Gov apps get boost with cloud-based data publishing tool

A Florida health agency and a Texas-based Community College are both utilizing a simple and cost effective cloud-based solution to help them expand services, increase performance and better serve their constituents. Opening access to information, while reducing response time and personnel overhead, sits at the core of both their strategies.

The Florida Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health (EPH) is a vast organization, encompassing five bureaus that include Community Environmental Health, Medicine, Onsite Sewage, Radiation Control and Water Programs. EPH regulates 70 percent of Florida’s drinking water, monitors more than 300 beach sites and handles 5,700 telephone calls per year. This leads to a tremendous amount of field reports, service calls, inquiries, and time spent organizing and making information available to the public. Helping citizens navigate the process used to be a daunting task, says Eric Montgomery, graphic and Web designer for EPH.

“We have a lot of data coming in from different sources,” he told CivSource in an interview. “We have five bureaus that deal with five different areas, each with a person who was designated to answer requests.”

But for the last year or so, those staff members have moved on to other projects because EPH launched a portal meant to help citizens perform searches and execute queries about everything from septic tank contractors to beach samples and body piercing facilities.

“All this information is accessible to the public, it always has been, but it hasn’t been readily accessible,” Mr. Montgomery said. “Usually, [concerned citizens or journalists] would have to contact staff who would then have to contact those who produced the reports and then send a digital file or paper copy. It was an involved process to access the data.”

The portal uses a cloud-based solution by Caspio that allows EPH to simply embed JavaScript into their Webpages. The Caspio Bridge platform allows users to interface with application wizards – a step-by-step walk-through that helps people creating Web forms or complex applications – rather than spending time and money on developers and coders to create web forms and online database applications from scratch.

The Florida solution allows users to sort data by county, city, address and date, integrating search results from the last 30 days onto Google Maps. A full listing of results can also be downloaded into an XML data file.

“We don’t worry about server upgrades or maintaining a SQL server – we build through Caspio and embed the script into the Web server and it makes things much easier,” according to. Mr. Montgomery. “Non-tech staff could work with Caspio to get data posted to the web easily. You can also customize the JavaScript and enhance it, if you want to get more technical.”

Caspio is also the only platform-as-a-service provider with built-in Section 508 compliance to create Web apps in minutes that meet the highest standards of web accessibility, says David A. Milliron, VP of Government Services at Caspio.

“Florida is one of our clients that really maximize the power of the Caspio platform,” Mr. Milliron said. “They have really embraced, and seen the value in, being transparent by publishing public health data online.”

Another user of Caspio solutions is Houston Community College. HCC has six satellite locations across Houston, so finding that accounting or English class on the campus nearest you could be a daunting task. About a year ago, Joseph Conway, HCC’s Print and Electronic Media Director, began using Caspio to make class schedule searches easier.

“We wanted to display a class schedule without directing [students] through a maze of information,” Mr. Conway said. ”We have classes for credit, non-credit and distance education,” he continued.

And like many community colleges, HCC serves a wide range of ages, skill sets and career paths, so the solution had to be intuitive. “The goal was to give people the ability to kick the tires without having to do too much digging,” he said.

HCC has utilized Caspio for a number of internal and external forms and applications, Conway said, including Student Registration for HCC’s Northwest College and an iPhone application that allows mobile users to search for recent graduates, in addition to the class schedule search functionality. Their latest project incorporates a public-facing map mashup with an ability to conduct marketing lead generation on the back-end for a job training campaign.

HCC Partners for Jobs is a website designed to highlight five “job training fests” around the city. The events are designed to help put HCC and prospective HCC students in touch with companies and firms in the region to understand what kinds of skills and education is needed to be hired. The Google Map mashup draws the eyes’ attention, but there’s also a job training contact form. Although it looks simple, Mr. Conway said the contact form goes beyond a simple web form. “If we do it right, we’ll be able to track leads and compare those we get to sign up on the website with registration data,” he said.

Similar to the Florida use of Caspio, the HCC applications were fast and easy to launch. “Because it’s web-based, it’s easy to get from point A to point B without a developer – it’s a key for us.”

Most government users will also be impressed with the solution’s price point, Mr. Milliron is betting. Starting at $40 per month, with customized pricing packages available, Caspio utilizes a true cloud-based, pay-as-you-use approach in serving the government market, he said.

“The bottom line about Caspio is that we offer security, reliability, and the power of use.”

Join CivSource Editor & Publisher Jeffery Smith and Caspio’s VP of Government Services, David A. Milliron, during an upcoming webinar to learn how the latest cloud-based technologies are enabling state and local agencies to publish databases and deploy interactive web applications on their websites without programming. Register for the webinar here to be held Thu, Aug 19, 2010 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM PDT (2PM – 3PM EST).