Paving a Path to Smart Communities

By Matt Ball, Esri Writer

The Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities has transitioned from an analog to an entirely digital workflow to manage and maintain its water, storm water, and streetlight operations. While it’s hard for some office personnel to remember working with paper maps, some field personnel clearly recall their experiences.

Try riffling through paper on a cold snowy morning, looking for the right mapbook to locate a meter. If the meter was installed less than six months ago, it likely hasn’t made it into your book. If you do find the location in one book, you’ll need to grab another book for more detail.

The first book gives you the block and the side of the street, while the second measures the distance from the curb. Unfortunately, the meter you need to service isn’t showing up in the second book. Work needs to be done, so days can’t be wasted getting an updated map. It isn’t long before you exit the cozy cab of your truck and start digging.

“When an entire street was a bank of snow, I’d often have to dig out the entire bank by hand to find a meter,” says Mark Ross, utility locator, GIS Division, Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities. “Now, with my tablet, I can go right to it and uncover it in minutes.”

 

Live maps transformed Salt Lake City, Utah, into a smarter, more connected community.

 

Attacking Pain Points

Geographic information system (GIS) technology has provided the means to map and maintain utility networks, public works, city parks, and community infrastructure for decades. The shift from paper to digital has accelerated, and many members of the community now use tablets to access information and carry out daily tasks. This includes maintenance, meter reading, and new construction in the field, as well as planning, engineering, and customer service in the office.

“We now have this information and data available for all,” says Jeff Niemeyer, PE, director, Department of Public Utilities, Salt Lake City. “It’s made us much more efficient and integrated organization.”

Consequently, the quality of data and data sharing has improved dramatically. Extending the use across the entire workflow means all teams can see the same information. No longer does the data transfer slowly from department to department with days (sometimes weeks) going by. Instead, everyone has a real-time view and understands what’s happening in the suburbs and the city.

 

Communities Transcend Size

Extending these capabilities not only makes citizens smarter but also serves decision makers with information about how to better serve the people. This necessarily involves seamless exchange of data between service providers and citizens.

“We focus on smart communities, rather than smart cities, as this is a concept that can be leveraged by campuses, military bases, towns, cities of all sizes, counties, regions, and even nations,” says Brian Sapp, marketing program manager at Esri. “The needs and desires to become smart are the same at all scales.”

The irrelevance of size about smart communities is indicated in the findings of the United States Conference of Mayors 2016 smart cities survey. The results of the survey show that the majority of projects under way are in medium-sized cities (with populations ranging from 150,000 to 1 million people) and small cities (with fewer than 150,000 residents).

 

Best Practices for Engagement

Building smart community solutions is a natural fit for GIS. All data, including structured and unstructured data; big data; and data from the Internet of Things, sensors, and devices contains the attributes of space and time—the where and the when. GIS extrapolates intelligence from those two variables, aggregating all community data in a mapping and analytics interface. And because most local governments already have GIS, adding smart community functionality to their platform simply entails extending the system with focused apps. Esri created many app templates and tools that can be configured for hundreds of different tasks and services.

The best approach to create smart community applications is to focus on improving citizen engagement, interdepartmental collaboration, and situational awareness. Once the data and capabilities are in place, communities can launch proof-of-concept projects. This is how Salt Lake City empowered its mobile workforce and digitally transformed its utility asset management system. Such projects allow the community to create a workflow model that, with minor configuration, can be easily replicated across the enterprise.

The City of Los Angeles started like that. With nearly 4 million souls, L.A. took it to the next level with a super hub.

 

Portal for the People

With an eye on driving innovation, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti created the nation’s first map-based open data and civic services portal called GeoHub. A digital window into the city, it tells citizens what’s happening in the community via the map. One of the GeoHub apps called Street Wize shows citizens planned and current development on their streets, lets developers know where and when there are opportunities to build, and helps the city minimize construction conflicts. The map simplifies coordination by acting as a common view into the city database.

 

The City of Los Angeles has taken a leap forward in its deployment of applications by pioneering the concept of the GeoHub portal.

 

“The GeoHub portal allows us to reinvent how we’re delivering services,” says Garcetti. “It broadens our ability to engage residents and businesses by simply connecting the data and using it to develop more efficient ways to deliver services.”

In committees today, mayors are showing how GIS can replicate the same benefits across departments. Garcetti’s hub model essentially laid the groundwork for every kind of community to follow GeoHub’s path. When community hubs reach that point of maturity, smart initiatives roll out quickly.

Transparency is a nice word to describe the smart community model, but it means much more for the field worker and the citizen. It’s about being empowered by our devices and not having to drive downtown to dig through files or risk frostbite to find a meter. GIS helps everyone get the right answers fast and is quickly becoming a best practice for smart community building.

To learn more about building a smart community, click here

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