Ankeny Launches LAMA for Building and Planning

Ankeny, Iowa has a population of about 50k and it is located just north of Des Moines and east of Saylorville lake.  Ankeny makes up part of the Des Moines greater metropolitan area.  The city was founded in 1875 and much of its infant growth can be attributed to the coal mining boom in Iowa in the early 20th century.  Now, about a century later, Ankeny is once again growing rapidly.  The city’s population has tripled since 1980 and the 2013 census affirmed that it was the fastest growing city in Iowa for the previous year.  Dan Filger, the planning and zoning commissioner for the city, described this trend to the Des Moines Register, “If you look at our comprehensive plan, which goes out to 2035, we are planning on having a population of 90k.”

Naturally as Ankeny’s population has increased, so has its development.  The number of new building permits issued in 2014 rose 27% from 2013 and the total property valuation increased 16%.  To compensate for the increased demand for city services, Ankeny decided to upgrade their municipal software to LAMA Server, a comprehensive city management software suite from the Davenport Group.  LAMA Server combines the latest ERP, GIS, web, and mobile technologies to solve major problems facing cities today.  It was designed by a team with decades of city planning and GIS experience and the product line has been in development since 2005.  As a result, LAMA Server was created to fit seamlessly with municipal processes and not the other way around.  And if a legacy process happens to be extremely unique?  No problem, LAMA Server has the flexibility to adapt to unique problems as well.

Ankeny officials expect the new software platform to significantly increase efficiency.  LAMA Server’s Public Web module is one great example of this improvement.  The Public Web module acts as an interface between the city and the general public.  Citizens can apply and pay for services online, track their current projects, and any publicly available projects in their area.  LAMA Server also contains workflow logic that can adjust reviews and requirements automatically, on the fly, depending on the outcome of previous events (e.g. a hearing or an inspection).  Couple that with an automatic notification and messaging system and it’s impossible for an application to fall through the cracks.  Also, with the LAMA mobile app, inspectors can schedule and process inspections onsite, in real time.

The software isn’t limited to improving efficiency either, it also helps to improve quality and accountability, major focuses of Ankeny.  When the Des Moines Register interviewed Ankeny City Manager David Jones, he said that just because Ankeny is now among the 743 incorporated places in the United States with populations of 50,000 or larger, it won’t change the way the city goes about its carefully crafted business.  According to David, “Numbers are great and growing is important, but it is all about quality growth,” Jones said. “Planned growth. Strategic growth. Our growth is appreciated in our community to varying degrees. I think our growing pains have been fairly standard. You have to stay on top of the infrastructure needs and you have to pay attention to traffic patterns. We know we are poised for what awaits us.”  LAMA Server has several tools that allow municipalities to exceed their development goals and standards.  Most importantly it is integrated with an Arc GIS mapping interface.  Planners use the map interface to quickly evaluate projects in the context of their surrounding area and available GIS data.  LAMA Server is also integrated with Blue Beam for completing comprehensive plan reviews.  And finally, the program contains a robust reporting service that allows officials to maintain a higher level perspective of their path and trajectory.

Ankeny’s remarkable growth has increased the responsibility of the government maintain their development plan despite the increased workload.  Communication Officer Deb Dyer told Iowa Living Magazine, “We did a citizen survey, and the results showed that 94 percent of respondents thought Ankeny was a great place to live, work and raise their families and felt a real sense of community, which is significant when a large portion of the population hasn’t lived here that long.”  By upgrading their software to LAMA Server, Ankeny officials are reassured that they have the tools to manage their city’s growth and maintain the Ankeny’s unique community.

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Web-based and HTTP Solutions

I constantly hear software requirements dictating a web-based application for enterprise public sector applications.  However, I seldom know whether they are demanding the application run in a browser, which is the standard interpretation of web-based application, or whether they are referring to the data transfer protocol that typically binds business applications indirectly to their databases.  I think it is worth exploring the technologies available with HTTP applications since the traditional definition of web-based applications dealing with HTML, CSS, Javascript, etc., are become somewhat blurred with XML markup technologies, such as XBAP and technologies that offer many of the traditional web-based benefits, such as APP-V and RemoteApp.

I worked on the development of all types of applications, including browser-based, desktop, and mobile applications.  Lately, the backbone of all these are typically web services layers, ReST and SOAP, and for the most part run over HTTP with TLS.  SOAP is essentially an XML-RPC, and as such, is not constrained to HTTP.  My usual response to “I need a Web App” is “Okay, why exactly?”  I typically get roughly the same five responses, and usually just the first three:

  1. accessible anywhere
  2. single point of maintenance
  3. no installations
  4. flexible hosting options
  5. platform agnostic (hardware and software)

While these are logical and intelligent requirements, they are in no way confined to a browser, except maybe the last and even that is changing.  In addressing requirement (1), one can build a desktop, mobile, or hybrid application (like XBAP) that runs over HTTP (which is synonymous with accessible anywhere because firewalls don’t tend to block port 80).  Click-once and other attendant-free installations take care of (2) and (3), not to mention server-based deployments, such as Microsoft’s APP-V or RemoteApp.  I would even argue that enterprise business web applications which are publicly exposed require more maintenance, if only from a security standpoint.  The fact that requirement (1) is met practically implies (4) is met also.  And that leaves (5).  While IT systems professional are certainly excited about iOS and Android technology, how many are exited about having to support and maintain them in the scope of their network and systems security operations?  I’ve talked with many and most are apprehensive and guarded, at best.  With Windows 8 (and soon to be 10) providing a nice mobile OS on top of some excellent hardware choices, mobile options for Windows-based systems administrators wanting integrated domain-based security while in the office is getting easier.  Not to mention there are nice free RDP solutions in both the Android and Apple app stores.

Other considerations that I deem important for governments, but which do not receive much attention are:

  1. secure data
  2. ownership and physical possession of data
  3. natural disasters, loss of internet, and disaster recovery

Now the third point cuts both ways.  Obviously, if a disaster strikes your data center you have problems, but that is true of any data center.  Offsite backup is always a good idea and you can bet hosting providers do it.  My main point is that our local area networks are more reliable than our bandwidth and connection from our ISP (for most us IT folks).  A couple other items I think are worth considering is application performance, speed, and integration with other resources on your network, such as Active Directory, file shares, and other 3rd party systems local governments inevitably need to integrate.  But to be fair, most system integrations today leverage web services.

It is not that i do not see a need for web-based applications, but that i see more applications pivoting toward web services.  Whether or not it loads in a browser is more of a platform agnostic requirement than an accessibility requirement.  If you want more information on our product line, including our web-based products, please visit our website.

What are your reasons for a web-based application requirement?

LAMA Android App Release

The Davenport Group released the first version of its ‘LAMA Mobile’ Android app in 2014.  The new app marks a significant addition to the LAMA Software Suite and offers clients many new features and benefits.  The Android app is the Davenport Group’s first app built for mobile devices but it is not actually the company’s first mobile app.  The main product, ‘LAMA Server’, features a mobile mode so it can be run on laptops out in the field and then synchronized later with the server when the user returns to the office.  While this solution provides the mobile user with the full power of the desktop program, the Davenport Group wanted to build a simpler version of the program designed especially for inspectors.  The Android framework is the perfect foundation for the app because it is easy to maintain, available on the widest array of mobile devices, and it integrates the latest mobile technologies.

Since ‘LAMA Mobile’ was built for inspectors, the app’s design revolves around scheduling and completing inspections in an efficient, intuitive way.  Inspectors can schedule and manage their inspections on a calendar.  Then as they complete individual inspections, they can sift through preset checklist items (Sections of code commonly cited for the respective inspection type), add custom items (Voice recognition or keyboard input), search the code database, and take pictures to upload with the inspection.  Once the inspection is complete, users can email or print an inspection report and manually upload the completed data.  Cellphone network dead zones aren’t a problem since the app stores all edits locally.  Users can complete inspections without service and then upload edited data when their cell coverage returns or when they access a WiFi signal.  The app even includes an automatic sync setting that will automatically download newly scheduled inspections and upload edited data nightly.

While completing inspections is the main function of the app, it can also be used to access many other forms of data.  When an inspection is downloaded, its respective permit, code incident, or project is downloaded with it.  There inspectors can access contact information and with one click they can email or call the property owner, contractor, etc.  They can also access any documents and property information associated to the record.  Furthermore, the app includes a search feature so users can search for any record in the system on the fly.  For example, if inspectors see active work that they weren’t aware of when they are out in the field, they can search for their current location and find out if the work is permitted.  The app’s icing on the cake is its map interface for locational data.  It leverages Google’s Navigation API to create an optimal route between inspections for a given day.  The route is then displayed on a Google Map view with directions between each waypoint.  Inspectors can also use the map to view or download data that is located within the current extent of the map.

And because it is an Android application, ‘LAMA Mobile’ is incredibly easy to implement.  The client initially distributes one installation file and the app will automatically update itself when new versions are available.  The app provides options for working with hardware budget restrictions as well.  Android supports a wide range of affordable devices and ‘LAMA Mobile’ was built so that users can share devices.  Each user logs-in using their main LAMA account and the app will save/schedule data relative to the active user.

The City of New Orleans is one of the Davenport Group’s first clients to start using the Android app.  Jennifer Cecil is the director of the New Orleans ‘One Stop for Permits & Licenses’ department and she lead the implementation.  Here is her review of the app:

“The LAMA App allows my inspectors create smart routes for inspections, view violations and permits in their area through an interactive map, and create new violation cases in the field. The disconnected mode option allows inspections to be entered even when we are outside of cellular networks. Because of adjustable text size and easy to use pass/fail buttons, I no longer have pay for maintenance and cellular services on Toughbooks or tablets. We’ve also been able to eliminate cameras – our inspectors are able to take photos on their phones from within the app. If their supervisor needs to see it, inspectors can sync right away and the information and pictures will be available in the office instantly. Because we scan all plans and applications at the office, it’s easy for my inspectors to resolve any disputes about scope of work while in the field by accessing documents through the App.”

‘LAMA Mobile’ for Android is just the beginning of the Davenport Group’s expansion to mobile technologies.  Plans are underway to release versions of the app for the iPhone & Windows Mobile frameworks as well.  These new apps demonstrate the company’s commitment to incorporate new technologies and provide the best value to its customers.

NORA Landworks Final Piece in ‘Fight Against Blight’

On August 22nd, 2013 the New Orleans City Council approved several new ordinances aimed to strengthen the City’s power to control residential and commercial blight. The updates to the City’s Code Enforcement policy was the first step in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to control the growing blight problem. When Landrieu took office in 2010, New Orleans had the most blighted properties of any city in America. After the ordinances were approved, the Mayor stated in a press conference, “These revisions are long overdue and will allow us to increase efficiency and create stronger, more flexible enforcement options for all properties, including substandard living conditions in occupied properties.” The policy changes included heavier fines to encourage large property owners to comply as well as streamlining the demolition process.

While the new ordinances were seen as a large victory for New Orleans, City officials acknowledged that they were only part of the equation to solving New Orleans’ blight problem. Council Member-at-Large Stacy Head said, “While there is more work to be done, this series of ordinances is a comprehensive and welcome first step toward amending the code to provide more reasonable and effective tools to combat blight.” The new ordinances improved the City’s ability to deal with delinquent owners and expropriate neglected properties. Now they needed to improve their ability to sell the properties and attract reinvestment.

To deal with their growing number of assets, New Orleans’ Redevelopment Authority (NORA) decided to utilize the Davenport Group’s Citizen Access product. The same product was already used to build the City’s website One Stop App to enable citizens to access Permitting, Licensing, Planning, and Code Enforcement services. For NORA, LAMA Citizen Access was implemented to provide an interface for citizens to look up information on expropriated properties and express their interest. The new website is titled NORA Landworks and was launched in May of 2014. Through NORA Landworks, the people of New Orleans have many ways to connect with NORA:

  • Search for available properties via map or table view
  • Manage assets
  • Submit expressions of interest on properties
  • Look up detailed property information such as Historic Districts, Zoning, current violations, etc.
  • Check the current status of favorite properties
  • Review newly available properties

When the mayor first took office, the Landrieu Administration set a goal to reduce blight by 10,000 units by 2014. On January 9th, 2014 the administration confirmed that they achieved their goal, through an independent study conducted by University of New Orleans Professor Perter Yaukey, PhD. “We got to work on this community – wide effort and we’re now fighting blight faster here than anywhere else in the country,” Landrieu announced. Now the baton has been passed to NORA to finish what the City started. With the LAMA Citizen Access website NORA is collecting much better data on potential sales. The door is open for New Orleans citizens to reinvest in their city and contribute to the fight against blight. “Our partnership with the City is stronger than ever, and we will continue to work to provide opportunities for our citizens to redevelop and return vacant properties to commerce,” said Jeff Hebert, Executive Director of NORA.