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Auburn, WA: Creating a smart city by consolidating technology

City of Auburn, WA

Some cities struggle with a lack of technology. That wasn’t the case for Auburn, WA. Until 2015, the city was running over 200 applications among its 450 employees – a ratio that IT Operations Manager Ashley Riggs calls “absurd.”

In an effort to become a smarter city, Auburn decided to simplify. The IT department chose to leverage its existing investment in ArcGIS Online and Cartegraph OMS, and eliminate legacy software applications with limited functionality. In the process, the city realized there are big returns from streamlined operations management and they can’t all be quantified.

Challenge

In addition to the cost of maintaining and supporting hundreds of applications, Auburn was relying on technology systems that didn’t talk to each other. Data existed in silos, making it difficult to quantify value, make meaningful decisions, and prove ROI. Decisions were made subjectively with a fair amount of guesswork.

For example, the department used a program called StreetSaver to track pavement condition. The legacy software was very specific to that function. Staff would pull data from it and push it into a spreadsheet. It was difficult to make data-driven decisions on the questions that really mattered, like “What streets should we work on first?”

The IT department dove into an unprecedented objective: To identify how technology was being used throughout the city and consolidate where they could. Their goal was to solidify a strategic three-year plan to get more from their technology investments.

Solution

During the discovery process, the city realized they already had the technology they needed to become more efficient. “The common theme as we worked to eliminate applications was GIS. It’s the middle man that brings all of these systems together,” says Riggs.

The department wasn’t surprised that GIS was key to uniting its technology — they had considered it a potential solution for years. But they were surprised by the power of Cartegraph OMS to do so much more than they were using it for.

“The power of what GIS can do is pretty known. Where we start talking about integrations, and pushing and pulling data… that’s not as widely known,” says Riggs. “And that’s where we’ve seen the biggest bang for our buck.”

Riggs says more employees are using Cartegraph now than ever. “We were able to move functions and data and processes out of other systems into Cartegraph OMS.”

He points to an ongoing project in Washington state to identify potential lead in water mains. Cities are being called upon to identify installation dates, material types, size, and more. Engineering staff was capturing the information in ArcGIS Online until the IT department realized it would be more efficient to publish the basemap in Cartegraph and track the asset data there. “We’re using the power of each system to do what it does best,” adds Riggs.

Results

The department kicked off its three-year strategic plan in 2016 and is seeing increased efficiencies across the board.

Budget Planning. Auburn eliminated StreetSaver in favor of Cartegraph Scenario Builder. The tool allows them to do more than track an asset. The staff uses it to justify budget requests to city council. “We’re in a budget season right now,” Riggs explains. “So we ran scenarios like: If the goal is to increase overall network condition by 10%, here’s what it would cost you. Or if we don’t change anything, this is how the condition of our pavement would decrease.”

These scenarios served as conversation starters. They opened up the door to important questions: “Are we doing this the right way? Are we picking the right streets? Do we have the right amount of money?” Riggs says these are difficult discussions — but now, they can collaboratively set budgets and define goals in a whole new way.

“Now that we’re making data-driven decisions, it’s easier… but it’s something we’ve never had before,” says Riggs. “It’s eye-opening and powerful information.”

Cartegraph + Esri. It may seem simple, but Auburn’s IT department is celebrating the single sign-on between Cartegraph and ArcGIS Online. “The golden handshake between Cartegraph and Esri has really made our lives a whole lot easier,” says Riggs.

The capabilities of this integration go beyond simply pushing data between two systems. “We’re starting to open up the power of the two together in one environment,” Riggs explains. “It’s like having ArcGIS Online within Cartegraph OMS. We can publish a basemap with data — like parcel lines — that may have nothing to do with the data in Cartegraph, but are huge for the guys in the field who need to know: Whose parcel is this? Am I crossing a line? Having that data in Cartegraph is huge.”

Smart Projects. The city of Auburn has replaced all of its water meters with smart meters and now gets instant updates when an asset needs maintenance. This is just one example of how they’re using smart data to leverage assets and make decisions on other “smart” investments.

Now they’re diving into other silo-ed areas — such as traffic accident data and asset restoration. They are tracking funds, monitoring compliance issues on ADA ramps and sidewalks, and more. Overall, the department is building bridges to bring people and processes together through shared data.

“Being a smart city has different meaning to different people,” says Riggs. “To me, its leveraging what we have now and making it better – not going out and buying things people won’t use. We have lots of talented people and lots of apps that are doing really good things. And we have tons of data. Our focus is on leveraging all three more efficiently to make better decisions and to provide transparency to both citizens and staff.”

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