Social workers are increasingly using Wi-Fi-enabled handhelds and the BlackBerry is proving an increasingly popular choice. But one council has turned its back on the Research in Motion device on the grounds that is not "future-proof", it emerged on Wednesday.
Worcestershire's Social Services has rolled out PDAs to its workers, but decided to use Microsoft Pocket PC software because of "interoperability issues".
"We wanted to future-proof our devices. BlackBerry didn't offer the flexibility we required across our systems. We are thinking of a Microsoft future," said Gareth Hart, project manager at Worcestershire County Council.
"Microsoft software and Handheld PCs can provide the service to gather information from our office-based systems and present it on a remote PDA screen," Hart said. Worcestershire County Council use Microsoft Outlook for email, he added.
Research In Motion (RIM), the company that produces the BlackBerry, responded by saying it was highly interoperable.
"BlackBerry is used by government organisations all over the UK, including many local governments. One of the main reasons that they choose BlackBerry is the high level of interoperability with IT systems because we support Microsoft, Novell and Lotus email environments as well as other organisational data systems including SAP, Siebel, Oracle and many custom-built in-house applications," RIM said in a statement.
Worcestershire Social Services senior management, Childrens Services, and Adult Services currently use around 140 O2 XDA IIs, with "more in the pipeline". All the service agreements run for 12 months at a time for both the mobile devices and the software licences.
The PDAs will use Intellisync's Mobile Suite 6 delivered over GPRS, rather than 3G. "We decided to use GPRS because Worcestershire is a rural county. 3G coverage was not an option, as it only covered a very small area," said Hart.
Senior social services managers will use the PDAs to communicate decisions about residents and users. "Important decisions like taking children into care can be made more immediately. When decisions are needed, emergency situations can be dealt with then and there," said Hart.
Security concerns have also been addressed, according to Hart. In the event of the theft or loss of a PDA, the device can be locked remotely and have all of its data wiped by Intellisync's systems management. Messages are encrypted, and the PDA locks itself after "10 to 15 minutes of inactivity", Hart said.
Unlike Barnet Borough Council, there is no "alert button" facility on the PDAs, although Worcestershire are planning a review in 2006 concerning social workers working alone.
The deal between O2, Intellisync, and Worcestershire County Council was brokered by Handheld PCs, the council said.