Council speeds information access with rugged devices

At roughly double the price of a standard laptop, Jason Simons, information services manager at Wanganui District Council says the cost of the Toughpads is negligible to the value they add to the organisation.

The Wanganui District Council invested in a set of Panasonic Toughpads late last year, and their impact has been “transformational” on the organisation.

“We’d been waiting for a Windows 8 rugged tablet and now we have a device where the hardware is matched by the operating system. User experience is key and this package delivers,” says Jason Simons, information services manager at Wanganui District Council.

Simons notes that a district council conducts a range of outdoors activities through its field staff. “Providing field engineers with the information they need to do their jobs has been a driver for the Council for the past five years. In the past, that information, whatever it was, was paper-based. That meant it was frequently out of date, difficult to read and a constant hassle when working collaboratively to know who had the most recent version,” he says.

“Laptops aren’t really ideal for field work as you need a flat surface, you need to start the machine and log on; you’d need 10 to 15 minutes before you can actually be productive.”

Having decided on tablets as their choice, the team at the council deployed a set of devices initially and found them wanting.

“These devices were slow, had a very poor battery life and problems with overheating. They were rugged, though, and established the use-case very well,” says Simons.

With another department in the Council using Toughbook laptops, Simons started looking into Panasonic’s rugged technology offerings.

“Panasonic has the top name in the market for rugged devices. We tested extensively, across the Android and Windows devices, before settling on the Toughpad FZ-G1,” he says.

At roughly double the price of a standard laptop, he says the cost of the Toughpads is negligible to the value they add to the organisation. “The acquisition cost isn’t at all high. For example, an iPad is a great consumer device, but it’s not suitable for the field. When you’re out working on sites, you need something that can take a knock and perform. With the Toughpad FZ-G1, we have a machine which has a fast processor, RAM, all the Windows features. It is, in effect, a complete desktop that you can carry into the field.”

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The initial deployment of the FZ-G1s was targeted at field engineers, who use the devices to access a cloud-based geographical information system (GIS). “In many instances, these users are looking at assets which are buried under their feet. When contractors are doing work, they can access the GIS system while peering into excavations and update the information contained on the system right at the minute.”

“Councils have billions of dollars of assets underground. Management of these assets is critical – and it is not often you get to inspect them, so every opportunity you get, you want to maximize.”

When the engineers are back at their desks, the FZ-G1 goes into its docking station and operates as a standard desktop.

“The availability of devices like the Toughpads means we are able to accurately match IT equipment to how people and processes work. Our most valuable resource is people, and to limit their capabilities with poor equipment is not good management. With the FZ-G1, the result is greater efficiency, improved convenience and computing that meet the needs of the business,” Simons adds.

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“Staff members love their Toughpads, and wouldn’t be without them. This package delivers,” he concludes.

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