From Fleets to Trees to Utilities, GIS Helps Run the Show in Guelph

June 6, 2018

The City of Guelph’s public works department has succeeded in becoming more responsive to residents’ requests, increasing crew productivity and saving money by using Esri Canada’s Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) solution for managing its equipment, fleet and operations.

The City of Guelph, founded in 1827, is considered one of the country’s top places to live, visit, start and grow a business. The city is located in Wellington County, a couple of hours from Toronto, in the Southwestern region of Ontario. More than 130,000 people live in Guelph.

Recently, Guelph won the Canadian Climate Leadership Award, and it’s now vying for the $10-million prize in Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge. And, rightly so. The municipality is committed to the smart cities approach for creating a better experience for its constituents using data and connected technology.

As Guelph continues to grow, the complexity and cost of managing its vast infrastructure assets are increasing too. This has led to a need for geographic information system (GIS) and global positioning system (GPS) technology. A few years ago, the City commissioned a GIS Needs Assessment to find out how GIS could help manage its burgeoning assets and resources effectively, and save money by understanding potential return on investment in GIS opportunities across its departments. The result was the Five-year Strategic Plan on GIS usage in different areas of work in the City of Guelph.

Alex Brossault, who manages the GIS program at the City, shared how they are implementing GIS as a platform rather than a point solution across departments: “Our aim is not limited to just implementing technology but also achieving a holistically-coordinated and integrated enterprise GIS – a hybrid GIS organizational structure with centralized decision-making to ensure that all our data and services are leveraging GIS coherently.”

Asset Management for Public Works

Although all the City’s departments have access to GIS applications and data, Engineering, IT, Planning, Water Works and Public Works are its heaviest users. Managing assets using GIS helps these teams identify each asset’s problematic areas based on its age, number of service calls or repair history. By optimizing routine maintenance and scheduling using spatial reasoning, the Public Works team can become more responsive to residents’ requests.

Guelph’s Department of Public Works plays a vital role in preserving, maintaining and enhancing the City’s infrastructure and natural resources to benefit the community and tourists. With approximately 150 full-time staff members, this department is buzzing with activity all year long – from managing snow removal during the winter to planting and trimming trees in the spring to collecting leaves in the fall – as well as year-round road inspection and repairs, maintaining traffic signs and fleet inspection, repairs and purchase of vehicles such as garbage trucks, ambulances and transit buses, among others.

The City does pre-season inspection and calibration of vehicles to ensure all AVL sensors are transmitting properly and vehicle locations are being reported.

In 2014, Guelph began to put its GIS Strategic Plan into practice. It started by replacing legacy software and deploying Esri’s ArcGIS technology. Using a staggered approach, the City focused on implementing mobile computing and enhancing field data collection in the first couple of years.

For any public works team, the ability to visualize and understand the dispersion of assets within their region is an essential requirement. Similarly, providing field personnel with access to maps and GIS data is an important part of supporting an enterprise GIS, particularly in the maintenance and collection of public works-related data.

To this end, the City equipped the team with mobile computers, input devices, software and access to data from the enterprise GIS. This enabled them to perform more efficient field data collection and site visits through better routing, interactive geographic data query and analysis capabilities.

Field crews used ArcGIS Online to view each feature in a geographic context, easing field navigation. They updated the status after each task was completed, and edited attributes following asset inspection. With the integration of photo and video elements, operations personnel gained the ability to monitor field progress right from their office. Using a centralized approach for managing GIS data, all the information was fed into one single geodatabase and reported back via the Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS app in real time.

Terry Dooling, a manager in the Public Works department, works with a variety of Esri solutions. “We’re using ArcGIS for field data collection in the traditional sense and mobile computing for different activities. Fleet management is a good example: using Esri Canada’s AVL solution, we are able to monitor, manage and report on our snow plows in real time.”

“We use Collector for ArcGIS to manage numerous assets and workflows – tree and traffic sign inventory; roads, sidewalk and pond inspections; and utility operations. For water on/off requests, for example, we use Workforce for ArcGIS,” he said.

Let’s find out more about Guelph’s fleet management system.

Automated Vehicle Location

The City is responsible for plowing, salting and sanding 1,209 kilometres of roads, 61 crosswalks, crossings, steps and walkways, 657 kilometres of sidewalks and 505 bus stops. The department owns 18 plows and hires another 26 portable plowing units for year-round usage. These 42 plowing units and their activities are all tied to Esri Canada’s AVL. The solution displays everything – from road prioritization, route navigation and vehicle tracking to route status – on a dashboard. This level of monitoring is crucial because the City outsources plowing services. It must make sure that the plowing services are compliant with provincial guidelines and consistent across the region. 

Esri Canada’s AVL solution allows the City to track salt usage as well as monitor plow operations ensuring that all roadways have been effectively cleared during snow events.

“We have to ensure we’re applying the right amount of salt on the roads for financial as well as environmental reasons. Oversalting the roads can lead to a high chloride concentration brine mixture in the ditches or even permeate the ground, which can impact water quality and harm plants or aquatic life," said Peter Rider, Source Water Risk Management Official. “We report the City’s annual salt usage to the Council for financial reasons too. Our AVL-based tracking app monitors and manages the salt sprinkled across the city.”

In November 2017, the City rolled out two service apps — Plow Tracker, which shares snow plow locations with residents in real time, and Plow Alert to advise residents of plow-outs. This year, the GIS team intends to tie these apps to the City's customer relationship management (CRM) program by embedding Esri maps and facilitate easier data exchange.  This will allow residents to submit inquiries and service requests for a multitude of operational items, including snow hazards, potholes, litter in parks and the like.

The publically available Plow Tracker map shows the real-time location and direction of City-owned and contractor’s snow plows during winter plow-out events.

Thanks to its integrated GIS-enabled platform for tracking vehicle fleets in real time, the Public Works department is now able to do more with less.

“We’ve equipped our field crews with mobile devices that use Esri Canada’s AVL and Collector for ArcGIS. They can now capture data in the field and update asset information in the geodatabase within minutes. This saves us hundreds of hours per year,” said Sasha Einwechter, manager of IT Projects, Strategy and Digital for Guelph.

“With automated route planning tools, optimized work order assignment by location, quicker locating of infrastructure and easy access to the department’s spatial and non-spatial data across devices, our crews can cover more area in less time and complete more work requests than before,” she continued.

When asked about the economic viability of an AVL solution for snow plows used only during the winter, Brossault explained how the City has leveraged it for more activities. “Esri Canada's AVL solution serves us year-round. We plow snow-covered roads in the winter, ensuring provincial compliance at all times; in the spring, we use the same plows for street sweeping to remove excess salt on the surface; and in the fall, when citizens rake their leaves to the road, the same plows collect them,” said Brossault. “Using GIS helps us become more responsive to citizen requests, increase crew productivity and save money. It’s helping us get better and smarter.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of ArcNorth News.

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