APWA-InfoLink removes the cones, opens for traffic

David Reinke
APWA-InfoLink Project Manager

In this issue of the APWA Reporter you will read about how technology can impact your job. APWA-InfoLink is one of those technologies and, after months of development, the site is now open for traffic.

What does this mean to you? Grab a cup of coffee, grab your mouse, and log onto http://www.apwa-infolink.com. Yes, do it now. Yes, it is different than what you've seen in the past. What you are looking at is the implementation of what we call Version 2.0. But the important thing is not the version number, for the site will continue to evolve and expand; what's important is the value the site brings to you, and what you can contribute to the site. It is essentially an empty structure until it is "populated" by APWA members, which is why it is so important for you to register and enter your links.

The site layout itself is straightforward. When you first enter the site, you see a homepage with a number of different areas: HOME, REGISTER, AGENCY/COMPANY, SEARCH, MAPS, FORUMS, FEATURED SITES and HELP. These can be accessed from the navigation bar on the left of the screen, from the tabs across the top, or links at the very bottom of the screen. The tab bar at the top remains onscreen at all times, allowing you to navigate back and forth quickly between different areas. The navigation bar on the left changes content based on which area you are browsing.

The REGISTER step is the first and initially the most important. When you register, you will receive a return e-mail that will allow you to log in. Once you log in, you will be able to enter your website and links, map your location, and more. The site is organized to allow searching for information by three main ways: by AGENCY/COMPANY, by Subject (the SEARCH tab), or by Location (MAPS). The AGENCY/COMPANY listing is useful for looking for information within a particular organization. Within each listing you will see sixteen separate headings of types of information. These categories allow the classification of vast amounts of data in the form of links, and/or PDF or other computer-formatted files.

In the example of the City of Arlington, Texas, you can see some of the variety of information presented, and how it is categorized. Information on upcoming capital improvement projects can be found under the "Budgets/Capital Improvement" heading, as well as city budgets and summary information. All the other headings contain information pertinent to the public works professional, from permit forms, specifications and ordinances to water and sewer details in AutoCAD(tm) format. It is this type of categorization, when duplicated from sites across the U.S., that provides the real value of APWA-InfoLink to the APWA membership.

If only a topic is known, the SEARCH function will look through all the registered websites and list those that contain the search word or phrase. Matching sites from Arlington, Texas, will be joined by countless other communities. Lastly, the geographic functionality of MAPS allows the user to begin at the national level, and proceed to state, county, or municipal level beyond that. While on-line, a help file specific to each area is available at the top of the left navigation bar if you need assistance.

Let's take the example of Jane Deere, the Assistant Director of Public Works in a small Midwestern city. The Town Council told her they are implementing a new franchise fee ordinance, and have asked her for input on how it will affect the town's Right-of-Way. Where does Jane turn? She knows that other cities and towns have instituted similar ordinances, but how does she find specific information? In this case, she is concerned with the subject itself more than who has the information or where they are located. So she goes to the SEARCH tab, and in the box at the top types "franchise fees." (A search on one of the Internet search engines like Excite or Yahoo! might return hundreds of thousands of hits, ranging from Daylight Donut opportunities to SBA loan approval rates.) The search on APWA-InfoLink will return links to pages from cities like Sacramento, Saco, and Arlington of public works professionals in the same position dealing with the exact same issues, and how they have dealt with them.

Or take the example of a contractor looking for new business. A California contractor can log into APWA-InfoLink, select "Sacramento" from the AGENCY/COMPANY tab, and find four separate links under Information for Contractors: Requests for Bids; Private Development - Permits; Projects in Pre-Design and Design Stage; and Projects Under Construction. From each the contractor can get targeted information in the specific area he is interested in; under Projects in Pre-Design and Design Stage, there is a further categorization between Building Projects and State and Road Projects. Looking at Building Projects will provide some idea of the extent of resources that can exist here.

In this example alone, 19 different projects are listed, with planned square footage, project schedules, and e-mail addresses of the individuals in charge. When similar information is listed from hundreds or thousands of California communities, and then hundreds or thousands of cities, counties, and towns across the nation, there is no limit to the immense potential that exists in all the areas of APWA-InfoLink.

You can now begin to see how powerful this application can be, but now we need your help in realizing this power. With each person who adds a link the site becomes more valuable, until it is leveraging the vast pool of information that will be shared by thousands of individuals, corporations, and communities. The involvement of APWA members is vital, in the original meaning of the word-it is when members provide information that the site becomes alive. Please visit, and try it yourself. Post a link (or better yet multiple links in different categories), look around, and provide feedback. After exploring the site, please forward any questions or comments to dreinke@apwa.net, or 202-408-9541. Your input and involvement is important to the continued development of this site and is greatly appreciated.