Making the Most of GIS and Mobile Mapping

Technology is giving sanitation departments innovative tools to map their way to new efficiencies.

By Chuck Wright

Like every department of local government, waste management is constantly in search of ways to provide services more efficiently. For a community’s residents, this typically means that trash is picked up on time according to a planned schedule, but efficient waste management goes far beyond this measure. In addition to the logistics of collecting trash, there’s much more that happens before and after collection that impacts a department’s ability to optimize the collection and disposal process. Thanks to technology, mapping out a plan for the entire process has gone state-of-the-art.

The Power of GIS

More and more communities are putting their areas on the map using the innovation of geographic information systems (GIS). GIS revolutionizes the way communities and organizations of all sizes, across nearly all industries, provide services and do business. It’s a system that captures, analyzes, stores, manipulates and visualizes all types of spatial or geographical information. GIS translates data from spreadsheets, tables and lists onto a map. It’s a valuable visual tool that helps present, analyze and interpret data in a way that enables a better understanding of relationships, patterns and trends.

Many municipalities are already using GIS systems in one form or another. According to a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior, as far back as 2003, 88 percent of municipalities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 used GIS. With the technology’s widespread use, combined with more recent cloud-based solutions that connect users with location-based data on the go, it’s no surprise that waste management departments are discovering the value of putting GIS and mobile mapping tools to work. Leveraging their power through these best practices will help reap big benefits in optimizing day-to-day operations and long-term planning.

Route Planning

A well-planned route is the lifeblood for achieving day-to-day waste management operational efficiency. It’s also one of the many tasks that showcase the power of GIS and cloud-based mobile mapping systems when it comes to simplifying and streamlining processes. GIS integrates data needed to plan collection routes, including:

  • Customer addresses
  • Population density
  • Waste volume
  • Traffic flow
  • Distance to disposal facilities

GIS visualizes this data, making analysis easier and more streamlined. It optimizes route planning by helping to determine the best use of resources—the equipment and personnel required to collect waste most efficiently and the shortest routes to disposal facilities. The benefits of routes that optimize the use of resources result in greater efficiencies and reduced costs, thanks to savings on gas, time, manpower and equipment maintenance.

Greater Efficiency

Mobile mapping not only helps generate more efficient routes, but it also makes sending crews out with paper lists and hard-copy maps a thing of the past. Equipped with Internet-connected devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, mobile mapping provides crews with access to the most up-to-date routes and the ability to update and edit maps and route lists on the go.

The City of Greensboro, NC put cloud-based mobile mapping to the test when they needed to tackle high contamination rates in their residential recycling program. They were looking for a way to pinpoint the contamination sources that were driving the program’s rate to double the industry average. Mobile mapping gave them what they were after, tackling the job efficiently while eliminating paperwork along the way.

The city’s recycling trucks are now outfitted with tablets loaded with a cloud-based mobile app that uses GPS technology with client-specific GIS data. During their routes, drivers can tap a button on the app to create a data point using GPS, to identify households with contaminated bins. The app automatically generates and e-mails a work order to the program manager, and the data is uploaded instantly to the cloud. The program manager is now able to see where the repeat offenders are and take corrective action. With the new technology, the city expects to reduce contamination issues by 50 percent (see the City of Asheboro, NC, Reduces Expenses and Improves Efficiency with Mobile Mapping sidebar).

Streamlining Documentation

As the City of Greensboro saw, mobile technology also streamlines and enhances documentation capabilities. Cloud-based apps allow you to input work orders, flagged for location and type of work, directly to a map. The ability to upload photos enables an even more detailed and comprehensive level of documentation. Using mobile apps for documentation reduces risk and improves efficiency by providing real-time, reliable data on what was done, where and when.

Streamlining documentation for day-to-day tasks helps simplify it for future needs too.  Compiling and making details of completed work easily available whittles the process of reporting down to a few online clicks. The ability to provide comprehensive, real-time data visually on infrastructure and operations can also be key to more accurate capital forecasting and better transparency between departments.

Comprehensive Communication

GIS, combined with cloud-based mobile mapping solutions, also offers robust communication capabilities like never before. Communication within teams and between departments becomes more efficient with the visual language of mobile mapping solutions. Illustrating data tells a story and explains a situation more directly and in a way that’s easier to understand, streamlining the decision process.

Mobile mapping solutions with GIS functionality offer waste management professionals a powerful real-time communication tool on the go, making it easier to:

  • Make route changes
  • Assign the nearest crews to quickly handle incoming requests
  • Equip crews in the field to flag and share information about issues, such as recycling contamination, or a trash can not on the curb
  • Educate specific households about correcting problems
  • Share information about issues in the field that affect other departments

Mobile mapping also makes communicating with the public easier and more efficient. Giving residents access to data through GIS-generated maps empowers them to submit work requests and share accurate information about issues, such as an alley that needs clearing. As part of the community, they’re the eyes and ears on the street and serve as an important extension of the team.

Unlimited Potential

We’ve seen technology transform our everyday lives in ways that we could have never imagined. GIS and cloud-based mobile mapping are examples of how technology is doing the same for waste management services. As technology continues to evolve, the potential applications for mobile mapping technology will expand too, along with the ability to improve processes and services even more.

Chuck Wright is Senior Project Manager for Dude Solutions (Cary, NC) and its Mobile311 GIS and mobile mapping solution. He has more than 15 years of GIS development experience and previously was president and lead developer for Mobile311, LLC where he built the powerful GIS and mobile application, while also developing a growing client base prior to its purchase by Dude Solutions. Chuck can be reached at chuck.wright@dudesolutions.com.