A year ago, the Department of Public Works in Waterford, Mich., piloted a wireless/terminal-server solution to deliver geographic information and related systems into the field where employees need them. Now the township plans to deploy its own wireless network, which will be used to support the Public Works Department's solution and other Waterford agencies.

Successful GIS is designed for enterprisewide deployment -- not hoarding by a select few in an organization. Incorporating GIS into daily workflow, however, involves continual challenges, including data maintenance and dissemination.

With today's wireless options, now is the time to seriously consider wireless alternatives. Users can access data live from a server with solid performance from miles away, on the road or in the field. They can access and modify data in real time without maintaining or updating a stand-alone field device.

In other words, there's no need to replicate -- just dial in and disseminate.

"The wireless solution, when used in conjunction with a terminal server solution, such as Citrix, is attractive because it works in both the office and field -- you don't need a different set of tools to work on specialized local data sets," said Eric Hrnicek, GIS design supervisor for Woolpert, a civil engineering and IT consulting firm in Dayton, Ohio. "The field worker can grab a laptop and go. The system administrator only needs to upgrade the terminal server when vendors release new products and upgrades."

But the solution isn't perfect -- there are security issues, and workers aren't always in signal range.

First Steps

The first wireless users in Waterford's pilot were field personnel who needed access to the township's GIS and computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).

The pilot's primary objective was determining the best way to give field personnel real-time access to the GIS and associated documentation -- including large engineering drawings -- without loading big files onto field devices, because they would need continuous updating. Personnel devised a method allowing field devices to integrate as seamlessly as possible -- which meant no special software on the devices.

In this case, a solution using Citrix solved the problem because only a wireless connection -- or remote connection via the Internet -- gave field users a live link to the GIS and any published applications at the office.

After fixing compatibility kinks, workers used Sprint PCS Connection Cards and a one-year service subscription to retrieve and record data related to infrastructure, issue and complete work orders, and attach digital photos of infrastructures in need of service in real time via the Internet.

The Citrix-based solution, including server and licenses, cost $20,000.

Plan, Organizational Issues

Knowing how they planned to apply wireless technology helped staff purchase the right hardware, software and wireless networks.

Hrnicek recommends a substantial server and enough middleware software licenses to support a large sample of the user population. "Seriously consider floating licensing for GIS software where applicable [AutoDesk and ESRI support this] to capitalize on concurrent use cost savings over fixed-seat licensing," he said.

Relational database management systems should be second nature before diving into this solution. Organizations should switch from file sharing to Oracle or SQL Server if they haven't already done so, he said.

Investigating how wireless will impact the organization is also important at this stage -- or at least before full implementation. Some issues to consider include workflow processes, culture, education, politics, budgets, and lack of standards and data inconsistencies.

Platforms

Waterford uses various mobile platforms depending on the task, including HP iPAQ PDAs, Fujitsu rugged tablet PCs and Dell notebooks. Experience shows that wireless modems most easily adapt to laptop platforms because the technology is the most developed, and

Terry Biederman  |  Contributing Writer