Back in March, The New York Times reported that, “Under the Bloomberg administration, spending on technology across all city agencies has risen steadily to an estimated $1 billion this year, even as spending in other areas has been trimmed.” Among the agencies that have benefited from the reported “technological revolution” underway in New York is the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and, under it, the Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation.
Currently, 70 public health inspectors are using mobile devices—both Fujitsu Stylistics LT P600s and Acer TravelMate C104s—to conduct inspections. The devices run custom software and print to Pentax PocketJet II printers, which weigh, with a battery, only 1.09 pounds. Once a week the inspectors stop by the office to dock their devices, which synch with an Oracle database, uploading inspection data from the field while downloading the week’s assignments.
“On a lot of the inspections we issue notices of violations, which are like a summons,” says Robert Edman, executive director of the Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation. With the PocketJet printers, the violations are “printed in the field and that information is electronically transmitted to our administrative tribunal. With the use of the handhelds, we want to reduce errors, and it’s a clearer report for the restaurateurs and for the judges.”
Previously, with paper forms, inspectors had to fill out duplicate paperwork—and of course, there was the issue of handwriting and human error. “Before, if an inspector didn’t put an inspection date on their form, the whole violation could be thrown out, dismissed,” says Kathleen Nolan, director of the office of community sanitation. “The software automatically puts in the time and date, and all the information, as far as the [restaurant’s] ownership, is downloaded through [the device], so they can’t fake any of that—it’s all current data from the previous Friday.”
The software also ensures that all of the fields appropriate to the situation are filled in. “The inspection is driven by what’s on site,” says City Research Scientist Muhammad Ghani. “So if the inspector files one violation, the system will prompt him for additional information, depending on what the situation is. So if you have a big restaurant, it’ll ask you a lot of questions, versus a small restaurant, where only a limited amount of food is being served. It’s process-driven. It’s not just a set of questions running on a program.”
As for the financial investment, “The system pays for itself as we proceed,” says Edman. While there were a few hiccups in the intial phase, once the application was rolled out in full, ROI was achieved in a year. And in addition to reduced errors, clearer documents, more easily accessible information and a reduction in file storage space, Edman believes the inspectors are covering more assignments than they did using paper forms. “Going forward,” he says, “we plan to build on this application for other inspection programs.”