Rock Beats

Virtual reality: iPads beginning to appear around the City

Park Ranger Reshard Durdley uses an iPad to help a visitor to Old Settlers Park
Park ranger Reshard Durdley uses an iPad to help a visitor to Old Settlers Park

The City’s IT department recently started partnering with departments to offer iPads to select City employees as part of its virtual desktop project. Using a virtual desktop setup, employees can run Windows 7 on an iPad that they can take out in the field. The IT department itself has moved to virtual desktops with iPads and they’ve been issued to fire inspectors and park rangers.

Making it happen
“We started the iPad program largely because of demand,” says Heath Douglas, information technology operations officer. “Employees would identify good uses for them.”

What makes the program feasible, however, is IT’s virtual desktop project. With a virtual desktop, an iPad can run Windows 7 so employees can have access their full desktop on the iPad.

“You can access Outlook and all Windows programs,” says Heath. “That really took the iPad from a gadget to a useful device for us.”

Filling a need
The most significant users of the iPad program have been fire inspectors for the Fire Department. With the Windows 7 app, fire inspectors have access to the full package of their fire inspection software, Firehouse, out in the field.

“They had no capability to do that before,” says Heath. “Now they can do everything they need out in the field. They can enter the data there instead of having to come back to the office. They can take pictures or even movies to document their findings. They can even generate a fax of the inspection for the customer. It has drastically improved their efficiency. They can leave the inspection and be done.”

All of this functionality was made available with no additional proprietary software costs.

“That has been huge. The City didn’t have to buy additional modules for our systems and for Firehouse, which could cost around $25,000 each,” says Heath.

The IT department has also moved to the virtual desktop/iPad combination for its staff.

“We are doing everything on it,” says Heath. “We are the heaviest user of Windows 7 on iPads. We’re managing the network, responding to support calls, monitoring the help desk. Staff can respond from wherever they are.”

The two park rangers in the Parks and Recreation Department have also been issued iPads for the field.

“The park rangers are out and about in Old Settlers Park and the iPad has changed the way they do business in the field,” says Heath. “They can use their tracking database or simply pull up a map to give residents directions.”

Virtual environment
Virtual desktops are going to become more and more common around the City. IT has purchased the infrastructure for 300 more virtual desktops going forward. The virtual environment is not only useful for running on an iPad but also allows employees to easily work from home or a laptop.

“With the virtual desktop, you can leave your computer at work, go home and login and pick up right where you left off,” says Heath. “It works on PCs or Macs. Now people can work in a common workspace anywhere. It’s also much easier for IT staff to administrate.”

Virtual desktops have helped IT staff in managing kiosk computers that are available in several departments for employees who haven’t been issued a desktop or laptop computer of their own.

“The kiosks used to have old desktops that were slow and always having problems,” says Heath. “We’ve solved a lot of terminal woes with the virtual desktops. They’ve been great.”

As more employees move to the virtual environment, Heath hopes that they see the advantages of the transition.

“We want to give people the tools they need as these options become more viable,” says Heath.