APWA-InfoLink: Detouring around the construction site

Dave Reinke
InfoLink Project Manager
APWA Washington Office

For the past two years, these InfoLink articles in the Reporter have covered some of the exciting new developments on the Internet front, how they might affect APWA members, and how APWA was incorporating some of them into its APWA-InfoLink site. These technologies were being developed by our development partner, IZOIC, under terms of a three-year agreement signed in April 2000. Unfortunately, IZOIC has opted to conclude its agreement with APWA, and many of the potential “deliverables” that have been reported as part of the InfoLink project have not been realized. This turn of events will result in changes to the scope of the project, development timetables, and ultimately the final form of the site itself.

First, it is unfortunate to have to report this change, and the fact that some of the functionality discussed in the past will not be delivered as originally envisioned. At this point, a thorough review of the existing software has taken place to identify usable elements, and a series of meetings have been held to determine strategically the best course of action on the part of APWA. In spite of focusing on member requirements, and soliciting input on features and functions most useful to the public works profession, our project partner was ultimately unsuccessful in bringing these ideas to fruition.

The good news is that the reasons InfoLink was developed in the first place are as valid as ever. From the basic premise of sharing information of mutual interest, to more in-depth collaborative opportunities, and ultimately applications taking advantage of interconnected data sources and professional knowledge bases, the goal of InfoLink has always been to use technology to link members together for their mutual benefit, and that end goal is still vitally important.

So as the project moves forward, much of what has been developed can yet serve as the foundation for an even stronger, more useful site developed internally by APWA. In the time that has elapsed since the first site was launched, for example, many public works departments have become better equipped with computers and Internet access, and a better understanding of the value that technology can bring. More public works departments are utilizing technologies like GIS, asset and workforce management, and web-enabled permitting, and can now share information, experiences, and data. And the Internet technology underlying some of the planned features has likewise evolved, continually providing additional opportunities as we move forward.

The primary reason that InfoLink can still benefit the public works community is because it was, and continues to be, based on the valuable input of APWA members. Member focus groups and other committees spent many hours defining requirements, examining areas of needs, and desired functionality, and even the booths at the annual Congress and Exposition presented the opportunity for valuable feedback from all levels of members and fellow exhibitors.

Just as this input served as the basis for design decisions in the past, it will still serve in helping guide the direction the project takes in the future. If anything, this is even more important now, since APWA directly controls the content and offerings on InfoLink, and will seek to strengthen the bonds between the site and its users. Your involvement, opinions, links, responses (and continued use) are certainly what the “first” InfoLink project in Kansas City was all about, and the “second” nationwide incarnation as well, so make it a point to stay involved. InfoLink was sustained by those who have contributed in the past and who had registered on the site, and will succeed in the future with the addition of those who will become new users in the months and years to come.

The APWA Board of Directors will determine specifically how to continue with InfoLink, based on a report from a committee of APWA members (including some who have been involved with the project from its inception) and input from Technical Committees and past users. The board’s decision will determine how to best utilize the lessons learned from the past, balance available staff resources, and deliver the greatest value to the APWA membership, offering an information-sharing capability worthy of its audience.

APWA’s preliminary plan at this point is to re-engineer the most beneficial parts of InfoLink—the information-rich content, useful links to other public works websites, and a robust search capability—and deliver it as part of a unified offering of electronic resources to our membership. Once this framework is in place, additional components can evolve as they are identified at a more logical pace, not driven by corporate pressures. This methodical development (Smart Growth?) plan will allow immediate user benefit while also allowing flexibility for future innovations.

What does the future hold? That’s one question that no one can answer, but whatever might happen with technology, the thing that really matters is people. As APWA proceeds down a new path with InfoLink, it will do so driven by the desire to harness appropriate technologies to serve all those involved with the many facets of public works. If the course itself is uncharted, the future holds great promise in the ways technology can deliver value to APWA members, and the ways that access to information delivered through the Internet can directly benefit all of the individuals, companies, and communities linked through APWA-InfoLink.