Jacksonville gives data on demand

Thin-client applications improve employee productivity

Jacksonville, Fla., officials are giving city employees secure remote network access through a new enterprise platform that is at the center of a technological transformation taking place in the city.

Dave Lauer, Jacksonville's chief information officer, said technology developed by Citrix Systems, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has helped Jacksonville employees become more efficient and focus more on government services.

Last September, during the hurricane season, the Citrix platform let all city employees remotely access the municipal network through the Web, a capability previously available to only a limited number of people. This makes support for continuity of operations another benefit of using the technology, Lauer said.

Also, the city and Verizon recently deployed the telecommunications company's Evolution-Data Optimized, which is based on a wireless radio broadband data protocol. The city- and countywide implementation provides significantly faster wireless speeds for enabled devices.

Lauer said the city is developing real-time applications for mobile users of the Citrix platform. Building inspectors, for example, have improved their productivity by two to three additional inspections per inspector per day, he said. Currently, a few hundred employees have access to the network through their mobile devices and wireless cards. City officials might extend those capabilities to 600 additional employees.

The technology also has allowed the city's information technology staff to centralize applications, decreasing the time spent configuring workstations. Officials have begun replacing some of the city's 5,000 PCs with thin-client devices.

Jim Katz, the city's manager of technology strategy, said Jacksonville is deploying thin-client devices where they make sense and as PCs reach the end of life. The strategy enables the city to extend the typical three-year life cycle of such devices to four or five years, city officials said.

'There are a handful of places in the city that require full-blown PCs, but for a majority of users who are just doing day-to-day communication'they don't require that full-blown PC, and it's an expense that we can basically do without,' Lauer said.

Officials said distributing applications to thin-client devices is ideal for places such as community centers and libraries whose patrons need only basic computer functionality. Such devices are inexpensive ' typically costing less than $200 each ' and smaller than standard computers. The city is also deploying thin clients at some fire stations for administrative and training purposes.

Bert Wakeley, director of Citrix's State and Local Government division, said that on a Citrix platform, all of an organization's software runs on servers in a secure environment, allowing access to applications. 'There's never any data on residence in the client,' he said. 'For security purposes, it's an ideal situation.'

Wakeley said Jacksonville is ahead of the curve in modernizing its technology, but the biggest resistance Citrix faces is from government officials who are set on doing things the same old way.

Once people understand what Citrix can do, the benefits are clear to them, he said. 'It's getting to that point, which is sometimes the issue,' Wakeley said. 'The thing we continue to run into is Citrix is a well-kept secret.'

Soon after Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton was elected nearly two years ago, the administration and city council recognized that they needed to improve productivity by spending more on IT, Lauer said. Peyton created a $2.2 million technology fund to pay for one-time investments in several strategic initiatives, including acquiring workflow and imaging technologies, eliminating mainframes and buying Citrix technology.

Lauer estimated that the city has spent $1 million to $2 million on implementing Citrix products, including servers, hardware, and initial engineering and design efforts to create a foundational plan. That cost also includes purchasing 3,000 software licenses.

In the coming months, the city's IT department plans to make Citrix available to more employees. 'We've selected a goal of about 1,200 internal users per year,' Lauer said. 'That would mean when you click on your desktop at work, whether it be [Microsoft] Office, e-mail or some kind of one-off application, all that would be delivered via Citrix. We've only rolled out probably about 1,000 internally this year so far.'

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