Use of tablets saves printing

Fresno goes mobile to save time, money -- and trees

Nestled in central California, the City of Fresno is one of the most picturesque in the state, and also the largest of California's inland municipalities. Fresno is the Spanish word for ash tree, and the city proudly displays one of its leaves in the center of its flag. For a town like that, especially in the middle of environmentally conscious California, the prospect of printing out $35,000 worth of paper documents each year, only to have them almost immediately shredded, was intolerable. Yet without a sound mobility solution in place, that's what was happening in one city bureau.

The city’s Retirement Systems board members “need to look over agendas and files before a meeting, and much of that information is private," explained Paul Pedron, Fresno’s information security supervisor. "So it would be printed out for them. They could mark it up and use it during the meeting and then everything was immediately shredded. It was costing us $35,000 a year to print out all those forms and then we were shredding them almost as soon as they cooled off."

Considering the poor return, Retirement Systems was the first organization the city targeted for a new mobility management rollout, one that would include city-owned mobile devices and a software backend to support and protect documents. After a six month study, Fresno went with Novell ZENworks Mobile Management for its mobility backbone. ZENworks allowed Fresno to create a platform-neutral backend that would support any type of mobile device with security policies, asset tracking and emergency wiping -- while keeping all of their data stored inhouse.

Novell senior product manager Jason Blackett said ZENworks runs completely within Fresno's own network, so city IT managers are always in control of the data. The software allows for documents that need to be shared to be placed into certain folders that can then be viewed securely by any authorized user on a mobile device.

"It's not about running an app," Blackett said. "ZENworks allows files to be placed into a sandbox so that they can be viewed by users with phones or other mobile devices. Control and ownership over those files is always maintained by the administrators who can set whether or not files can be modified, opened, printed or shared."

That is exactly how Fresno used ZENworks with its Retirement board. The city first purchased Apple iPads for board members, though the solution works with any platform. Instead of printing forms, documents needed for a meeting are placed into a special folder for board members through ZENworks.

"Users can highlight and mark up documents before a meeting, so if they have something they want to bring up to talk about, that information is saved for them," Pedron said. "But as soon as the meeting is over, the confidential files are removed from the folder and can no longer be accessed by the devices. And thankfully, there is no longer a need to print out documents that are almost immediately shredded."

The Retirement System board was just the beginning of mobility expansion for Fresno. With that in place, the city wanted to roll out mobile devices to help other departments improve their efficiency. And because ZENworks is platform neutral, the city is able to test different operating systems and smartphones to find the best one for every situation.

"The city purchased some devices that can be loaned out to different departments for several months as a trial period," Pedron said. "That way they can learn things, like they can't use Java with iOS. Once the perfect device is found, the city can purchase them, deploy them out to the users, and already have security policies in place and ready to go."

Fresno’s Fire Department was the next group to adopt the mobile platform. After participating in the city's device loaner program, it determined Android-based phones would work best as the department  needed access to Google applications. Once selected, it was only a matter of deploying the devices, because ZENworks was already configured and ready.

Some city departments need to use Windows-based devices like tablets and notebooks, especially those that use ActiveX and virtual private networks. Those platforms can also connect to ZENworks, so Fresno can deploy any mobile platform as needed.

In addition to keeping private data secure on its own servers, the platform lets Fresno track all city-owned devices. In the event that a device is lost or stolen, it can also be remotely wiped to make doubly sure that no protected data is ever compromised.

To date, the city has over 250 users in its mobility program. Fresno pays $750 per device for ongoing maintenance and about $30 per seat, plus the cost of the device itself. The city is in the process of collecting information about the savings that it's getting from the program in addition to the $35,000 it's saving on printing from Retirement Services. But Pedron \already sees an uptick in productivity. "Being able to allow field staff to use mobile devices while performing their jobs throughout the city without worrying about signal strength or having to find an access point, and to do it all securely, is invaluable to the City of Fresno," he said.

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