Social Services turns to Wi-Fi

Front-line social services staff have been given Xdas to help them share information out of the office

Social workers are using wireless technology to speed up communications on the front line.

Barnet Council's Children and Families Service has rolled out PDAs to 240 social workers, O2 said on Wednesday. This will allow staff to spend more time face-to-face with children and families, according to O2. The value of the contract was undisclosed.

Barnet will use O2 Xda IIs with Intellisync Mobile Suite 6 to deliver wireless email and PIM access to its social workers over a GPRS network. The PDAs also support telephone calls. Synchronisation will be provided by Intellisync, an independent wireless messaging company.

Staff equipped with one of the PDAs should have less need to return to the office to access information and update other staff members, according to O2. However, they will still need to enter information into the client database at the office.

They will use the Xda IIs to store names and addresses, to send and receive emails and to view information about court cases, according to Tony Nakhimoff, divisional manager for Barnet Children and Families service.

Security concerns have also been addressed, according to Nakhimoff. In the event of the theft or loss of a PDA, the device can be locked and have all of its data wiped by Intellisync's systems management.

"Security was a major concern. There is no information more sensitive than the name and address of a vulnerable child," Nakhimoff told ZDNet UK. "That is why there are now two levels of security on the Xda. The first is a password prompt which cuts in after 15 seconds if the PDA is not being used. The second is that if the password is entered incorrectly three times the user is locked out and the information on the PDA is wiped."

Barnet is also developing their staff security system. "Our staff have to operate in critical, potentially very dangerous situations," said Nakhimoff. Barnet is engaged in ongoing development with Trackerphone in order to be able to locate their staff, Nakhimoff said.

There is also a pilot alert scheme running with 15 social workers. "Fifteen Xdas have been reconfigured to bring up a red alert button if prompted, which sends a text and triggers an alarm to open a one-way phone call to up to five people. They can then decide on an appropriate response," Nakhimoff added.

Barnet are one of the first social care services in the country to use wireless email and PIM. "Xda IIs offer a wireless alternative [to a purely desktop-based system] with an intuitive device and legible screen, perfect for a service that has had little exposure to computers," said Helen Wylde, head of corporate marketing at O2, in a statement.

"It's a whole different world. Two years ago we'd had very little exposure to technology. Information sharing is part of a new culture," said Nakhimoff. "Our staff view the Xda like a mobile phone — it has a much more personal feel."