses a Java 2 development platform with Web services architecture.

The new software enabled the city to automate creation, issuance and tracking of community-development activities. The system handles the business processes required to support planning, zoning, permitting, land development, building plan review, building inspections, licensing and code enforcement.

Now anyone involved with the community-development process -- city employees, individual homeowners, large developers -- has immediate access to necessary data. This has streamlined the process from start to finish -- automated workflow features track each step of the complex land-management process, from planning and permitting to code enforcement.

Forty people in five departments use the community-development software, which provides cross-functional capabilities that give all parties access to the same data. Instead of opening and sorting through numerous computer screens to find various pieces of information about a particular property, city staff can now quickly access necessary data through one intuitive interface.

Users have a consistent, up-to-date view of the various phases and steps in the land development process, ensuring that all critical data associated with each property or customer is immediately available via the software's Web services architecture.

The information, applications and departments involved with land development are now unified, enhancing coordination among departments, staff productivity and the ability to respond rapidly to citizen requests. Other benefits include a lower cost of operation; hardware and operating system independence; increased scalability; greater flexibility; and the ability to easily add enhancements without paying for costly custom programming.

From a management perspective, the technology's biggest benefits so far are its easy integration with standard Microsoft Office tools, such as Excel and Word, and its ability to quickly generate a wide variety of standard and ad hoc reports with no need for programming help from IT staff.

In addition, mobile workers can now use devices, such as PDAs, that provide them with instant access to necessary information in the field instead of using rugged laptops -- and at one-fourth of the capital cost. Building-permit and occupational-license inspection schedules can be viewed in the field using a PDA, and inspection results and comments can be entered on-site rather than waiting until the next visit to the office.

Information is captured once, efficiently and immediately, and available for any other person or application that needs it.

The Web application also provides access to project information, allowing staff to check on permits or inspections when planning the next workday. Contractors and homeowners can monitor the progress of their building and inspection projects from their home computer via the Internet or using a public kiosk.

In the future, citizens could have access to parks and recreation services, police and fire services, along with the current development services offered by the city today. Upon a successful City Hall kiosk deployment, Kissimmee will begin discussing benefits of placing self-service kiosks in satellite sites throughout the city, such as city parks, grocery stores, government buildings, home improvement stores and post offices.