App-sharing plan leads pack

App-sharing plan leads pack

West Brookfield animal control officer Bill Mansfield returned this dog to its owner in 20 minutes after finding its registration data with an app developed and distributed by Worcester IT officials.

Massachusetts city earns IT reputation with popular licensing program

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

The city of Worcester is teaching some old Massachusetts municipalities new tricks.

More than 100 cities and towns have installed the Worcester-developed Dog Licensing Data Management System that the city made available a year ago, said Dennis Arsenault, the city PC applications developer who designed the system for the Office of the City Clerk.

Massachusetts handles licensing and vital statistics maintenance at the local level, City Clerk David Rushford said.

'Anything we do in the software space for the city clerk's office now has the potential of being distributed and being of value to the 350 other cities and towns in the state,' Arsenault said.

The city council last year approved a software sales plan by Rushford and Information Technology Services Department director Paul Covello that so far includes dog licensing, marriage licensing, health and code complaints, police paid-detail scheduling, death records, business permits and contracts management programs.

Dog licensing has been the most popular program so far, Arsenault said.

The state requires municipalities to license dogs annually, and citizens can choose to license other pets, as well. Worcester, which launched the application two years ago, licenses about 4,000 dogs a year.

The application, which runs under Microsoft Windows 9x and NT, has a Visual Basic 4.0 front end and holds data in a Microsoft Access database. It uses Crystal Reports 5.0 from Seagate Software of Scotts Valley, Calif., to create reports.

It divides licensing information into three categories: owner, veterinary and dog data.

Worcester runs the application on a client-server system, storing data in a 200-MHz Pentium PC with 128M of RAM and 1G hard drive.

It is linked to the city's TCP/IP WAN for access by City Clerk, Animal Control Office and Police Department employees.

The clerk's office uses the system to record data and license the animals. Animal control and police officers use it to check owner information about a picked-up animal anytime, even when the clerk's office is closed.

'The vice squad likes to be able to check, before they knock on someone's door, if they're walking into a nest of pit bulls,' Arsenault said.

In the past, dog owners visited the clerk's office every year to renew the pet licenses. This past April, the office used system data to create a mail merge in Microsoft Word and sent out 4,083 renewal letters with return envelopes. Within two weeks, it received 80 percent back, Arsenault said.

Sharing the wealth

Small towns can run the application's database and front end on one PC. Arsenault gave West Brookfield's single animal control officer high marks for creativity'he runs the app on a notebook PC, which he carries around to the several communities he serves.

'Most cities and towns don't have the type of resources or staff that we have in the city of Worcester,' Arsenault said. 'That's why the sharing of this technology among cities and towns has been so successful.'

Worcester, the state's second-largest city, charges each town between $250 and $750 for the software, based on population. Revenue from all software sales goes into a technology account that now holds $30,000, Rushford said.

Both the clerk's office and the IT department field calls of interest. Arsenault helps towns with network installations, and both offices answer the rare tech support question.

The International City/County Management Association honored the Worcester application-sharing program at its conference last October, where it showcased the dog and marriage licensing systems.

Arsenault and Covello credit city manager Thomas Hoover with providing the revenue and resources to support application development.

The app-sharing ventures have unexpectedly positioned Worcester as a technological leader among state municipalities, Arsenault said.


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