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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Red tape cut by 'mobile' councils
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff

O2's Xda
Devices such as the Xda are being issued to public sector workers
The public sector is more advanced in adopting mobile technologies than other industries, mobile firm O2 has found.

If you call a plumber in south London, he may well have a mobile handset on his belt with his traditional tools.

If you cause unacceptable noise in Westminster, then the information collected on you is likely to be sent via a wireless network.

Local councils say they see the technology as a way to improve services and cut red tape, the survey said.

This will be comforting to a government that is more often criticised than praised for its efforts to introduce hi-tech projects.

Saving time

According to the O2 survey, seven out of 10 public sector organisations are rolling out mobile computing technology, with four in 10 considering running smartphone projects.

The London Borough of Lewisham has found maintaining its 30,000 tenanted homes far easier since it gave its workforce of plumbers, joiners and other maintenance staff mobile devices.

One hundred and twenty XDA handsets have been distributed to staff, cutting down on their previous need to call into the depot once a day and reducing the amount of paperwork they do.

Employees simply turn on their XDA at the start of the day to receive details of the jobs that need to be done.

They send updates on completion of jobs, along with an electronic signature from customers.

Combating vandalism

Doctor talking to a patient
The NHS has got closer to patients with SMS

The council estimates that it will make savings of 60,000 as a result of introducing the mobile technology.

In Westminster, Street Environmental Managers have been given another weapon in their ongoing fight against noise, litter and graffiti in the borough.

Officers can now access the council's core database from a web browser on their handheld computers.

Out and about they can report back on problems with waste collection, noise and vandalism in a borough which swells to 1m people on a normal working day.

Previously the problems had to be recorded on paper and taken back to the office to be analysed.

"We are convinced that mobile data applications such as this will have significant take-up within the public and private sector," said Andrew Duff, ESRI technical director who works on the Westminster project.

"In the case of local authorities, the potential to improve public services and access to information is huge and must be to everyone's advantage," he added.

Waiting for a bus

Mobile technology has proved a surprising success story for the public sector in its bid to make services available electronically.

The NHS has been saving time and money by using a simple SMS appointment reminder sent to patients' mobile phones.

In Sussex the police have been using SMS alerts to inform people when a child goes missing.

And in Leicestershire mobile phone users can send a text message containing a six-digit code unique to their bus stop to a local bus company.

Within 30 seconds a text message is sent back giving the location of the bus.

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