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Transforming City Operations with Mobile Technology

There’s a famous quote from a fintech executive: “Big data isn’t about bits. It’s about talent.” If you scan the departments in the City of Kamloops, you’ll find plenty of both. As an early adopter of geographic information systems technology, the City has amassed a rich repository of municipal asset data. Its GIS is enterprise-wide, integrated with VertiGIS and Cityworks asset management solutions, and supported by a centralized GIS department. 

As part of the City’s ongoing process to modernize operations, the Corporate Services GIS Section decided on the strategy to digitally transform field work with mobile technology that uses a web GIS infrastructure. “We wanted to exploit our location data to make us work smarter,” says Adam Chadwick, GIS Manager, City of Kamloops, “and that meant creating an application framework built around the ArcGIS system so that the work is repeatable yet configurable.”

The City’s Civic Operations Department needed a better way to track their in-field activities and contacted the GIS Section to see how they could help. Their Streets Division follows a seasonal calendar: snow clearing in the winter, street maintenance such as sweeping, line painting, and pothole repairing in the spring, and rural road grading, dust suppression, and rough-cut mowing in the summer and fall. Performing these activities and switching seasonal work through the year require agility and a lot of information.

  • Operators need to know where to go and what to do
  • Crew leaders need to be up to speed on the status of operations at all times
  • Supervisors need to know overall operational performance and meet KPIs

Their operators would track their work on in-truck paper maps handed to them from the operators in the previous shift. So, for example, when clearing snow, these maps would be marked by operators indicating the streets that they had cleared. These maps would then be given to the next shift to indicate which streets remained to be cleared. This arduous process slowed decision making for crew leaders on where to work on next which could lead to unsafe conditions and roads. It also left operators in the dark as to where to clear next when asked to work outside of regular pre-planned work zones.

On review, tracking on paper maps led to some information loss at the end of shifts, reduced ability to provide comprehensive notes across shifts, and made it difficult for supervisors to analyze work statuses and operational data. It was time to flip this around.

The ability to access digital work information in the field was given top priority—crews need to know what they need to do and record their activities during their shift—not after. This would give crew leaders a fleet-wide view on the status of operations. The City’s GIS team quickly noted that this was a location-based problem, so a map-based solution was the perfect fit! They targeted an upcoming winter season to deploy a web GIS app to support an end-to-end workflow for collecting, viewing, and reporting on snow clearing activities.

Modernizing snow clearing operations

The City utilized ArcGIS Experience Builder and Web AppBuilder for a no-coding approach to developing the Snow Clearing app. VertiGIS Studio Workflow was used to customize functionality easily and for ease-of-use for the field operators. In just under 60 days, it was put in production onto Apple iPads. The app (map) defined arterial, collector, and local roads, as well as specialized routes, so that crew leaders can prioritize work according to their Council-approved service levels.

"Empowering street staff with GIS-based apps is like providing them with a digital compass that not only helps them navigate their route, but also maximizes their efficiency and effectiveness in delivering essential services, such as snow and ice control, sweeping, and asphalt repair to the community. We have successfully moved away from tracking work completed on coffee-stained paper and markers to powerful mobile devices with each operator,” says Glen Farrow, Streets and Environmental Services Manager, City of Kamloops.

In the field, operators were asked to tap the streets that they cleared. “Each hour, we encouraged the team to exit the vehicle, stretch, inspect the equipment, and then update the status on the iPad,” says Glen. “These breaks promoted health and wellness but also got the entire team engaged with the technology.” Eventually, the app even included a feature layer for public restrooms—incredibly useful for bathroom breaks over an operator’s shift!

A screenshot of the snow clearing app with blue, green and pink traces on a map. A pop-up window allows a user to select if the activity is street clearing, de-icing, or snow pickup.

The Snow Clearing app provided information and the ability for operators to update where de-icing solution was used, where snow was picked up and trucked away, and transit stop snow clearing activities. For supervisors, ArcGIS Dashboards displayed the overall status of a snow clearing event, service levels, and archived reporting of past events. “It’s worth noting that these are weather events with no fixed schedules. While it’s true that GIS is primarily a spatial tool, its ability to record and analyze temporal information within the means of a lightweight data recording solution has proven immensely useful to a business user,” says Adam.

A screenshot of the snow clearing app with coloured lines to show which streets were cleared during the day, afternoon, night and weekend. On the left, a metric showing 63% of the streets on the map have been cleared.

Modernizing street sweeping operations

Encouraged by a successful inaugural winter season, Civic Operations engaged again with the GIS team to configure the app for spring cleanup. The resulting Street Sweeping app was almost a replication of the snow app, with further refinement towards public communication. Data indicating which streets have been swept is updated in the field by operators and used to update a public information map. This map also shows which streets will be worked on soon so that the public knows when sweepers would be in their neighbourhood and could move cars off the streets to make sweeping more efficient. In time, more apps such as Proactive Potholing got introduced for the summer maintenance season, as well as road grading and rough-cut mowing apps.

A screenshot of the streets spring cleanup app with green traces on the map showing that the area has been swept and black traces where it has not been swept.

Modernizing parks operations

Having witnessed the successes from the Streets Division, the City’s Parks Division engaged the GIS team to improve various sections of its business, not limited to: Park Amenity Servicing, Mowing, and Irrigation. Here, again, utilizing a central GIS as an asset repository proved valuable and made it easy to integrate satellite imagery to visualize greenery and grounds elevation. This time, the GIS Section utilized out-of-the-box ArcGIS Online widgets to track work related to public washroom servicing, garbage disposal, weed abatement, etc.

A screenshot of the park amenity servicing dashboard. On the left side is a map with icons and coloured polygons. On the right are two pie charts to indicate the statuses of open or closed park gates and open or closed public washrooms.

Modernizing collaboration and communications within city operations

Leveraging a centralized ArcGIS system afforded the City’s GIS Section with location intelligence to gain a 360-degree view on resource utilization, workforce activities, and areas for public asset optimization. “We enabled a digital feedback loop of information for the departments so that we could help them focus on their business drivers,” says Adam.

This collaborative way of thinking has yielded not only innovative apps but new ways in understanding data. Where managers would dig through emails, paper maps, and read PDF reports previously, the City of Kamloops now has dynamic, visual, and web accessible internal dashboards of city operations. Work activities in the field are collected from mobile devices and fed to the City’s municipal GIS, which provides the updates in real time to the dashboards to give rapid insight and decision support to staff and managers. GIS has enabled the ability to capture operational statistics that were previously impossible to report on in a meaningful and consistent manner.

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About the Author

Desmond Khor works with multi-industry stakeholders to connect stories with opportunities. As a Marketing Manager at Esri Canada, Desmond is helping to build a stronger, more connected community around technology and the business capabilities of location intelligence.

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