August 3, 2012 By Brian Heaton
When citizens access the application, they select which park they are interested in, and then click on the pavilion they wish to reserve. A 360-degree panoramic view appears, giving a preview of the area. A calendar with prior reserved dates, associated amenities and the cost of the reservation also is displayed.
The system is a far cry from what existed previously, according to Todd Alvis, e-services and IT manager with Bexar County’s IT department. In the past, reservations were handled manually in a paper-based system by the city of San Antonio.
Printed reservation forms were then distributed to park foremen so they could keep track of who was using park facilities each day. The current online application now allows park officials to access reservations online.
The new program debuted in October. In the span of just a few months the automation helped reduce costs by saving 20 minutes of staff time per transaction. It’s also generating more money for the county.
“Revenue and reservation numbers reached annual average totals within the first four months using the new online parks reservation system,” Alvis said. “We believe the new system does not only provide financial benefits but much more detailed information to the public, [which] results in more reservations.”
The Bexar County Online Parks Reservation System was built in-house primarily. The county’s eServices and Innovation Technology Division — a part of Bexar County Information Technology — came up with the concept and developed the application. The design was a joint effort between tech staff and the Bexar County Parks Department.
The system took approximately five months to create and totaled approximately 160 hours of staff time. The county’s credit card processor FIS was the only third party involved in the development. The company was selected to perform the payment processing for the parks reservation application.
Two features Alvis said the county is proudest of are the panoramic views of park amenities and the map interface. He recalled that there was a long discussion in the planning process about using a reference map, satellite imagery or a cartographic representation. In the end, developers decided on a combination of all three, so residents could see in detail the green areas, water features, parking lots, trails, roads and adjacent neighborhoods. The result was a virtual tour experience that’s more convenient.
“The 360-degree panoramic views [were] the best and simplest solution to utilize in order to be able to provide the user with an interactive visual perspective of the amenity without having to drive to the park,” Alvis said.
The system has been successful, but Bexar County isn’t sitting on its laurels. Various upgrades to the application are being worked on, Alvis added.
Among the additions will be a new version of the management console that will better enable park managers to analyze reservations, and posting of park rules for each specific location. The county is also working on detailed maps of park infrastructure that will be available in PDF. The database will also be updated so the system runs faster.
The reservation system is currently available on smartphones and tablets, but for now it’s formatted only for standard Web display. Alvis said that the county is discussing making a mobile-friendly iteration of the system. It won’t be exactly the same, however.
Reservations will be able to be made, but because Apple’s iOS platform does not support a 360-degree Flash panorama, that feature will be unavailable. Other iOS compatibility issues would be addressed in subsequent versions of the system.
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