City of Vancouver goes paperless with Apple iPads, dumping beleaguered RIM’s BlackBerrys in the process

If you attend a Vancouver City Council or a City manager meeting, you are likely to see iPads at the desk in lieu of stacks of papers (multi-page handouts and agendas). It is now common to see Council and City leaders working from iPads at the dais during meetings as the City moves from a print-and hand-out culture towards a paperless one.

Technology use continues to modernize Vancouver City services –a new online customer service center, and YouTube on the City’s website and our business permitting process. Now, Vancouver City Council is moving toward paperless meetings – all to reinvent how we do business, with stewardship in mind – and maximized efficiencies with fewer City staff.

Vancouver’s paperless City Council meeting test began this January. Now Council members receive their paperless packets via a FTP site which they access from iPads, in lieu of reading printed handouts. Though not fully implemented yet, already Council Members’ packets are close to being fully paperless, except for copies printed for citizens attending meetings.

• So far in 2012, we’ve used Council FTP site/iPads for two Council meeting packets; materials presented at orientation sessions; the Council retreat; and the applicant review process for several advisory board/commission vacancies. The paperless move will be fully implemented by Council this spring.

• A 2011 test phase began with the City’s management team , then a City Council test began with one Council member who had the paperless meeting idea.

• The catalyst at the City behind this paperless /iPad City Council movement is Vancouver City Council member Jack Burkman, a former high tech executive who pushed the City to move away from printing large stacks of paper for Vancouver City Council meetings each week.

Burkman worked with Vancouver City Council Assistant Amanda Delapena last year in the council test phase, transferring documents from City Hall to Council members electronically. Burkman used his personal iPad as a test device.

In the first attempt, PDFs of all of the documents that were not posted to the City’s Website (minutes, claim vouchers, workshop handouts, etc.) were emailed to Burkman and he would download the rest (staff reports and agendas) from the City’s website. Burkman used the Drop Box app to save the documents, before discovering the PDF Expert app, which has since been added to all City iPads. The email trial was too cumbersome, so the City’s IT department developed an internal FTP website for Council documents. Burkman and the City’s leadership team tested to ensure it worked and was secure.

Delapena established a system for posting documents and notifying Council members when they were ready. Council members may now review documents any time and look at previous dates’ materials for reference. This means a lower need for Council’s paper files at home offices.

There is already a substantial reduction in amount of paper printed, during the first two months of 2012. With paperless iPad use in the first three City Council meetings this year, the City has already saved 40% of pages printed. With large multi-page documents and color copies being common for Council meetings, these costs can add up significantly – estimates are for savings of more than 50,000 pages this year. And there are staff time savings as well.

Delapena is meeting with the administrative assistant for C-TRAN this week to show her our process – they are also interested in going paperless for the C-TRAN board meetings. So we hope the paperless government movement is growing.

Another efficiency of the iPad program was tested by the City’s leadership team – free apps helped increase their productivity at meetings. Previously at all-day or off site meetings, they were unable to monitor activities via email or phones back at the office.

• Many leaders had blackberry smart phones for email access, but with small video screens, they were difficult to reply in email. The iPads allowed staff to review internet sites as part of the meeting or share multi-page documents paperlessly for their discussion. Today it is common for Vancouver leaders to participate in meetings paperlessly via iPads – reducing the handout use, while staying in better touch with their department.

The City of Vancouver is changing with the times. Through technology use, it’s easier to reach customers, to enhance two-way communication and transparency to the citizens we serve – and ultimately, to maximize City staff efficiency. Our goal with technology is to make more information available for self-service by customers and staff. Some examples:

• A new software conversion now underway in the Community Development Department- this will ultimately implement paperless permitting at the City of Vancouver. Contractors and home owners will be able to apply for, check status of, and submit planning documents for review online, saving paper, travel and staff time.

• The City’s home page ( recently added a new online customer service center that pulled together functions from a variety of City departments into one easy- to- use section on the home page. Also added, a live web cam atop City Hall, a City YouTube channel. A new City News section offers updates on issues facing City Council and interactive elements such as an online poll and email feedback – to enhance information and accessibility to residents.

• We added on demand City Council meetings to our website – so that you can “attend” a City Council meeting or workshop without leaving home. These are offered LIVE as well as ON DEMAND afterwards—just like our coverage is, on CVTV. On the City’s home page, we added a new small business website to help local business owners and entrepreneurs get what they need more quickly – and tap into a host of regional resources much more quickly.

• The goal is for the City to reach the widest audience possible – opening up citizen access to and from City Hall – adding to the option of attending a meeting in person – and reaching beyond our City buildings and meetings into people’s homes, laptops and cell phones.

• This is only the beginning of a new City website in development this year, from the ground, up, including enhanced social media use, same day news coverage, live web cam, YouTube educational videos and proactive information sharing.

Paperless cost savings:

• The City pays approximately $71 monthly per blackberry for access fees – we now pay about $43 per month per an iPad in monthly charges for unlimited data plans and less for the limited plans. The City saves $336 per year per device for those employees that turn in their blackberries for iPads.

• Staff time is more efficient – meeting time is no longer “out of the office” time.

• There is already a substantial reduction in amount of paper printed- even during this year’s test phase. With paperless iPad use in the first three City Council meetings this year, the City has already saved 40% of pages printed. With large multi-page documents and color copies being common for Council meetings, these costs can add up significantly.

– In the first three meetings of 2012, the printed pages went from 5,371 to 3,182 with the iPad test phase partially implemented. In 2011, the City Council office printed 126,076 pages of documents for Council meetings- if we kept pace with a 40 percent page reduction, we would print 75,646 pages this year, saving more than 50,000 sheets of paper, additional hours of staff time spent printing and collating.
– The cost to print 10 copies of a 10 page, full color, double sided and stapled packet is $21.10 – roughly the amount spent on each topic at meetings for Council members – there are typically eight to ten agenda items per Council meeting.
– If we projected these kinds of savings to more departments, we think we can make an incredible impact, demonstrating good stewardship of resources.

What are the City of Vancouver iPad costs?

The City has 54 iPads spread mostly among three groups:
• Vancouver City Council
• Leadership Team
• Vancouver Police Dept. Command staff. VPD was able to use grant funding to purchase all 25 of its iPads.

The City’s iPads average cost: 601.50 each x 54 = $32,481.

With 46% of those grant funded (25 out of 54), that leaves $17k of expenses spread out across city departments.

Will we expand this program?

There are no definite plans to expand further at this time. The program was targeting staff that are expected to respond during off hours and for many, iPads simply replaced their Blackberry devices. We may continue to expand to strategically replace blackberries, which offer the same type of function although the iPads offer much better service.

Source: City of Vancouver, Washington USA

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Rainy Day” for the heads up.]


  1. finally a Canadian city admits to not going patriotic towards RIMMJob phones.

    Canada is an admirable country, much more humane, socially-oriented, and ecological, than our U.S.A., but patriotism, esp. in our country of U.S., has reared its ugly head too often. the world economy will not improve through patriotism but joined hands. same goes for politics etc. so, it’s not that i’m insulting Canada for having been too patriotic for once, to stick to a dying firm, rimm.

    at least they admit. they change. evolve.
    smart move.
    that’s all.

    it’s the losers who cling on to what used to work…

    1. rolf – you may just want to read the article past the headline prior to writing such glowing comments again. The story refers to Vancouver, Washington – just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Close to Canada by a few hours drive but not Canada. Also, denigrating the USofA only proves that you don’t like where you are. When I was a young man, there were plenty of guys moving to Canada to dodge the draft. You may want to consider such a move, aye.


      BTW: Vancouver BC is a remarkable place.

      1. oops.

        i guess that the Twitter 140 world encourages society to not read beyond headlines. but i’m 100% wrong. sorry.

        then again, our nation has stolen names of every major city in the world. one logically thinks of the original city 1st. So our media/journalists/mdn should be more responsible in such cases, when they use foreign place names, and make sure the headlines incl. the detail of it being in the u.s.a.

        i.e. Vancouver Canada, Paris France not TX, Berlin, even Beirut Lebanon, Amsterdam etc. are just a few of the confusing names…

        my point was about patriotism. but you react like typical american: whenever someone complains, you immediately send them away. i never said i did not like Vancouver usa or usa for that matter. that’s your dogma talking. people like you confuse patriotism with fear, paranoia, security or whatever. where’s your patriotism towards free speech. i have all the right to complain.

        my complaint pissing you off or being reason to send me off makes you a crony who thinks sopa last month, or warrantless cell search this week, agreeable and just.

        people like you are bent or aggressive heroism and everyone else is a fag?! come on. why is it that us “rebels” – and we’re not even rebelling, just talking– are so feared by you you have to send us away?! if you’re so macho, all-powerful as a country, why crumble at the sight of just talking?!

        the question is why you are so blind, you never question the justice and validity of your country, which is your democratic duty? in that sense of patriotism, real patriotism, as you vett the system and keep tab, keep it in check, realign it, YOU should move out of the country, with your false patriotism.

        1. rolf, my friend, you really need to use Wikipedia more often.

          Vancouver, WA did not steal the name from Vancouver, BC. In fact, Vancouver, WA came first. It was incorporated first and the source of the name: Fort Vancouver, came before Vancouver, BC.

          Regarding your other comments, I don’t necessarily disagree, I just wanted to make sure everybody had their geography right today.

          1. MacGuy, thx for geo lesson. it was well needed.

            i hate ignorance. i mock the lack of geographic knowledge in our country. as some 3rd world countries have better education and know better. for example, most of our soldiers never heard of the countries they fight in till last minute.

            but if Vancouver usa came before V Can, wow. the thing is one thinks of V Can 1st, even before the Winter Olympics. one thinks of Paris France before TX. Beirut Lebanon before usa etc.

            MY mistake was completing the headline. i did skim the article but not once did the article mention usa, till the source at very bottom. 1 little line.

            MDN’s mistake is to not add a clearer head.

            that is why it’s so essential, esp. in today’s 140 word–hmhm, character–attention span world, to give some context! as V wash usa. such a simple addition would’ve solve it.

            thanks for your point, it’s educational ; )

            1. @rolf: You get my nomination for best and most humble replies to corrections of your earlier comments. It is a rare person indeed who accepts and learns from the comments of others. Good for you! I wish I was as good. 🙂

            2. thx Jeff ; )

              …for actually being as good to admit that @ moi + u ; )

              everybody wants to be right but it takes a non-macho to accomplish it ; )

              hey, beats this:
              “i may be wrong but i doubt it”

  2. I have now read about20 stories re: going paperless with iPads at various government agencies across the US.

    The versatility of the iPad continues to astound me. It is so much more than a laptop, one should not think of the iPad as a laptop replacement. That takes eliminates the upper limit of sales.

  3. Um, gang? It’s Vancouver, WASHINGTON, not BC. (Though the only way I picked up on it was because I’m in Washington, and we’re used to having to make the distinction 🙂

    Still, this is an amazing result. Imagine if this was expanded across governments and enterprise.

    1. The article title should’ve really said that. MDN, you should change it to Vancouver, Washington… oh wait, then east-siders will think it’s a suburb of Washington, DC.

  4. The City of Riverside, California – where I live – has roughly the same deployment of iPads for the same tasks. It also officially supports iPhones for staff. The City wasn’t always so Apple-friendly, so it is good to see it now.

    1. I’m glad you made it clear that it was Riverside California as I was going to write a snarky rejoinder about Riverside in Bavaria.

      Just kidding. Gotta go take my meds now…

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