2020 will be looked back upon as a year that brought many challenges, opportunities and changes to our everyday lives. From online grocery purchase, to Amazon, voting and beyond, technology rose to the forefront of all that we do, creating and setting a dynamic that has accelerated technological change.
In fact, according to Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, the company saw two years of digital transformation happen over the course of just two months. This has implications far beyond IT departments. In reality, 2020 will be remembered (and studied) as a year of formative digital transformation – significantly disrupting the way we all work and play.
So much so, in fact that I’ll go out on a limb to say:
Technology, leveraged liberally and properly, can help individuals and organizations meet or exceed their goals.
So, what opportunities can technology present for municipal solid-waste professionals in 2021 and beyond?
On the Map
A geographic information system (GIS) is a framework that helps to gather, manage and analyze data. They accept a wide range of data types, and transform that data into meaningful visualizations using maps and 3D scenes and are a staple in local government.
Most likely, your City, County, or Regional District will already have a GIS in place. But are you making the most of it? How could you use it to convey – or magnify – information to residents and other stakeholders.
Here are some GIS services and software to look into, depending on your needs and goals:
- ESRI: ESRI’s GIS software allows you to host applications and data in one place. In addition, using its mapping and spatial analytics software called ArcGIS, public works departments can do everything from track the conditions of roads, to manage landfills and improve collection routes.
- QGIS: QGIS is a free, user-friendly, open-source GIS that allows public works departments to tap into its area’s geography for mapping, planning, and more.
- Azure Maps: Azure Maps allows you to integrate maps, spatial analytics, and more with open-source and other map controls. Using its location-based services, users can route vehicles, track assets, and beyond.
Today’s digital communication products help municipalities and organizations save money by helping their audience self-serve. This prompts people to find real-time answers to commonly asked questions, without needing to speak to support. These platforms also help to digitize materials which eliminates the need for printed fliers, pamphlets and calendars.
We must strive for the best possible engagement with residents and fully realize the benefits while limiting the liabilities of technology.
These programs also simultaneously help us to keep our messaging clear and focused on the resident, which ultimately helps produce good outcomes for public works departments and beyond.
Here are a couple of solutions that fit the bill:
- ReCollect: ReCollect works to help overburdened recycling educators save time and money while combating recycling confusion with easy-to-use digital communications products like the Collection Calendar, and the Waste Wizard.
- CodeRED Mass Notification: CodeRED offers cloud-based software government agencies may use to deliver alerts and other information via phone, email, text, and more.
Teamwork looks a little differently these days as we do our best to cope with and adjust to the new normal presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we dial it back on regular meetings around the office, in board and conference rooms, we are charged with finding and relying on alternative ways to communicate with team members, exchange ideas, and stick to other business-as-usual routines as best we can.
Many jurisdictions will have record-keeping requirements that may pose limits, here, but this far into the pandemic, you’re unlikely to be a trailblazer if you haven’t yet started using an online communication program of some kind. There are plenty of options out there. Here are just a few:
- Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is a virtual communication platform where groups may instant message, call, video chat, share files, and more, all from the office or from the couch.
- Slack: Slack is a “collaboration hub” for instant messaging, file sharing, calls, and more, where team members can chat in groups (which may be organized by project, department, etc.), or one-on-one.
- Zoom: Zoom is a video and chat platform for teleconferencing and more, which also can be used on screens big or small. It allows teams and staff to join each other face-to-face, so to speak, from wherever they are. Video chats are especially great for meetings and brainstorming sessions.
- Amazon Chime: Amazon Chime is a platform for video conferencing and other styles of online meetings that also allows teams and staff members to gather together without actually having to gather together.
- Cisco Webex: Webex offers video chat, messaging, and other virtual forms of communication, which also integrates with other apps such as Slack and Google Drive.
When it comes to what we have, how much we have of it, and many other parameters besides, spreadsheets and simple desktop databases are becoming things of the past. It’s 2021, and we can do much better. Here are a handful of platforms to investigate if you haven’t already:
- SAP HANA – SAP’s S/4HANA is an asset-management tool that helps plan, execute and schedule maintenance operations. It also allows users to manage various forms of data, such as responses and analytics.
- Cartegraph: Cartegraph helps entities like municipalities and utilities manage and track assets, work orders, and more, all in one place, making for an organized system with efficient workflows that may be updated in real time. You can build maintenance schedules, create recurring tasks, sync up with the ArcGIS platform, and more, depending on your needs.
- Prometheus: Prometheus is an open-source monitoring system with a dimensional data model, flexible query language, and more. It allows users to power metrics and alerts, scrape and visualize data, and monitor all things web- and network-based.
While many of us are operating remotely or are limiting face-to-face interactions, coordinating moving parts, completing complex projects, and collaborating as a team is more challenging now than ever. Gone are the days of sticky notes and dry-erase boards to keep everyone on the same page.
Fortunately, this is a problem developers have faced for years, so there’s more than one app for that. We’ve even seen some governments use these processes as an opportunity to improve transparency and accountability. Here are just a few to check out:
- Asana: Asana is a project-management app that allows users to bring their work into one shared space, organize and assign tasks, and more.
- Monday: Monday is a teamwork platform that helps groups manage tasks and projects, activities, and more in one workspace.
- Trello: Trello helps groups organize their work onto “boards,” keeping tasks, information, and more in one place.
Social Media isn’t just for teens and grandparents anymore. If anything, we’re hearing that residents and customers now not only expect a social media presence, but also that municipal staff members respond in a timely manner to complaints or problems reported through the platforms, too.
Chances are, you or your staff are well-versed in social media, and you already know that it no longer represents an opportunity to take a break from your work! Instead, you can use social media to your advantage, connecting with residents and meeting them where they are. Popular platforms to do so include:
- Facebook: Connect with residents, share information and marketing messages, and more through Facebook posts and its ad campaigns.
- Twitter: Share alerts, snippets of information, links to press releases, graphics, and more through Twitter.
- Instagram: Share infographics, behind-the-scenes staff photos, and more to help forge a relationship with residents and keep them posted about what you’d like them to know.
- Snapchat: Share brief updates, links, and more through short videos or stills on Snapchat.
- Hootsuite: Platforms such as Hootsuite help you streamline and manage your various social media accounts in one place.
In an ideal world, problems and issues could be reported and systematically prioritized and managed all in one place. (Fingers crossed that not every issue is a dumpster fire that needs immediate attention!)
Thankfully, there are a variety of platforms out there that will help you get one step closer to that. Simply direct residents to the platform of your choice to report whatever challenges they face in the streets or parks, and go from there. Here are a couple to look into:
- SeeClickFix: This request and work-management app can help municipalities and public works departments keep tabs on requests, communicate both internally and with residents, follow up on issues, and more, providing transparency for residents, and opportunities for engagement for staff.
- Cityworks: Cityworks offers a number of GIS-centric software applications to help public works and other city departments manage work orders, maintenance and more, with public portals for residents, and customer service tools.
Select, Implement, Succeed
Now more than ever, municipalities and other entities have a host of technological options at their fingertips to fit just about any need. Adopting or adding digital systems will provide numerous benefits now and in the future, not only allowing you to keep pace with modern times, but ultimately reduce costs, solve problems, and save time.
For better or worse, technology is a train you don’t want to miss, and it’s leaving the station. All aboard!