Can You Hear Me Now?}
How-To Prevent the Next Bridge Collapse
Hint: The Solution Begins with You
Remember the Skagit River Bridge collapse? You know — that unfortunate, nerve-wracking event that happened a few weeks ago. I can’t blame you if you’ve forgotten already. The media certainly did.
Which is a shame, since the incident shed much needed light on the fact that thousands of bridges across the country could be one freak accident away from collapse.
We know now that an oversized tractor-trailer load struck several of the bridge's trusses, triggering the collapse. We also know that the bridge’s outdated design led the Washington Dept. of Tranportation to classify it as “fracture critical,” a polite term used to describe a bridge that’s ridiculously inadequate by modern safety standards.
We all depend on a functioning infrastructure to live our daily lives. So a story like this is always timely. But the Skagit River bridge collapse is especially timely because it comes right on the heels of the ASCE 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.
A few weeks back, Brant Scheidecker discussed the dismal grades America received on the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Our overall GPA? D+. Interestingly, our bridges received the highest mark of any infrastructural component: C+.
But Brant and the ASCE aren’t the only ones divvying out tough love. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2012-2013 ranks our country’s overall infrastructure 25thin the world. That puts us well behind renowned innovators (cough, sarcasm, cough) such as Finland, Luxembourg, Bahrain, and Oman, to name a few.
Unfortunately, politicking favors glad-handing over common sense ideas. By all appearances, this latest incident has been met with a reluctant shrug from officials on both sides of the House, presumably so they can go back to undermining each other between elections. That’s precisely why it’s up to YOU, the hard working men and women in local government, to PROPOSE A SOLUTION.
Seriously; who knows better than you? You’re elbow deep in infrastructure failure. You’re adept at doing more with less. And I’m willing to bet you and your peers are the only ones truly qualified to initiate a meaningful dialogue about a subject everyone seems all too eager to avoid.
What you have to say probably won’t be popular to those footing the bill. In fact, it may even offend them. But it will be a much needed dose of reality. I don’t know how an overhaul of this magnitude—somewhere in the neighborhood of $32 billion according to the ASCE—gets paid for, but I’m guessing rhymes with “axes.”
Call me crazy, but I suspect that most of us would gladly shell out a little more dough each year to avoid being a commuter on the next bridge that goes down.
America Just Got its Report Card}
Can You Hear Me Now?
Life in the Wireless States of America
We’ve all experienced it -- a dropped call at a crucial moment in a conversation with your boss, or a non-existent data connection as you’re trying to buy Justin Bieber concert tickets (for your daughter, of course). It happens. And when it does it can be really frustrating. But have you noticed it happens a lot less than it did a few years ago?
Let’s take a look at some good news, some bad news and then some more good news!
A couple of stats from the FCC’s 2013 annual report on the cellular market sheds light on the state of wireless communication.
99.5% of the U.S. population has mobile wireless broadband coverage by at least 1 service provider.
91% of U.S. road miles have mobile wireless broadband coverage by at least 1 service provider.
The Good News:
Pretty much everyone has wireless broadband coverage (considered to be 3G and above) where they live, and as long as you are not straying too far from the highways and byways you are pretty much guaranteed a connection. If your experience differs it may be time to switch provider.
The Bad News:
Unfortunately if you are not one of the 99.5% covered by broadband wireless you’re getting (annoyingly pokey) Edge speeds, at best. At worst, you’re getting no signal at all. This is generally going to be true for the more remote and undulous regions of the country. Even when we look specifically at the rural parts of the country (which by the FCC definition is just 19% of the total population), we still hit an impressive 97.8% coverage. For those remaining 2.2% of the 19% that just can’t be reached by the radio waves beaming across our land, there is a bright side and it isn’t just the natural beauty that you are presumably faced with on a daily basis.
More Good News:
Things are improving. While providers do tend to focus on increasing data speeds for the population centers of the country, they are making incremental improvements in rural coverage. The federal government doesn’t believe this is happening fast enough and is stepping in with two programs that plan to have significant impact on those empty spots of missing connectivity.
The Connect America Fund (CAF) is designed to bring affordable broadband services to rural communities. The first phase of this program is funded with $300 million and the FCC has already determined 800 individual awards to fund the building of infrastructure which will bring broadband cellular coverage to an additional 83,500 rural road miles.
Beyond Phase 1, the program will continue with an annual budget of up to $500 million which, according to the FCC, will be used to, “expand and sustain mobile voice and broadband services in communities in which service would be unavailable absent federal support.”
The next program makes CAF look like a couple of boy scouts with walkie-talkies.
FirstNet is a federal program aimed at establishing a public safety broadband network for use by first responders nationwide. The program has $7 billion in funding (yes billion). If you’re wondering how serious they are about total coverage, FirstNet chairman Samuel Ginn says this, “It must provide ubiquitous coverage, exceeding even that of the largest commercial networks, in order to meet the needs of the first responders who serve in rural, remote and tribal areas of our country.” And this, “It will be the only network to cover an entire nation of our size geographically, as opposed to coverage by population centers.” And this, too, “We expect to cover every square meter of land.”
This guy is serious about coverage, and what’s more, the technology that has been selected for FirstNet is LTE (for those paying attention that is the same high speed technology being rolled out across the country by the major carriers). The best news is that although FirstNet is being built primarily for police, fire, and emergency medical, there is a strong suggestion that usage be extended to secondary users such as utility companies and public works departments.
So if your organization is struggling with connectivity, check your provider, things change and maybe your area is better served by a different carrier. Failing that, the federal government has plans to get wireless broadband coverage to you one way or another, through spacious skies and purple mountain majesties, from sea to shining sea.
Smart Cities and Managed Expectations}
America Just Got its Report Card
I personally haven’t received a report card in more years than I care to divulge, so when I saw that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) had released the 2013 Report Card For America’s Infrastructure, I viewed it with a sense of dread. Self-doubt from years of schooling somehow influenced my thoughts on America’s report card.
“How will it fare? It tried really hard in the last quarter to turn things around; all the cramming and whatnot. I hope we can continue to pay its car insurance… I dread the thought of having to chauffer it around again.”
Turns out we may need to renew our livery license:
Drinking Water: D
Public Parks & Recreation: C-
It doesn’t look that hot. And I sure hope America’s C+ wasn’t the result of sitting next to Switzerland; ranked #1 for overall infrastructure in the world.
If we look at the assessment by the ASCE, we have to recognize that they aren’t exactly unbiased in their evaluation. On the other hand, I personally haven’t heard from any of the organizations I’ve interacted with over the past year that they are flush with money for public works projects, or that everything is in such great shape in their communities that the public works staff volunteers their time on Mondays and Fridays at local humane shelters. The cry of “we need to do more with less” is more commonly the case.
It will be interesting to see if America’s report card resonates at this year’s National Association of County Engineers (NACE) Annual Conference. I’d love to see City and County Engineers walking around with copies of America’s Report Card, asking each other “Have you seen this? What are we going to do about America’s grades?!?”
What are your thoughts? Do you agree? How are things looking in the communities you represent or live in?
If you will be at NACE conference this year, stop by and let us know! We’ll be there too, and would love to hear your answers to these questions, and as always are ready to provide the tools and expertise to assist you address the asset management issues your communities face.
Transforming Local Government}
An Eventful Year Ahead
Trade shows and training and experts, oh my!
April marks a big month for Cartegraph as we are getting ready to introduce a new approach to our events. If you’ve attended our events in the past, you know these are an excellent way to learn from not only Cartegraph experts, but get great tips and advice through networking with other users. With the changes we’ve made this year, we hope you’ll see even more opportunities to do this and more!
The one thing we kept hearing from you was that you want training and networking opportunities at our events. So we found a way to bring these opportunities even closer to you.
With our newest event – Regional Training – we’re bringing the training to you! With events in Dubuque, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; and Austin, Texas, we’re making it easier for you to get to the event which includes 1.5 days of training sessions, beginner and advanced tracks and 12 learning sessions. You’ll also be able to learn about what Cartegraph has been working on and see our OMS technology in action.
With the introduction of Regional Training events, we’ve been able to focus our User Groups even more on networking opportunities. Last year, we received great feedback from the new networking sessions, and this year we’ve created even more opportunities to connect, formal and informally. With our new Networking Breaks, we’re allowing even more time for organic discussions, and we’re continuing to hold the Discussion Groups so you can focus in on a specific topic and learn from others in your area. We’ll also be featuring a new Ask the Experts panel, which will give you access to the Cartegraph experts in attendance and get answers to all of your burning questions!
And as if that weren’t enough, we have a special treat in store for everyone attending some major industry trade shows this year. In addition to our booth on the trade show floor, we’ll also be hosting special hospitality events that give you the opportunity to network with each other and Cartegraph staff.
Esri User Conference, San Diego, California
APWA Congress and Exposition, Chicago, Illinois
ICMA Conference, Boston, Massachusetts
- National League of Cities Congress, Seattle, Washington
Stay tuned to your email for information on all of these events, as well as other important Cartegraph updates. We’ll see you in your town soon!
New era. New perspective.}
Transforming Local Government
Things are looking up!
The snow’s melting. Temperatures are rising. Spring has officially started, and there’s more daylight every day! If all that weren’t enough, I’m just a week away from heading to Atlanta, GA for the Transforming Local Government (TLG) Conference! I’m really looking forward to meeting and speaking to so many progressive thinkers from local government (though the opportunity to visit my favorite Caribbean restaurant probably has something to do with my excitement, too).
Ever heard of Jennifer Pahlka? She’s the founder and Executive Director of Code for America. She also happens to be a keynote speaker at this year’s TLG. If you ask me, her 2012 TED Talk, "Coding a Better Government," is thought provoking, inspiring, and should be required viewing for government leaders and citizens alike.
If you haven’t seen it, you need to. I’ll wait.
No really. I’ll wait...
Anyone else think she bears a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Shue?
When I saw this 2012 Talk, I was immediately charged and inspired to help local governments. And my career at Cartegraph gives me a unique opportunity to do just that.
Instead of wondering how I can make a difference, I spend my days collaborating with local governments and industry experts across the country to solve the problems that directly affect government efficiency and productivity.
Having worked with government agencies for nearly a decade, one of the main things I’ve learned is that, although every organization has its fair share of issues, every organization has the SAME sets of issues. Whether it’s uphill budget battles, unhappy citizenry, issues managing daily operations or long term planning, it almost always boils down to a lack of good process and/or data, and the means to do something about it.
Small cities, big cities, counties, states, airports, water and sewer authorities, consulting firms…everybody wants the best tools and data possible so they so they can make informed decisions and allocate resources in the most efficient and productive manner possible.
Luckily, I work alongside some of the most talented thinkers, analysts, designers, and developers in the industry, and we’re working together to change all that.
Our contribution comes in the form of Cartegraph Operations Management System (OMS) technologies, a set of advanced tools, apps, and services that will change how you think about your challenges and how to solve them.
Come to think of it, OMS changes everything.
We dismissed the conventional and outdated wisdom that business applications can sacrifice ease-of-use, simplicity, and user experience to accommodate more and more feature bloat. OMS keeps the focus on efficiency and usability, and the result is a system that people want to use. And when people have a system they want to use, organizations will have the data they need to transform.
If you’re at TLG, be sure to stop by booth 215. We’ll give you an up-close look at our solution and tell you how our approach OMS transforms local government for the better.
Adoptability > Features:}
Citizen Y goes to Washington?
It’s spring election time. I was carefully watching to see who the new batch of recipients would be for the next round of concerned citizen (complaint) letters. Just one problem: there are three open slots for the local city council and only one name on the ballot.
Turns out driving around town with the YourGOV app had the secondary effect of making me not only a more observant citizen, but a more engaged one.
I've been following the issues dealt with by the city council that, in turn, affect my potholes and property taxes. So what's a soccer mom with a Political Science degree to do? Put up or shut up, that's what.
That’s right, Iceman, Rebecca Smart: Write-In Candidate for City Council.
Don’t get me wrong: this is not my first bid for elected office. In fact, I have been politically active since the fourth grade. I’ve just hardly ever won. Painful memories of a zipper malfunction during my fourth grade classroom stump speech are overshadowed only by the cupcake vote-buying fiasco my fifth grade opponent pulled off. Nixon had nothing on Nancy Jones.
We all know politics is a dirty business. Can it be effective? Will citizen engagement at an elected level make a difference or just make me jaded? More importantly, to whom will I complain if I am my own elected official?
So far, the biggest challenges have been blisters and cold hands. Out on the slushy campaign trail, I’ve met a lot of people with big dogs and solid input on what they want out of their local government. I’ve also learned that 90% of my neighbors wear jammie pants on Sunday afternoons.
Citizen Y goes to Washington? Stayed tuned.
The Adventures of Citizen Y:}
Smart Cities and Managed Expectations
Smart is good. Few can argue with that. The “smart city,” a plan for what the future could be, came onto the scene with the best of intentions. I’m just not entirely sure what those intentions are.
It’s probably because the smart city was never really explained to me. It was referenced, hinted at, and made a footnote all over the place. The outlines were never drawn. My understanding devolved into a cryptic game of Mad Libs.
It left my mind to wander. I saw the smart city as soothsaying 1950’s science fiction. Kids eating spaceburgers and dogs wearing astronaut helmets. A lady ordering a cocktail dress through an in-home pneumatic tube. A place where technology caught up to our whimsical ideas of the future.
Articles were published about the possibilities, and before long I was a believer. In what? Well, I’m not so sure. Automated homes. Smart grids. Eco-towers. Stuff that I can talk to people about and sound like a smarmy know-it-all.
Then came the marketing spin. IBM’s ‘Building a Better Planet’ is a standout. Did you know on sunny days, people eat more paninis? “By changing their menu for the day, profitability was up by 40%!” their Youtube video exclaims. IBM supplanted flying cars to make the smart city a beacon of bakery efficiency. In the future, no one will go without a hot sandwich after a long day in the data mines.
The smart city was also interpreted by small towns looking for a pat on the back. Cartegraph’s hometown of Dubuque seemed like one of them. After being chosen to be part of IBM’s Smart City initiative, Dubuque wore it like a kid with an AYSO medal. Everyone was excited of the arrival of IBM and what that may mean. I prepared myself for Neo Dubuque, a city of meat and potatoes transformed into a city of fancier, more future-y meat and potatoes. And maybe more Italian specialty sandwiches.
“They’re doing the same thing in Stockholm,” a friend of mine said. What, exactly? Well, he wasn’t so sure. He thought maybe something to do with water metering. Water metering. Water metering?
My Jetsons future was shattered. And it wasn’t because water metering isn’t important (or, let’s face it, downright sexy), it’s because the term smart city has been stretched and contorted to the whims of whoever sees fit to use it.
Who is exactly manning this rocket to future Earth? Maybe no one, I suppose. It’s part marketing gobbledygook, part ego booster, part genuine cause. How they all intermingle, I do not know. But it seems that the reality is a whole lot less exciting than the idea it aspires to be.
Smart is good. Any reasonable person would agree. Saving time, and resources, and the Earth, is good. But let’s not kid ourselves into believing the smart city is the city of tomorrow. It’s a loose term and an iterative step, not a giant leap, towards the future.
It’s probably a whole lot like the city of today, but with really good water metering. And spaceburgers. And who could say no to that?
Local Government on Wheels}
A Day in the Life:
Okay, we're here. Now what?!
This series of blog posts, using the analogy of a cross-country trip to describe the implementation of Cartegraph as our operations management system for the Town of Marana, has been an introspective and eye-opening process. Alas, this will be the last post in this series.
I have used this column as a way to think through what we did, the lessons we learned, and what we may do differently, if given the chance. To say I have enjoyed it would be an understatement.
So, knowing this is the final entry, let’s see how the finish line looks, as it relates to arriving and then living, at the location of full implementation.
On June 5, 2007, I was driving down I-10 from Phoenix to Tucson. My actual destination was the Town of Marana; a fast-growing, prosperous suburb on the Northwest side of Tucson. I was travelling there alone to scope out what life would be like there. My wife and children would be moving there in July, so I wanted to see it with my own eyes and get a feel for living in Marana. I will never forget seeing the big green sign that read “MARANA 4.” My final destination, the place where I would start my new career with the Town, was only 4 short miles away.
I remember my heart accelerating when I saw that sign. This was going to be my new home!! Still excited 4 miles later, I took exit 236 and looked down at the temperature reading as I pulled into a convenience store to get a drink: 108 degrees! Welcome home… to the desert, Todd!
I had arrived at my new destination, but had no clue what life was going to be like. I was so anxious to GET here that I hadn’t given much thought to what it would be like to LIVE here. All I knew was that this was the place I wanted to live.
It is the same with creating a fully-implemented operations management system in Cartegraph. You just want so badly to arrive at your destination (whatever that looks like for you in your location) that you do not give much thought to actually living your life there. What is it like? Is it really worth all of the hassle and pain? The short answer is…YES! Though we have not yet attained everything we want, as it relates to our operations management system, we DO “live here” now.
Within the Public Works and Utilities Departments, we have logged over 30,000 work orders, have inventoried each asset, and are attaching work orders to those assets. Our inventory counts are solid, work processes are smooth and we have successfully implemented all of our major projects. So, we do “live here” now. What’s it like? We love it!
There has been a definite shift in how our departments do business. Efficiency is up, costs are being managed and our Town Council recently adopted our Pavement Preservation Program, which is the offspring of Cartegraph’s pavement view module and the numbers it generates. This year, in Utilities alone, we have $126,000 worth of projects planned through our proactive maintenance approach. Though life is not perfect here, it is without question better than where we came from. Through hard work, a great team of supportive people, pushing through seemingly insurmountable cultural resistance to change and never giving up, we now live in the place of which we once only dreamed.
However, you know how it is in real life; the work never stops, even if you are living in your dream home. The yard still needs to be mowed, (or in the Sonoran Desert where I live, the rock yard needs to be weeded), the washer and dryer will need to be replaced eventually, the kids will still have issues, and the dog will still bite your neighbor or knock down their flowers, etc. In other words, there is still plenty to do as you live life at your ideal location.
So, in closing, if you have arrived…Welcome Home! If not, you WILL get there and it IS worth it. As the French philosopher Descartes once said, “An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?” From my cozy desert “home” in Marana, I sincerely wish you the best as you travel this road. Drive safely, and I will see you there.
A note from the Editor:
On behalf of Cartegraph, I'd like to thank Todd and the Town of Marana for sharing their experiences. I hope that you, the reader, have taken the wisdom of Todd's words and used it to inspire and guide your own organization.
Interested in writing about and sharing your own Cartegraph experiences? Email me at email@example.com.
I'd love to have you as a featured contributor.
Who Is That Behind the Scenes?}
Wrath of the Rogue Chewbacca Pipe
how an app can quiet those campus complaints
“Loud, constant clanging, in combination with Chewbacca noises, is coming from the pipe in the second floor hallway corner. I haven’t slept for three days.”
The complainer was livid. She had dark circles under her eyes and an aura of irritability.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve said something,” she added snidely.
Ah, so that was the downfall of my new job: taking the heat for my university’s shortcomings. How could I know that accepting a seat behind my dorm’s reception desk would make me the face of behind-the-scenes campus management; the ear piece for student grumbles; and the steward of broken faucets and busted heating units?
The revelation occurred on one of my early days in the position, seemingly at the height of student complaint season. The process went like this: hear complaint. Record complaint. Reassure complainer that said issue would be resolved shortly. (Unofficial: have follow-up conversation with complainer when said issue isn’t resolved. Repeat process, with heightened aggravation.)
The wrath of the rogue Chewbacca pipe wasn’t the only resident gripe. Our dorm wasn’t in a state of disrepair, but lots of basic maintenance jobs had fallen through the cracks. And I mean deep down in the cracks.
On my campus, maintenance workers were like mythical creatures. You wanted to believe they existed, but you never saw them. Work requests were invented as pleas to summon one of these saviors. But what was the use? These requests were flimsy pieces of paper that floated from desk to desk and eventually, as far as I was concerned, ended up floating into oblivion. Finding a problem that made it from start to a resolution was like a rare treat.
Bathroom lights had burned out ages ago and showering in the dark wasn’t fun. The kitchen’s faucet threw daily tantrums, howling wildly and spraying hot water everywhere. All the televisions had been cable-less for weeks now. And I had a handful of my own grouses. Namely, the knob on my radiator was missing—stuck on full-blast heat, at that—and sleeping in a sauna was a little wearying.
Dorm life isn’t supposed to be glamorous, I know.
But shouldn’t it be bearable?
A Twitter account emerged among students to sarcastically poke fun of these neglected campus problems. Although it was a big ha-ha on campus, it could have meant big, bad marketing for the university. Lesson: if the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the grease, it will find another outlet for its pains.
Post-Twitter fiasco, my school started paying more attention to student complaints. They tapped into social media, creating Facebook pages where students could submit requests. Campus did improve in some ways, with positive feedback for their efforts.
But social media isn’t the best solution for handling complaints. Posting a legitimate issue or request to a Facebook page doesn’t exactly seem...legitimate.
So the focus, now, lies in finding a better method to track these requests — and subsequently track improvements, or lack thereof. Without a more efficient system, requests will continue to get lost in the stratosphere of janitorial and maintenance problems.
Now is the time for the implementation of a system that most efficiently tracks requests. Most students have internet access or app-capable phones, and ALL students have observed campus issues that should be fixed. Put two and two together, and you have an app that connects students with campus management.
There’s already a bunch of great apps that allow citizens to report community issues and submit service requests using smartphones and web. Why not put that technology to work on campuses? Colleges might be surprised at how much a simple app can engage students in keeping a campus functional and tidy.
A change is past due, and you can bet I’ll be adding a footnote to future pipe-gripe work requests: give us an app already.
Some Scholarly Wisdom:}
Local Government on Wheels
Going the extra mile? Or too little, too late?
Okay, so the City of Boston, Mass has been getting a lot of great press for its new mobile municipal office, City Hall to Go. It’s a repurposed food truck that visits Boston neighborhoods, dishing out common city services such as pet licensing, voter registration, parking stickers, birth certificate requests, and more. Here's a look at the menu:
Boston — as every major metropolitan area should — already allows citizens to conduct plenty of city business online. And Bostonians are still welcome to sacrifice their lunch hours for a trip down to City Hall. So as progressive as the idea sounds, it seems to me that City Hall to Go is really just a hipster-themed bonus option for late adopters.
Look, I’m not saying City Hall to Go is a bad idea. It’s friendly, stylish, and fun in a way that few local governments are. But it just seems so...1993.
We’re living in a world where people’s expectations grow more technologically advanced every day. The modern citizen wants simplicity, convenience, sustainability, and accuracy, not a gas guzzling PR effort and a new opportunity to stand in line.
City Hall to Go has already hit the streets to collect feedback in neighborhoods all over Boston. I’m very curious to hear whether the idea becomes fixture or forgotten. An investigation of Boston’s website has me believing the money would be better spent creating a more interactive and functional way for people to do city business online. But it’s not my dime. Plus I'm just some hack behind a keyboard in Iowa. I'm pretty sure the folks at the City of Boston know their business far better than I.
What do you think? Should local government be implementing more ways for citizens to do city business in person? Or is budget money better spent on expanding online services?
Time to Consider Tablets in the Field}
The Adventures of Citizen Y:
A lovely day in the (filthy) park
Do you know the difference between a runner and a jogger? Well, allow me to tell you. A runner knows things that have nothing to do with distance, speed, or form. Important stuff. Like what happens when you take too many salt tabs before a long race on a hot day. Or the side effects of caffeine energy chews on an empty stomach. So runners also know secondary important stuff. Like where it’s safe to pit stop in the woods. What park bathroom you can enter without having to hold your breath, if, for instance, you’re going to be spending a few minutes in it.
Running is all about the camaraderie (along with being able to have double desert). Runners tend to look out for each other, so it was with this solidarity in mind that I found the YourGOV app to be needed in an unusual location: the park bathroom.
I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say, sometimes you get the feeling there is just not enough bleach in the world to make a place right again.
I hated to do it knowing that somebody, somewhere was going to get the YourGOV report saying biological hazard had hit the park potty and some employee not due for a raise was going to be dispatched. Whoever you are, my apologies. But it had to be done. It had to be done! Oh, and it wasn’t me; let’s not take it out on the messenger.
How’s that saying go? “I have seen enough to know I have seen too much.” And so it has proved in the local park scene.
There’s a beautiful twin park nearby with a fascinating history. The horse and buggy crowd from Chicago used to come up for some lake recreation in the late 1800s. Well-heeled families with an eye toward preserving natural space for the future donated land that is part of the park system today. Their vision is commendable.
But their vision probably did not include the eyeful of what I saw while traipsing around the rolling, wooded hills along the lake. Yowsa.
Squirrels and such get to mate in the park woods. Humans do not. It is a known problem. The Parks folks have asked for help in stopping nuisance public displays of affection.
One park in particular has been host to many a merry go ‘round. And I’m not talking about the playground. The trees have been thinned and police are patrolling more frequently, but it’s a large park.
Though I didn’t stick around long enough to snap a photo, I found yet another use for the YourGOV app. From the debris on the ground, I had apparently stumbled into a hot spot for trouble.
Who knew there would be so many “Other Issue” opportunities?
I really need to start staying home more.
Graffiti Woes and Parental Controls}
A Day in the Life: Wish You Were Here
Words of encouragement from a fellow traveler
How many times have we been in a gas station or souvenir shop and seen those postcards titled, “Wish You Were Here,” with some inviting scene that is supposed to create a sense of envy in those to whom we send the card?
Receiving such a postcard from Florida, with a photo of the beautiful blue Gulf waters gently lapping at the white sand, palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, as the sun sets blaze orange in the western sky, is absolutely breath-taking. That is, unless you open it when you are standing in your parka and boots with a snow shovel in your hand, contemplating the joyous task of removing 12 inches of white powder that the meteorologist described a couple of days ago as “a possible flurry.” It is in those moments we want to send them a card from Alcatraz Island with the same message to them, with the addition of the word “permanently” added to the end of “Wish You Were Here."
The same can happen to us when we listen to the successes and triumphs of other municipalities or organizations that are enjoying the fruits of their labor and have a fully implemented a picture-perfect operations management system. It gets under our skin, makes us envious, creates self-doubt, and clouds the clear vision we have for our own system.
If we are not careful, we can get frustrated and lose our desire and drive to create a great system. Don't defeat yourself by hanging-up on obstacles or measuring your success against the "picture perfect" results of (insert-name-of-successful-organization-here).
Today, I would like to encourage you in your journey on this highway we are travelling. I have no “Wish You Were Here,” postcard to send you. Yes, we have enjoyed tremendous success in our implementation of Cartegraph, but we have also shed a lot of tears, fought a lot of battles and have the bruises and scars to prove it. Few success stories start out with perfection. As a matter of fact, usually the opposite is true.
Many are familiar with the story of Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb and the nearly endless failures he experienced along the way. With that in mind, I would like to offer a different definition of success as it relates to implementing an asset management system. Success is doing the right things for the right reasons, with the hope that the desired outcome is achieved. We often confuse the rewards of success with success itself. I am not a successful parent the day my child reaches adulthood as a productive and contributing member of society. That is the reward of success. If my child reaches adulthood as someone of whom everyone is proud, then I have been a successful parent for 21 years, not just on the day he turns 21. So, that means that I was a success every day that I spent time with him, played baseball with him, took him to the park, changed his diapers, read to him, etc.
We MUST look at what we are doing in asset management the same way; you are not a success the day that Cartegraph calls you to present what you have done to a large group or when your local paper writes a feature on your slick system that saves your organization time and money. You are a success when you are looking in the mirror, asking yourself, “How are we EVER going to overcome this resistance to change?” You see, success hinges on your desire to push through the obstacles in order to attain your goal. So, do I “Wish You Were Here”? Yes, I do, but not to make you envious or jealous. I want you to be here so you can experience the deeply satisfying feeling of overcoming every obstacle and experiencing the joy that comes from realizing that every bump and bruise is worth it!
Keep going. Keep being successful every day. Before you know it, you will be trading your parka for a pair of shorts and your snow boots for sandals. The harsh, cold winter of your difficulties will become the warm tropical breeze of your success.
Who Is That Behind the Scenes?}
At a Glance: Cartegraph Guided Filters
Find the information you need. Fast.
You know what I like to do? If your answer was “scrapbooking,” you were wrong. If your answer was “filter data,” I would be handing you the stuffed panda off the top shelf right now.
Yup, there are few pleasures in life that are more gratifying than sifting through mounds of data. What data, you ask? Well, Operations Management data, obviously, but Russian winter wheat harvest data: 1981-1992 and historical traffic pattern data for the Chicago suburbs are a close second. So you can see why it’s a great thing I work for a company that deals directly with Operations Management and provides me with a new and improved tool to filter that awesome data!
Enter Cartegraph OMS guided filters, a really slick way to let me sift through data within my OMS system until my heart breathes a sigh of contentment. With Cartegraph OMS, you’ll get three flavors of filtering:
Basic Guided Filter
Querying data is up there on your bucket list with oral surgery and trips to Wal-Mart; let’s get this over with. Cartegraph OMS lets you select what piece of data you want to filter on and the value you want to filter out, all within an easy-to-use user interface. To bring up all my Stop Signs in the City, I can do so with four clicks.
Advanced Guided Filter
You are complex, and your filtering needs are as well. Let me introduce you to OMS’s Advanced Guided filter, still with an easy-to-use UI, but with additional flexibility to create the most demanding filter sets. You tell me you need to know which Stop Signs were inspected between January 1, 2012 and March 25, 2012. Check.
You like T-SQL, filter expressions and programming in FORTRAN 77. We’ve got a mode for you. Fire up Syntax view and you have the full power of the keyboard and your own blazing raw intellect to make Cartegraph OMS dance to your liking.
Cartegraph OMS gives you the power to get at the data you need to do your job, and three sets of filter tools to do so. Screenshots left you unsatisfied? Go ahead and give one of our Sales Reps a call. They would much rather hear from you than me asking them how the American Airlines’ Frequent Flyer point system works.
So stay tuned. Being in the field is a cold affair in January, and I plan on staying close to my co-workers UL-certified space heater AND giving you more peeks of OMS in the weeks to come. We’ve got some cool stuff in store and we can’t wait to share it with you.
New era. New perspective.}
Some Scholarly Wisdom:
A Well Managed Campus Sells Itself
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. While generally wise, this rule does not apply to college campuses.
A little over a year ago, I was a college prospect lost in a pile of admissions essays and application deadlines. I remember, on campus tour days, being ushered through preplanned routes. My tour guide rattled off building histories, class sizes and payment plans. This was the stuff I generally forgot. As prospects, we let our parents remember these tidbits to make a case for later. Even though they’re important, these facts aren’t our deal breakers.
What do we care about? “This building was erected in 1875…” makes a nice story, sure, but it goes in one ear and out the other. The real info we want is mostly what we’re seeing. We’re being a little selfish: we want to know what extras a school will throw in for us. We keep tabs on a well-kept commons area, a convenience store that is actually convenient, and the unique services offered. These amenities and aesthetics are what we mentally save for later.
We college prospects don’t mean to be shallow, but a campus’ efficiency and appearance really are huge elements in our decision. Don’t get me wrong: we want more to our education than the campus’ postcard appeal. But when it comes down to final enrollments and tit for tat, you can bet your bottom dollar we’re remembering any dilapidated buildings and untended greenery. We’ve long forgotten the set-in-stone founding principles of the school, but we’ve remembered what it can do for us: resources, conveniences and overall attractiveness.
The past few years have been a time of big, pretty renovations for my campus. They’ve been cleaning up the area and focusing on other great things: accessibility to buildings, student resources and even details like nicer landscaping. They’re paying attention to disability services, student transportation and safety. This year, we also had record enrollment. Coincidence? Not even close.
My university has really tapped in to its “wow” factor, and it’s drawing in “wow” students. The establishment pays better attention to details, and it’s attracting more students who do the same.
As colleges herd prospective students through campuses before spring’s big application push, they need to keep in mind that applicants are conditioned to think critically. Don’t think they will be fooled with fast facts. They want high quality establishments and indications that colleges will make more improvements in their own student timelines. History doesn’t matter much if the present and future don’t satisfy.
So, the moral of the story is this: if you want us, appeal to us. Talk your college up, and we’ll get bored. But keep your campus in its prime, and it will speak wonders for itself.
Good Apps Make Good Neighbors}
Cartegraph Announces New Partnership…with the Sun
How much money could solar power save your organization?
At this very moment there's a team of dudes on our roof equipping us to harness the power of the sun. All said and done, Cartegraph's new solar setup will save our company approximately 10% annually on electricity costs (even more if electricity costs happen to spike).
I know, I know, 10% percent isn't exactly an eye-popping number. But when you're paying to power an entire facility, every bit helps (a few renewable energy tax subsidies never hurt, either). But if we think beyond the bottom line nature of business, there's a factor that defies numbers — doing the right thing.
For us, this solar setup is our latest example of practicing what we preach. A big part of Cartegraph's mission is to help businesses and organizations become more sustainable. That's why we design and build technology that helps users manage operations intelligently and eliminate waste — of money, time, resources, and more.
It's unfortunate that the clean energy conversation got lost in the bitterness of this last election cycle. In the big scheme of things, it was definitely a conversation worth having. But even without the attention, the clean energy effort has remained alive and well and at the top of many peoples' minds. Case-in-point: the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Just last year, Cambridge teamed with the Sustainable Design Lab at MIT in the development of a web application that helps Cambridge residents understand how much a solar setup might cost for their business and/or home, and how much money they might save in doing so.
If you're a fan of sustainability, the effort, in and of itself, is very cool. What's even cooler, though, is that the app uses satellite mapping to demonstrate how effective a given address is at soaking-up sun. Sustainability is, after all, a not-so-distant cousin of practicality. And with this information, businesses and home owners are equipped to make practical decisions about whether their building is good candidate for solar.
What do you think; are there sunny days ahead for solar powered buildings in your region? Are those days already here? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
New era. New perspective.}
The Adventures of Citizen Y:
Constructive Complaining & Kids Say the Darndest #$%&!
Here’s a really important thing I’ve noticed: complaining with a Smartphone is inherently better than just complaining.
Now, I’m no expert… wait, that’s not true: I am an expert at complaining. I wrote my first letter-to-the-editor in the eighth grade. But I am not just some “glass-half-empty” complainer. My complaining has meaning (I’ve completed an informal poll among my family and friends and, when asked if my complaining was meaningful, they mostly answered “whatever,” which is a subset answer of “yes”).
Let’s just agree that the occasional notation on how to improve the world is both helpful and acceptable. Constructive criticism, if you will.
Since putting a YourGOV-equipped Smartphone in my hand, I have found some ways to be extra helpful. The following are imprecise summaries of YourGOV submittals to my favorite recipient, Public Works:
Dear Public Works: I’ve noticed that my fellow citizen down the road has an affinity for blowing all of his grass, leaves, and twigs into the street despite the crystal-clear ordinance banning such practices. While I appreciate his decorative greening of my nearest storm drain, a pair of nesting geese began calling the clogged gutter drain home. This might indicate it’s time to give him a friendly reminder to knock it off. Here’s a picture of my neighbor at work with his leaf-blower. See the house numbers? They are right above that finger he’s waving at me. Howdy, neighbor!
Dear Public Works: I’ve made a new friend! She moved in about half a mile away and, like me, she is a bit of a night owl. I ran into her when I was out jogging with my dog at about 10 p.m. one night. I literally ran into her, wearing her black clothing and stocking cap. She was looking pretty stealthy emerging from the forest that the school owns for its environmental education. At first I thought she was Santa Claus because of the large bag she was carrying. She’s a giver, alright: in fact, she was giving away all of her grass clippings! Isn’t that nice of her? They are located right next to that sign that says “No Dumping.” I’ve included her contact information in case you want to send her a “thank you” note.
Dear Public Works: We’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we? There was the time you picked up my branches even though I put them to the curb late and chased the chipper truck in my robe. And I’ll never forget how you helped me haul away that dead deer carcass rotting away upwind from the swing set. I mow a little of your grass, you mow a little of mine. I wonder if we might partner on another project: let’s fix some curb! I know, exciting stuff. I’ll be waiting!
Helpful — it feels good.
“What did you say, sweetie?”
“Right. That’s what I thought you said. Where did you learn that word, my little angel? Oh, your big brother. Ok, you play nicely while mommy goes to have a little talk with your brother.”
I’ve cancelled cable, I’ve put the parent controls on every electronic device under the roof, I ripped out the good pages of the old National Geographics at grandpa’s house, and I send him on the bus with industrial-grade noise-blocking ear protectors. What did I miss? Where did he learn that word?
The tunnel. Of course! There’s a tunnel in the park that goes under the railroad tracks to the recreational trail. It’s old and creepy and awesome: a perfect place for kids to hang out. It gets hit with graffiti pretty regularly. Railroad cars are often stored on the dead-end tracks above it; they too are full of some interesting art and literature.
Apparently big brother has been studying it like he’s learning Shakespeare. But guess what, kiddo? Mom is a step ahead of you. The library is now closed.
Tap, click, submit. YourGOV has a handy little graffiti reporting tool. Hope public works doesn’t think I’m sending them dirty messages when they see the photo I’ve submitted with it. Although, you catch more flies with honey… if it gets someone with some graffiti-be-gone spray paint here faster, it’s all good. I’m not afraid of being asked what I’m doing hanging out in a damp tunnel.
Uh-oh. Grandma’s coming for a visit. Somebody find that pacifier.
Good Apps Make Good Neighbors}
A Special Gift From Cartegraph
from us and ours, to you and yours
Cartegraph is pleased to present its 2012 holiday video, "Cartegraph for Christmas." Play it. Replay it. Share it with your family and friends. We hope you have as much fun watching it as we had making it! We also hope you to take a minute to consider its context...
As much as anything, this video is a timely, rosy-cheeked, belly-jiggling, glad-tide-bearing metaphor: if Cartegraph can improve day-to-day operations at the North Pole — arguably the most industrious and productive enterprise in any realm of possibility — it’s powerful enough to improve operations anywhere.
And for the record, Cartegraph isn’t just talking about the public sector anymore. We’re talking about anyplace that has operations. We’re talking about airports, campuses, facilities, and a buncha other cool places we don’t even know about yet.
Wait. Operations Management? In the public sector?
Yep. As Jake Schneider mentioned in an earlier post, OMS is coming to town…and city, and county, and every other public sector entity out there.
Tracking resources. Maintaining assets. Processing requests. Managing workflow. These are the day-to-day operations that make the public sector tick. Until now, many agencies — maybe even yours — have had to make due with a hodge-podge of systems and applications, each serving a different purpose, department, and need.
But working within these silos puts day-to-day operations at constant risk of being inefficient, redundant, or, even worse, counterproductive. So we built a system that manages your operations holistically, allowing processes and functions to complement one another. The result is a continuous loop of data that’s valuable for every type of user in your organization.
Which brings me to my holiday wish...
Those adorable half-pints who energize the holidays have it easy. By wishing, hoping, and believing, they bring Santa Claus to life for everyone. Unfortunately, no amount of wishing, hoping, and believing will help you improve your operations. You need a plan of action. You need the right tools. You need a dedicated, unified OMS.
So whatever industry or business you’re in, I want you to start thinking about the future. I want you to be honest about the things you could be doing better. I want you to take time to understand what your customers and staff expect from you. I want you to ask yourself if you have the right tools to move your business forward.
Then I want you to go out and buy yourself a brand new, action-packed Cartegraph OMS system (now featuring Kung-Fu Grip).
Tell ‘em Brad sent you. Upper management says copywriters — even charming and handsome ones like me — don’t qualify for commission. But it’s the holiday season. According to my darling little children, anything’s possible.
From us and ours, to you and yours:
Have a Happy and Productive Holiday Season!
New era. New perspective.}
Racking Up the Miles:
A Day in the Life of Marana, Arizona
Our trip on the highway to the ultimate destination of enterprise-wide asset management has been eventful so far, to say the least. There have been potholes, detours and a flat tire. We have travelled the lonely road of culture change, taken a moment to rest and rejuvenate, fixed the flat tire of inventory control and enjoyed the road with our travelling companions.
There are often many events that happen rather quickly as we get our system in place, begin collecting assets and start the difficult task of work management and inventory control. When we take a trip in our vehicle, most of the activity is preparatory in nature: change the oil, check everything on the car, pack your clothes, be sure the mail is stopped, etc. It is a blur of activity. Once we get on the road, we just sit and drive and drive and drive. The road becomes like a treadmill under our tires.
In the same way, once we get everything in place and begin to operate our system, (barring any unforeseen tragedies, of course) life in our asset management world gets routine.
All of the initial accolades we received for implementing the system have died down and everyone becomes familiar with the excellent reporting and proactive maintenance schedules we have created. Then what?
Like a kid opening all of his presents on Christmas morning and then asking, “Is this all there is?” we can become frustrated and restless. We are just racking up the miles, the road becoming an endless strip of black treadmill as our mind drifts between where we left and where we are going. We scoot around in our seat as the hours go by; restlessly hoping time passes more quickly than it has the past few hours.
It is in moments like these that we must realize that this is a normal part of the journey. There WILL be stretches of emptiness and long periods of seeming inactivity. What we must take comfort in is that progress IS being made. We are getting there!! We are creating a history for all of our assets. We are developing a comprehensive library of work orders that will serve us well in the days, weeks, months and years ahead as the historical record of your system begins to form. Every mile we drive is a mile closer to our destination. Every work order entered, every asset collected and every piece of inventory monitored are all working together to help our workplace save money, be more efficient and raise the level of accountability.
So take heart, fellow traveler!! Keep doing what you are doing, even if no one seems to notice or care. Remember, you are doing this to create a great system that will live for years beyond your time there. You are the initiator of one of the greatest tools your business can have: a comprehensive, enterprise-wide, live and up-to-the-minute picture of everything they own. At the click of a button, your management team can track costs, create reports, manage inventory, submit documents to boards of directors, council members, etc. The only way any of that happens is because you made a decision; a decision that you would take this trip, racking up the miles to that ultimate destination we talked about earlier. Until you arrive at your destination and until my next entry……..keep driving!!
Who Is That Behind the Scenes?}
Adoptability > Features:
Because features are useless if no one uses them
When I talk to people about what they want in an Operations Management System (OMS), they invariably start by listing features. “It would be great if it did this.” Or “How about if it automatically did that.” But when you dig a little deeper, a greater need emerges. “You know what would be great? A system that I could actually get my employees to use.”
Around here, there’s a word we use to describe a technology’s ability to be integrated and accepted with minimal resistance from the people required to use it.
That word is “adoptability,” and it’s at the core of everything we did when designing the new Cartegraph OMS.
Today’s businesses and organizations are facing a real data dilemma. You have these powerful analytic tools and you want to make good decisions about how to spend your money, but any analysis you do is flawed because your underlying data is flawed. This is often phrased as ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’. The data about the work you are doing is being entered sporadically and inconsistently, so any conclusions drawn from that partial picture are invalid.
This isn’t the type of issue that’s solved by a large enough sampling, either, because those gaps in information are often pretty consistent. For example, let’s say the members of your streets crew refuse to use those “slow, clunky” mobile devices you’ve given them. Instead, each member prefers to work according to his or her own system of notes or what-have-you. That means each time they come back to the shop or office, they’re filling the system with approximations, abbreviations, and best recollections about what they did, how long it took them, and what materials they used to complete the tasks.
The data in an organization is like a pyramid — wider and more granular at the bottom, all the way to the top where the sum of that data is being used in aggregate to plan budgets and work for the future. But if your base stones are shoddy or missing, you’re best-case scenario is an unstable peak that can’t be trusted. Worst-case scenario? The whole thing collapses.
Accurate and timely collection of data from the ground up is the key to a streamlined and efficient organization. Field workers have better information to make day-to-day decisions, supervisors have better information for mid-term planning, and directors have better information for long-term planning and budget analysis.
This meant building a system that users in all parts of an organization could use and would adopt. Some of the words that we used repeatedly to test our design were: easy, friendly, intuitive, familiar, expected, and fast. As we laid out the design piece by piece, we quickly knew whether we were getting off-track when we no longer felt we could apply these terms. I believe you can see the application of these principles in every facet of the system, from the inclusion of Google maps, to support for consumer tablets, to persistence in the web (stay tuned for a future post dedicated to the topic of persistence).
We have built a system that is so intuitive and familiar that it will allow the collection of the detailed data an organization needs to operate, without being a burden on the people who need to focus on getting work done. A system that will be adopted.
New era. New perspective.}
New era. New perspective.
Cartegraph — the Operations Management System.
I’ve been in this industry for 15 years and I’ve seen many notable things. But, right now, I can say with great confidence, that as a company and as an industry, we’re in the midst of the most exciting times I’ve ever experienced as a professional.
We’ve entered a new era for operations management in the public sector and beyond. Did you catch that? I said operations management. Not asset management, not work management — well, yes, those, too — but from now on, you’ll be approaching the management of those operations from a whole new perspective.
The Idea: With an industry evolving, we have an opportunity.
Years ago, it became clear that technology was evolving so quickly, it wouldn’t be long before the entire public sector would absolutely need to evolve with it. So we began working on a system that would help organizations evolve their operations in a way that would resonate well into the future.
While we were busy working on our new system, the public sector began its transformation. More and more, we encountered agencies and organizations looking for technology to solve the types of problems the public sector has been tackling for years. Customer service improvements, accountability, process management, efficiency, integration — these fundamental aspects of corporations and business are now expected of you.
We took this information and combined it with the most advanced methodologies and technologies we know. The result is the most revolutionary system we've ever created.
It’s awesome. It’s a game changer.
And we know you’ll want to use it.
But there was one small problem.
The Problem: No one knows what we do.
I asked some customers and a few employees to describe, simply, what Cartegraph does. This “simple” question garnered no less than 25 different answers. Not exactly the well-defined consensus I was looking for.
No business can possibly be everything to everyone. Yet, that’s how we were being described. I challenged a research firm — you know, the “pros” — to categorize our business. Even they couldn't muster anything beyond a catch-all blend of several business categories.
“Our system is built to share data with other core business systems,” I said. “Yet, you can't come up with a clear and concise way to describe what Cartegraph does for businesses. Isn't this an obvious problem?” They thought I was on to something. And I was.
Continuing the conversation with our customers revealed another perspective. It turns out we’re more important than we've ever known. In fact, Cartegraph is so critical to day-to-day operations that, in many organizations, it is part of emergency management protocol. So, if the Cartegraph system goes down, it’s all hands on deck to get it back up and running —ASAP!
The Revelation: A new seat at the table.
Our Services team spends a lot of time integrating Cartegraph with other core systems such as GIS, CRM, and financial systems. That led us to identify a gap, or an “empty seat,” at that enterprise table of systems.
In many respects, we were already occupying a seat. Cartegraph has always supported information and process needs by associating with other enterprise systems. But as hard as the system worked, and as important as it was to the management of day-to-day operations, we were never really invited to sit down at the table and stay.
The world is full of companies offering applications and solutions that claim to fulfill all your day-to-day needs. They’ll install them. They’ll do their best to knit them together with your other systems. And they’ll leave you with a hodge-podge of systems and applications that may or may not get along. Some call it a WORK-ASSET-REQUEST-RESOURCE management system. I call it A-B-S-U-R-D.
So we decided to crash the “enterprise party.” We brought our own chair, too. In it, a business critical system that’s vital to the efficiency and success of day-to-day operations. It’s on equal footing with other enterprise systems, not child to them. It’s a powerful engine for managing incoming requests, assigning and completing work, maintaining assets, and managing all your resources. Just as importantly, it’ll save you time and money.
It’s our new Operations Management System. We’re confident that once you fully realize what it brings to the table, you’ll never want us to leave.
The Future: A new approach to day-to-day business.
Let me say it for you: the future looks pretty incredible. You've got a fresh perspective on the system you need to manage your day-to-day operations. You know exactly why and how it fits into your enterprise. You even know what to call it now (hint: impress your boss and friends by working Cartegraph Operations Management System into all your conversations).
For you, our Operations Management System introduces a future brightened by operational improvements in efficiency, accountability, customer service, and more. For us, this kicks-off a new era of delivering technology to organizations and businesses that have waited a long time for a better approach to managing day-to-day operations.
We’re excited. And we hope you are, too.
Time to Consider Tablets in the Field}
Who Is That Behind the Scenes?
Last time, I interviewed my friend and fellow traveler, Brendan O’Connor. He is someone I can always count on to help me think through issues, create new modules and discuss the future of asset management as we take this trip together. However, I also have others that are travelling with me in a supportive role. Teresa Skinner and Bernadette Romero do all of the data entry in Cartegraph for the Utilities Department in Marana. But, unlike the family trip where the wild hyenas in the back seat, (who are cleverly disguised as children) keep whining, “Are we there yet?”, these two individuals are the exact opposite, providing a constant source of encouragement and help.
Creating an asset management system is a lot like being a NASCAR driver; you may drive alone….but you do not race alone. In order to enjoy a successful implementation, you NEED a team. No matter how passionate you are about creating an asset management system for your enterprise, it is virtually impossible to do it all alone. You need gifted and talented people around you, helping you, encouraging you and being committed to the vision of enterprise-wide asset management.
Building a strong asset management team is a combination of fortuitous circumstances and discovering an individual’s strengths and gifts. For us, the two ladies I mentioned were already in our department, serving as a customer service representative and billing specialist, resepectively. Thankfully, they embraced the challenge: entering 400-500 work orders per month while answering the phone, handling customer’s needs, running billing software, processing payments, etc. I have the pleasure of working with these two every day and have watched them take on these additional data-entry responsibilities with nearly perfect accuracy.
Over the years, I have discovered a simple formula to use for people who will work with me. It is uncomplicated, but deadly accurate in determining a person’s potential and future effectiveness. If a person possesses all three of these qualities, they are virtually guaranteed success. If they fail to qualify on even one of these traits, I can guarantee that you can expect trouble at some point. They are as follows:
Do they show up on time every day? Are they the type of person to commit to something and stick with it? Do they set a steady pace and keep going until they accomplish their goals? If the answer is yes, continue down the list. If the answer is no, stop, thank them, and wish them well, but DO NOT allow them on your team.
Are they willing to help with extra duties? Will they do whatever you ask of them, if it is explained properly and thoroughly? These are individuals who never say, “that’s not MY job!”. They are flexible and enjoy taking on a new challenge. “Availables” are people who hang around and ask, “Is there anything else I can do?” with a smile.
This means having a good attitude and being hungry to learn. You can train people to do a lot of different things, but you can NOT teach a good attitude. If someone is teachable, I am not overly concerned about how skilled they are; skills can be taught. If they are not teachable, I don’t want to work with them. You may consider that harsh, but do you want to create a great system or go home with a great headache? It’s your choice.
Teresa and Bernadette are exemplary when it comes to being teachable. I have trained them for hours to be sure they understand why I want work orders and assets entered a certain way. Because of their willingness to learn the system, accept additional duties, and do all of it with a great attitude, our system has become exponentially better than it would have without them. This entry is dedicated to them. I may be the one speaking at Connect conferences and consulting with other municipalities who want to know what to do to get started, but the reason I am able to do that is because of my faithful, available, and teachable fellow employees, Teresa and Bernadette. Thanks for all you do!
A Good Map is Worth a Thousand Words.
A Bad Map is Worth One Expletive.
These days, maps can be found in every walk of life. Access to digital maps from desktop computers, smartphones, and even the gratuitous use by cable/ TV newsrooms allows individuals who previously may not have ever looked at a map to have a hands-on experience. So now that maps are consumed by even the most uninformed of us on a myriad of topics, are there ways to ensure my map simply and easily communicates what I intend?
Just as there are in other media types, there are “good” maps and there are “bad” maps. This distinction is sometimes quite stark,where other times it is very subjective. “What, then, makes a good map?” you may ask. But it's a question that cannot be answered in a mere blog post. There are entire books written on the topic. Color choices, element size and styling, level of detail, fonts, and scale are all elements factoring the relative “goodness” or “badness” of a map. With that said, however, there are several non-aesthetic elements that are essential for accurate and easily interpretable map presentations.
I can’t take credit for the following list. A college Teacher Assistant I had for a GIS class passed along the following acronym, and to his credit, has stuck with me to this day: T.O.S.S.L.A.D.
Title: Every map should have a title. It allows the user to assess the purpose of the map quickly; allowing them to determine if it meets their needs.
Origin: A fancy name for a compass or North arrow. This allows the user to determine the maps reference to the earth. While most maps these days have North being straight up, occasionally you will encounter a map that has a skewed orientation, perhaps to better fit it on the physical medium its presented on (i.e. paper), or simply because it’s easier to interact with the map in that orientation.
Scale: Ensure there is a scale bar on the map. This allows the user to determine relative measurers of distance. Is this road I am looking at 1 mile long? 10 miles long? 1 foot long? Knowing map scale is essential in map interpretation.
Source: This is a two-fold element: It allows the map maker to provide the map viewer an idea where the data the map is representing is from; a necessity in determining the accuracy of a map. It also allows the map maker a way to cite the source of their data, avoiding all those pesky cries of plagiarism and the ensuing lawsuits. You have better uses for your time, like ensuring the rest of the T.O.S.S.L.A.D. elements are on your maps.
Legend: Not the myth, but the area where a user can determine what a particular color or symbol represents on the map. Without a legend, a user cannot successfully interpret what your map is trying to represent, “Does the red skull and crossbones over my favorite restaurant mean what I think it means?
Author: Hey, take credit for your creation. It also lends credibility to a map document, especially if you are Dr. Noel Manfrrangensennn, PhD, JSK, ASEP, KOPA, and not Billy Addams, 2nd Grader, Middle Elementary School.
Date: When was this cartographic masterpiece made? If your map was created in 1962 and shows commuter levels in Chicago – it might not be such a valid source for the traffic data you are looking for today, unless you are feeling nostalgic.
There you have it. Ensure that every map you create incorporates T.O.S.S.L.A.D., and you are on your way to cartographic genius. Now we just need to work on your penchant to use hot pink and yellow for your font colors.
Graffiti Woes and Parental Controls
It’s a good day for a walk with the kiddos, complete with a lovely breeze to muffle out the whining. Remind me to make a paper chain counting down the days until school resumes. We cut across the park, then through the tunnel under the train tracks toward the DNR trail. It’s a short tunnel—maybe ten feet long—with approximately 324 spiders per square foot. I’m busy having an anxiety attack clearing our way through the cobwebs when a little squirt’s voice echoes behind me.
“Mommy, what does #%!& mean?”
“Oh, sweetie, you know what that word means. Mommy says it when she stubs her toe.”
“Oh, yeah. What about ‘Bleep, bleep, blippity, bleep?’”
“Oh my… um… look! Is that a Blue Bunting?!”
Come on, people, we are out in nature! I don’t let the little squids watch PG-13 movies. The internet controls are so tight that my older child couldn’t find a picture of an elbow online. Do I really need to have parental controls at the ready for a walk in the woods?
Typically, my neighborhood doesn’t have a significant graffiti problem. But the few times graffiti occurs, especially in this spot, the odds are low that anyone will see it besides spray-painting teens, spiders, and me with the ducklings in tow. There isn’t a lot of traffic under the troll bridge. The spiders and the teens aren’t talking, so it’s up to me to communicate this little piece of art to the folks who can make it go bye-bye faster than that Blue Bunting.
Luckily, there is one piece of technology that walks with us. Among the juice boxes and bug spray in my super cool 1986 fanny pack rests a smartphone. There’s an app for that bleep. YourGOV locates us under the troll bridge and I tap the “graffiti” issue option. A picture? Oh yeah. Let’s give someone a thrill today.
Travelling With a Friend
Last time, I ended my entry by telling you that I am not travelling this asset management highway alone. Thankfully, I have a fellow traveler who is a gifted and talented individual who does exactly what I do, only in Public Works.
Brendan O’Connor is not just a co-worker, he is my friend. We have offices next to each other. We eat lunch together. We go in the field together for projects. And we create modules in Cartegraph together. We have not purchased matching sweaters and ridden a tandem bike to work yet, but suffice it to say, we spend a lot of time working on asset management together to make sure we create the best system possible.
My job is to manage all enterprise-funded assets and Brendan manages all of the general fund assets. We also do extensive cross-training with each other to ensure redundancy within our system. If your organization can do this, I highly recommend this paradigm for asset management.
I sat down with Brendan to discuss how Public Works entered their assets into Cartegraph and the challenges they faced in implementing both asset and work management.
How did you start and what asset did you collect first?
Our Public Services General Manager tasked me to get on the same playing field as our regional pavement preservation committee. Thankfully, everyone in the region uses Cartegraph for their pavement management, so the implementation was smoother. I cross-trained with Tucson’s pavement management team, learning inspection protocols and asset management techniques, which took about a year to complete. Approximately 3 months after starting pavement, we initiated the work management piece in Work director, within the Operations and Maintenance Department.
What challenges did you face in the implementation?
Our challenges were virtually identical to yours, Todd. We had the same issues with individual field staff and managers thinking it was a way for upper management to track every move that was made, creating a big-brother scenario. The other issue we faced was the diversity within multiple divisions (signs, signals, landscape, heavy equipment, etc), creating a uniform reporting system, which was quite a challenge.
How did you overcome those challenges? What was the practical solution?
The simple answer is “this is how life is going to be from now on”. If anyone had an issue with this, we told them to take it to the highest level possible and if you can get them to tell us to stop, we will. Obviously, that never happened. Without the backing of our Public Services General Manager, this project would have never happened.
So, where are you at now and what is ahead?
As far as asset management, we have pavement, signs and signals in the system 100%. We are currently putting in ADA Ramps and creating and implementing asset and work management modules for our Facilities Division. Our Operations and Maintenance Division has been on Work Director for 2 years and has realized how valuable it is and can not imagine life without it, so it has been VERY successful. One of our managers, who was initially a strong opponent of the system, has now become its biggest champion. THAT is rewarding.
As you can see from the above interview, Brendan has faced the same challenges as I have. Thankfully, both of us have overcome them. This road we travel is not always smooth or easy. There are detours, potholes, roads under construction, flat tires and lonely times of wondering if the journey is worth it. However, having someone travel with you on this journey makes it easier and much more rewarding. You can talk about issues together, think through different ways to implement ideas and learn from one another.
Until the next entry, remember that you are not alone on this journey. You have a lot of fellow travelers, even if they are not in the same car. If you need encouragement or help, feel free to contact myself or Brendan. We understand what it’s like. Enjoy the journey!! I know I am!
Time to Consider Tablets in the Field
What if you could take all the power of your desktop and/or laptop and have at your immediate disposal in the field? Would you be surprised if I told you that right now several Cartegraph clients are using iPads and Android tablets to do just that?
For the past few years, some agencies have been remotely accessing their databases using laptops and wifi/cell connections. This is made possible by Virtual Private Networks (VPN) or other similar technology. For the uninitiated, the process goes like this — a laptop with internet access logs into a virtual computer to provide live, remote access to your database.
Now that the true value of tablets is being realized, people are working to find ways to use existing software on them. Remote Desktop applications provide this capability. These tools are capable of meeting several needs of workers in the field on a device that is easier to work with.
There are multiple Remote Desktop solutions available but they all work in similar ways:
- An application is installed on the computer that remains in the office.
- An application is installed on the tablet.
- Some form of login is setup to allow the tablet to access the computer in the office via the internet.
The end result is that the tablet runs the office computer remotely from the field. The person in the field has full access to everything the office computer can do. More sophisticated solutions involve virtual machines in the office, but yield basically the same results for the field workers.
Will this work for you? Imagine you have your office computer with you in your vehicle or in your hand as you go about tasks outside the office:
Work Management - If you need to track your hours, log which equipment and what materials were used to perform the work, you can do it at the point of service. Additionally, requests and work orders could be created while in the field and all forms of data related to those should be able to be captured.
Asset Inventory – If you want to collect data on the address, type and details about an infrastructure asset, all of that work is able to be performed.
Asset Inspections – If you want to perform inspections on infrastructure assets, nearly all of that work is able to be performed.
Material Inventory Management – Quantities in and out, inventory and the like would be able to be performed with a tablet.
Reporting and Analysis – Tablets would have full access to the desktop here so people in the field could print reports, run analysis, and filter/query data from the field. Of course the printouts would go to a printer or network printer in the office.
GIS – If the office computer has GIS installed and running, staff in the field can access it remotely.
There are some limitations. The computer is still in the office. And unlike the majority of today’s devices, it does not have GPS or a camera. Tablets don’t currently meet “high precision GPS needs.” However, when combined with a web -based mapping application, a tablet’s onboard GPS will provide a very serviceable set of coordinates. You may also be able to take pictures with your tablet, but you’ll need to download and associate those photos with the appropriate records later.
Wondering which tablet is right for you? This is largely dependent upon the needs of the staff using it. There are many different sizes available and this is probably the biggest driver of which one to consider.
Smaller, Android-based tablets may be appropriate for those who wish to hold the device in one hand in portrait mode. One of notable limitations of small device is visibility. On the other hand, larger tablets, like the iPad, offer greater visibility and a user experience that is much closer to a laptop.
Those of you living in colder climates — where the winter months demand gloves — will be interested to know that any tablet may be used with a stylus. But usability comes with a trade-off. You see, no tablet is classified as truly “rugged.” And since hard use and harsh environments are all in a day’s work for field personnel, you should expect the occasional replacement due to accidental damage.
Do you want to find out if tablets are right for your field applications? We can help you. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the devices, device alternatives, technology, security considerations, and set-up. Just contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Repairing a Flat Tire
After safely pulling to the side of the road, we open the trunk to retrieve the jack and the spare tire. Some blowouts can cause a lot of damage. Thankfully this one did not, though it caused more than a little panic when it happened. As the wrench does its work, our mind drifts to what caused the blowout. Was it debris in the road? Was it a faulty tire? Looking at the tire, there appears to be excessive wear that had not been noticed. An examination of the other 3 tires reveals that all of them are just fine. So, just ONE bad tire can stop your progress? Yes, unfortunately, it can. You need all of your tires to be in good condition in order to make your journey a success. The same was true of our asset management experience. We had one bad tire that we had not noticed until it blew out: inventory control.
Cartegraph has a wonderful module in WORKdirector called “Materials”. We had dutifully and painstakingly inventoried all of our parts in our warehouse in the Utilities Department. Carefully, we came up with an id system that would work for us and counted everything by hand to be sure our initial inventory was perfectly accurate. A brand new tire, as it were. Unfortunately, tires do not stay new. The intoxicating smell of new rubber and the little rubber whiskers are soon a distant memory as we rack up the miles, not paying as close of attention to the tires as we should.
Just when our work management was looking good, our inventory count revealed some serious flaws in our communication. We were off nearly 20%. This was a real blowout, not a slow leak. Pieces of rubber, as well as my ego, were tossed around the highway for everyone to see. How did this happen and what do we do to get a new tire and get back on the road?
Thankfully, we recognized the problem and took the steps to solve it. For us, it was a faulty method of communication. Our problem was that when new materials came in, there was not an air-tight process and communication flow to ensure every piece was stocked, numbered and updated in the materials module. Once we corrected the error through a data-flow diagram, we made sure everyone involved knew the precise process for bringing inventory in to the warehouse, tracking it and updating it in the system. The new tire is installed and we are ready to go! Was it a good tire? Yes, one year later our inventory variance was less than 1%.
This episode in our history points out a critically important truth: purchasing a software program does not create an enterprise-wide asset management system any more than purchasing a toolbox fixes your car. YOU must make the software work for you. The goal is to proactively manage your system. If you want to be a pro, get active. Make it work for you.
Far too often, someone sees the tremendous potential of a software program like Cartegraph and assumes that because they purchase it and install it, the task of asset management is complete. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reason our management team loves what we do in Marana is because we have entered over 23,000 work orders in 3 years, attach those work orders to assets, collect GPS points for the assets, inspect the assets and generate reports that reflect all of that work. Without the software, we have no way to assemble the data. Without the work we do, the software is useless. BOTH are needed to create a great system.
As I mentioned in my first blog entry, I am not travelling alone on this journey. Brendan O’Connor, my good friend and colleague in the Public Works Division, is driving with me. Next time, we will hear Brendan’s thoughts on how they gathered pavement, signs, signals, ADA Ramps, etc. and the challenges and victories in their department. Now that we are back on the highway, I am reminded how much I enjoy this journey. It is challenging at times, but the trip is totally worth it.
The squeaky wheel got the grease. Six months of grease to be exact. The aforementioned road to Armageddon is under construction and the sole inlet to my neighborhood via the municipality is closed. Yes, it is a huge pain, but at least they waited to hit it hard after school was out. It will be great when it’s done. I am nothing but appreciative, except for one problem: people.
You know what I’m talking about. People are annoying. Road closed? No sir, that couldn’t apply to you! You are clearly special and deserve to go through the construction site with no regard to the safety of the orange-vested workers, the fleet of vehicles blocking your way, or the large hole you probably can’t see while you’re texting your client to say that you’re running late.
The local police scored big when someone in a Hummer tore through the closed construction zone, taking a shortcut across the church property at speeds high enough to trench the lawn. They didn’t catch the guy, but he was nice enough to come back later the same way where a patrol car sat waiting in the dark like your dad did when you were an hour past curfew. This fine citizen was then introduced to that neat rule about traffic fines and point violations doubling in construction zones. Man, I love people!
So, one morning, I’m running the kids to a get-them-out-of-the-house sports camp, when I realize that the intersection at the start of the neighborhood is almost completely blocked. There are guys in boom trucks, a digger has dug a hole large enough to plop my vehicle in, and orange-vested folks are everywhere. But they are not alone. Someone has placed “Garage Sale” signs everywhere and the intersection is mass chaos with folks trying to navigate where they have no business being. Someone has dropped the ball: the detour signs have not kept up with the street closings, so there was no warning from the bottom of the hill of what was coming. I asked a woman in an orange vest why the surrounding streets weren’t signed and she said the municipality hadn’t gotten to it yet.
Dear Public Works: you know I love you. We’re buds. And I know the boss man is on a well-deserved vacation. But garage-salers and intersections with meteor-sized holes blocked by one orange pylon make for a dangerous combination. Thankfully, YourGOV keeps the lines of communication open so your staff can be proactive in keeping dangerous streets closed.
Good Apps Make Good Neighbors
Robert Frost’s stone fence has nothing on Cartegraph’s YourGOV app.
I reside in one of those places with neighborhood covenants that don’t allow fences unless you’ve got a pool. Pool? Please. I can’t even keep my tub clean.
Having no fence didn’t seem like a big deal when we first moved in. Then, the children grew wheels and wanted to run about. That day, I realized why my mom loved the fence around the yard I grew up in: it was the 1970’s version of daycare. Not many kids lived in the neighborhood where I sprouted, so my summertime playmates were found within that fenced adventureland: trees, swings, rocks (sorry about your window, Mrs. Jones), an assortment of balls, a beloved cocker spaniel, and—until he learned to scale the fence—one brother. We were allowed use of shovels, slingshots, scrap wood, and any tool that could be used to scrape dog poop off the bottom of our tennies.
Determined to keep the animals occupied in the zoo, my dad brought home a giant wooden spool that had housed electrical wire going up on new power lines. We logrolled on it until it spawned the world’s largest sliver. We ate crab apples and plums until we doubled over, and we ended the summer as brown as the dirt we dug through to reach China.
This all-American fun was made possible by a total disregard for sunblock, and a large perimeter fence. I’m starting to come around to Mom’s 1970s way of thinking.
But, alas, it’s not going to happen, and the “good neighbor” issue is left in the air. And right now, it’s leaning badly in one direction…
Plastic playhouses are like magnets for little kids. So when your neighbors leave a playhouse up in the corner abutting your property, then allow a noxious, rash-inducing weed to overcome it, it’s time to break out the YourGOV app. The local municipality has a weed officer. Since the neighbors didn’t receive the hint when we pointed a skull-and-crossbones warning sign to the playhouse, maybe a friendly notice from the local government will do the trick?
Good apps make good neighbors. And less itchy kids.