Australian State Government of Queensland Partners with Technology Firm to Create a Mobile App to Report Crocodile Sightings
From sparkling blue oceans to scenic islands and rain forest, the northern Australian state of Queensland has an array of natural habitats. They are home to plants, mammals, and reptiles that are found nowhere else in the world.
Develop an up-to-date solution for reporting crocodile sightings across Queensland
ArcGIS AppStudio, ArcGIS Survey123
QWildlife, a mobile application designed to enable the public to report crocodile sightings and help park rangers efficiently respond to reports
One animal native to this region is the saltwater crocodile. Also known as estuarine crocodiles or "salties," these animals are the largest crocodile species in the world. An attack from this predator may cause serious injuries or prove fatal, so the government in Queensland stepped in to find a new way to help keep residents safe.
The Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science—responsible for national park management and wildlife conservation—initially set up a toll-free number for people to report crocodile sightings. However, the phone-based system required a series of emails to route reports to decision-making personnel and for field staff to manage the sightings. This caused delays in handling sightings and gave no feedback to the members of the public who took the time to report crocodile sightings.
In search of a more efficient solution, the Queensland Government asked GP One Consulting to help staff develop an app for smartphones and tablets to better manage reports of crocodile sightings. GP One Consulting is a software development services business based in Townsville, Queensland, Australia—the heart of "Croc Country." The company focuses on delivering targeted spatial web and native mobile applications.
The company developed a digital app that has made it much easier for residents and tourists to report saltwater crocodile sightings and for rangers to respond quickly, ultimately improving decision-making to conserve this unique species and promote public safety in Croc Country.
The Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science is responsible for educating the public on how to remain safe when a crocodile is spotted. The department also superintends overall crocodile management, which includes making decisions like whether to remove animals or to leave them in the sighting area. The telephone system for reporting crocodile sightings is part of the QWildlife platform, a series of solutions for wildlife management.
With the telephone system, a user would call a 1-300 telephone number to report a crocodile sighting. Next, a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger would complete a rapid assessment, evaluate the report, and ensure that it was complete. Then, the sighting report would get passed on to the appropriate staff member. Each part of the workflow could potentially be managed by a different person. While the system was effective overall, this process led to delays in processing reports and responding to sightings.
Lindsay Delzoppo, director of northern wildlife operations in the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science, says, "We just found that the 'phone us and press a button' system didn't cut it in today's market. Younger people wouldn't use it because it's just too old-fashioned and frustrating to use. And that's why we started talking to Gareck [Packer of GP One Consulting]."
The Queensland Government approached GP One Consulting, following a successful bid, to develop a solution to streamline handling crocodile sighting reports in order to improve the safety of tourists and residents as well as to make decision-making more efficient. The government specifically wanted GP One Consulting to create an app that was requested by Deputy Premier Steven Miles, formerly the Queensland environment minister. Miles wanted a solution that would work on smartphones and tablets.
In partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, Mines, and Energy, Delzoppo began working on a budget for the project and a go-to-market strategy.
"We aim to do as best we can in terms of how we manage crocodiles and how we manage communications to people. [We wanted to] provide a better service to our clients but also [needed to] have . . . the information provided in a spatial context for our staff and to help me to make smart decisions quickly," says Delzoppo.
Gareck Packer, director and solutions manager at GP One Consulting, and his team began their search for the best solution to develop the new app. One of the conditions of the go-to-market strategy was that the app needed to be built using Esri technology. Packer says he and his team are huge ambassadors of the Esri product suite, so they opted to use an Esri app they had been using for several years: ArcGIS AppStudio.
AppStudio gives users the ability to build geo-enabled, cross-platform native apps from a single code base. Packer says the team chose the low-code AppStudio because it offers significant benefits in terms of production, and it makes apps easily available on multiple platforms. In tandem with AppStudio, the team used ArcGIS Survey123 to manage content. ArcGIS Survey123 is a formcentric app used to create and distribute surveys and forms.
"As a business, we've been using AppStudio for quite some time, and we chose it because we could get something out very quickly. The app also leverages Survey123, so it fit in terms of a best practice, cross-platform solution," says Packer. "The Survey123 template that was provided by Esri allowed us to put a lot out without us doing too much initial development or too much customization."
He adds, "Esri provided the templates for us to hit the ground running. It enabled us to really fly . . . very quickly."
Development of the app was rapid, as there were minimal customizations to the original template. Modifications were made to include educational content, and changes to the user interface were completed to reduce the number of clicks and improve the overall user experience, says Packer. The GP One Consulting team involved the rangers who would ultimately use the new QWildlife app in the design process. This, Packer says, made for a "very collaborative project."
"Another key point to this solution is that the QWildlife iOS and Android app is a window to a much larger ArcGIS Enterprise [software]-based platform," says Packer. "The public use the AppStudio [technology]-built app to log crocodile sightings, which in turn pushes the data to the foundation ArcGIS Enterprise platform. From there, park rangers leverage a range of web-based toolsets to manage and monitor each sighting."
"The rangers drove the design process and they got to see exactly what was happening during the development process," says Packer. "It's been a massive success because the guys on the ground that will be using the system were taken on the full journey. The approach worked extremely well."
The QWildlife app is designed to enable the public to input sighting reports of crocodiles, and it also provides education on how to behave in crocodile-infested areas. The app gives details on reported crocodile sightings from the last 30 days, and this is provided through an embedded map. Users can see exactly where the crocodiles have been reported and where there are "problem crocodiles" being targeted for removal. Packer explains that the various points on the map are where people are encroaching on the crocodile's territory.
"This information is not just about public safety. It's also a fundamental objective for the department [to conserve] crocodiles and the wildlife. If they can inform the people of how to act and behave, then it's less likely that they have to do something drastic," says Packer.
On-duty rangers, or field operators, receive text messages and emails in the field once a member of the public has submitted a sighting report. These notifications prompt rangers to access the system, fill out what they need to, and pass the report on accordingly. This helps them ensure that the workflow gets carried through, from receiving the report of a sighting to getting it to the decision-makers, so that preventative actions can occur without delays.
The iOS and Android versions of the QWildlife app have been in use for more than six months, and the public and rangers alike are pleased with the streamlined reporting and management of sightings. Members of the general public can still call the 1-300 number if they haven't downloaded the app, but the new app adds a dimension and makes it accessible to a much larger demographic.
The use of AppStudio allowed the GP One Consulting team to quickly deliver an efficient app and easily make it available to the public. Packer says he has been a personal champion of AppStudio since 2015, when he developed an app for an Esri challenge, which he subsequently won.
"We don't have to have a different developer for different platforms. We can just do it once and distribute it to many platforms," says Packer. "As [developers], we love it. I think all of us . . . just get it."
The app built with AppStudio has improved how the public reports sightings to the Department of Environment and Science and, subsequently, how the department reports back to the users. Delzoppo says sighting reports are made and received by rangers quickly with the new digital system, and through the app, users will be kept informed on how the department is dealing with the animal.
"Previously, we only had the 1-300 number—pressing button 1, button 9, talking to someone, and they never heard anything about it again. They had no indication that we were even interested in what they had sent us. They got no feedback," says Delzoppo.
Now, once a sighting report has been passed on, it will pop up on the map for the user to see, and they can check the status of the report. Notifications are also available to members of the public if they subscribe to know when a crocodile is sighted in their area.
"The app is an engagement piece for those people that are proactively being part of that reporting," says Packer. "Users can get something back in return. And they feel good about themselves and may be more willing to engage later."
Delzoppo adds, "People are very pleased that we recognized their sighting and are dealing with it."
In addition to easier reporting, the back-end process for rangers and the Department of Environment and Science is now much more streamlined. Packer says that with the phone system, there was a lot of repetition in business management processes due to handling user phone calls, routing requests, and completing forms. The app has now saved a great deal of time when processing each sighting report.
"We haven't done the math yet, but I'm sure that the efficiency and the cost-saving will be there in terms of us being able to deal with an increasing number of sighting reports more efficiently and effectively," says Delzoppo.
Not only users are pleased with the app—the feedback from partner organizations of the department has been equally positive. Delzoppo explains that there are 40 local governments in Queensland that can directly benefit from this solution, and now his team can let the councilors in each local government know what's happening in their parks. This allows them to better inform their constituents.
Another partner organization and a key client of the department is surf lifesavers, who manage swimming on Australian beaches. The fast reporting with the app has allowed the department to alert surf lifesavers of any crocodile sightings in the area to help keep swimmers safe in the water.
Delzoppo says the department has big plans for the QWildlife app, including using it to manage sightings of other interesting wildlife like koalas and cassowaries (a native exotic bird) to help conserve them in the area. "We're starting with crocodiles, but we'll be dealing with a whole range of different wildlife in Queensland," he explains.
He says the QWildlife app is helping the Queensland Government appeal to a younger generation of users and expand their reach, an unexpected but welcome result of using new technology. "We're not just an old fuddy-duddy organization using 1980s technology. [The app helps us show] that we're with the times," he says.
With AppStudio, we were able to get results really quickly. We loved working on it. It's just a very powerful tool.