Doubters inspect Kiva

A permit-management company has given itself a lofty goal: Convincing municipal building inspectors that technology can help them

A permit-management company has given itself a lofty goal: Convincing municipal building inspectors that technology can help them.

According to Richard Morrey, co-founder and president of Salt Lake City-based Kiva (www.kiva.com), inspectors are not only unaccustomed to technology, they have little patience for it.

"Paper and pencil is their most preferred technology," he said.

Kiva has introduced handheld and wireless permit and inspection systems, which include software, hardware and communications services, to nearly two dozen municipalities across the nation.

In part, use has been spurred by the company's partnership last September with Hewlett-Packard Co.

Kiva offers various computing devices, such as Palm Inc. products and Sony Electronics Inc. Vaio notebooks, depending on customer preferences. But company officials said when the users tested various computing products for nearly a year, most preferred HP's Jornada devices running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE operating system. "We needed a supplier for hardware, but it also went beyond the Jornada," said Paul Deshler, Kiva's access technologies director. "It is a full-cycle [partnership] from the input devices to the servers to the output devices. That was one of the reasons we went with HP."

HP's "mentorship" program, Deshler said, helped the company with marketing and financing solutions. Before, municipalities had to buy the hardware on their own and purchase software from Kiva. Now, he said the hardware, software and communications services are bundled into one package as an option.

"To HP's credit, we approached other hardware vendors, but they didn't catch the vision," said Marcus Walton, Kiva's strategic relations director.

Cathy Martin, national business manager for HP's state, local and education divisions, said Kiva fit into HP's desire to combine electronic services with always-on infrastructure and Internet appliances. She said Kiva's technology could be leveraged not only to building inspectors but also to the building contracting community.

"As these appliances get smaller and more affordable, and technology becomes more robust, the applications become more numerous," Martin said.

Kiva's system is designed to help building departments increase productivity, streamline operations, reduce paperwork and improve communications, company representatives said.

Inspectors on assignment can call up site information that is downloaded on their portable devices or remotely access their databases. Kiva uses Sierra Wireless Inc. and Novatel Wireless Inc.'s Minstrel cellular digital packet data modems. Information entered on the browser-based system includes the type of inspection, address, schedule dates and comments.

HP's Jornada devices are available as a personal digital assistant or as a larger "clam top" device, which contains a small keyboard. Both are available with color screens. Users can type comments into the devices or "write" with the PDA, which has an intuitive character-recognition program, Deshler said. The devices also can be tied into a mobile HP printer that enables inspectors to issue correction notices and inspection results on the spot.

The city of Glendale, Calif., which has a building department with a staff of 53 — about a dozen of whom are inspectors — has been using Kiva's wireless system for about a year.

Neville Pereira, a city civil engineer, said Kiva's system has combined disparate departments and agencies into a single information database. Not only have inspectors used the system to call up cases, but the city attorney also has used it to track cases being prosecuted for noncompliance, he said. Getting inspectors to use technology takes some time, Pereira said, but he added that they are beginning to understand the benefits of technology. In the past, inspectors used to come to the office to pick up their assignments. Using the wireless devices, they can download their assignments on their devices and go into the field directly from their homes, he said.

"It's instantly available in the database for whomever," he said. "Where you see the benefits of the Kiva system is when you retrieve the information, [and] you don't have to go through the file cabinets."

The system has even allowed inspectors to conduct a couple dozen spot inspections while on their routes, he said.

Kiva is beginning to offer itself as an application service provider — where for a flat monthly fee, it will host and manage inspection and permit systems around-the-clock for municipalities. It is also pursuing the federal market and developing virtual private networks for larger municipalities to run their applications via the Internet.

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