The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s (DBPR) mobile field inspection operation began facing challenges several years ago as its field equipment reached end of service life. The handheld devices inspectors operated to conduct food safety inspections were being discontinued, and the inkjet printers they used for printing out onsite inspection results were not compatible with newer electronic devices.
Confronting the challenge head-on, the Florida agency’s IT team developed and implemented a smart new software application then added Apple iPad tablet computers and Brother PocketJet mobile printers for mobile, end-to-end field solution. Today, just months after deployment, they report that the new mobile solution has done more than lighten the load for inspectors—it has dramatically improved field productivity, facilitated better information flow, and is enabling faster remediation of food safety issues. And of no minor significance is the fact that agents just look and feel more professional.
The DBPR in Tallahassee is one of the largest state-wide agencies responsible for regulating, inspecting, and licensing nearly one million businesses and professionals across 200 categories. The department’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants (H&R) regulates food safety and food handling practices at restaurants, hotels, inns, mobile truck vendors, and other food service venues. Its mission is to protect the health and safety of the public by providing fair regulation, as well as quality and safety inspections based on FDA standards, which must be applied consistently across the entire state.
The agency is also challenged with an ever-growing workload. In one recent fiscal year, its mobile field force of hotel and restaurant inspectors had to provide fast turnaround for a whopping 160,807 inspections across the state.
Technology Paves the Way
Stewart Shapiro, now a DBPR district manager for Broward County, was the “technology knowledge champion” who worked on the H&R Division’s modernization initiative and was part of the IT group that developed the new software application and selected the hardware and printer which made up the complete mobile solution. He has firsthand knowledge of how the day-to-day activities of the mobile inspection field force has an impact, for better or worse, on the overall efficiency and productivity of the agency as a whole—as well as the level of service and value provided to businesses and communities across the state.
Shapiro further explains, “The role of the inspector is to enter the designated sites, perform a thorough inspection, identify existing hygiene problems, and/or food safety violations, and help owners or managers by providing advice on steps they can take to achieve regulatory compliance. In the process, they need to enter inspection information on an electronic device and must also provide a copy of the inspection report as a leave-behind for the food service operator. If they cannot perform these tasks quickly and efficiently, or if outdated technology hinders timely information flow, then our department is not serving our businesses and communities as well as we should be.”
Efficient information flow was one of the major factors driving change. The handheld PDAs previously used to conduct inspections had no email capability, so data collected onsite needed to be downloaded and transmitted later to a centralized site. In addition, the PDAs were outdated and scheduled to be phased out.
The IT team settled on the iPad handheld tablet computer as the device of choice and proceeded to develop a new, multifaceted application that would not only allow inspectors to tour the inspection venue and report data quickly and accurately, but also to transmit the information automatically to the centralized database.
Solving the Printing Dilemma
Technology was also the solution to the agency’s field printing challenges. The name-brand printers previously used were cumbersome and not compatible with the new tablets. This was a major pain-point, according to Shapiro, since inspectors were required to tote the hardware into every place of business on their assigned schedule.
He notes, “Being burdened with heavy, unwieldy equipment made it more difficult for inspectors to convey a professional image and to focus on their primary inspection and advisory tasks. Given these challenges, it was clear that we had to find a field friendly, iOS compatible solution. And that’s what led us to explore the Brother PocketJet direct thermal printers and invest in the initial 350 of these compact mobile printers for our field force.”
The printer model selected by the state of Florida’s H&R Division is the PocketJet 673, which offers full-page, high-speed thermal printing of high-resolution text, graphics, and photos for Apple iPad and iPhone devices. (Brother offers PocketJet models for use with devices running on other major operating systems.) The printers are compact and perform reliably even when operating in extreme heat and cold. They accept a variety of Brother thermal media, including cut-sheet letter or legal-size paper, continuous or perforated roll paper, or fanfold paper. In addition, because the printers employ direct thermal technology, there are no messy inks or toners to deal with.
With the software, hardware, and printer defined, the agency deployed the new mobile inspection solution. Shapiro says the effects have been quite remarkable, both on the inspectors and on the Florida DBPR Hotel & Restaurant Division.
“With email available right from the tablet, there is now better and more immediate communication flow from onsite all across the agency,” he explains. “Inspection information is now more complete and accurate in real-time, resulting in faster reaction time in identifying and remediating food handling hygiene and food safety issues. In addition, faster, more reliable printing of reports and advisories has led to higher productivity on the part of the inspectors, as well as higher levels of customer service and satisfaction.”
Today, inspectors can arrive at each venue and make a more professional impression, carrying only a small case containing the tablet and PocketJet printer. They can focus completely on carrying out the inspection quickly without worrying about equipment setup or reliability, and they can print out high-quality, full-page documents right on the spot to leave behind with each food service operator.
Crist is senior vice president sales and marketing at Brother Mobile Solutions. Reach him at david.crist@ brothermobilesolutions.com. Shapiro is district manager for Broward County Florida DBPR Hotel & Restaurant Division.