Apr 29

Mobile solutions in enterprises pay: #4 – Local Government

In the fourth of various at least six analyses of mobility and RoI, four examples from local government situations are describedas to how mobile solutions improve citizen support:

  • One European city council made savings on waste collection simply by adding sensors to waste bins connected to a wireless network. The waste bins send a text alert when they sense they are full. The effect was to save net Euro 90K ($120K) simply because the city council was able to reduce labor costs by only sending trucks out to those bins that needed emptying.
  • Similarly, a waste management company operating on behalf of local governments, hospitals, schools, etc uses mobile cellular to optimize its customers’ operations by only arranging for the dispatch of waste pickup trucks when these are needed. By installing a sensor and transmitter in rubbish compactors located at supermarkets, retailers, hospitals, schools and factories the company receives, over 3G, time-stamps and usage records which enable it to analyze in its data center the compactor data (including about how full each compactor is and its energy use). This information is used to schedule the emptying of full compactors plus customers can view their compactor usage data from anywhere using a web browser. As a result customers have been able to reduce the number of pickups by, on average, 40% – moving from once a day, to once every 1.7 days.
  • In the third example citizens can report problems to the city council — for example, stray trash, a missing garbage can or a patch of unruly grass in a public space. Before introducing mobile technologies a city employee would have to tell the citizen on the phone that it might take 2-3 weeks before the problem would be addressed. The difficulty was not that the city council was delaying — it simply took a long time to take care of each individual task when all project work orders had to be handwritten before the designated employee drove 15 minutes to the service center to pick up the work order before driving back to do the work:  in effect it was taking an hour to get each job done. Using a rugged mobile device along with an application the city council started with solid waste collection — i.e., garbage trucks. The new system effectively automates anything that happens beyond loading the truck with garbage. When an operator needs to note something – a construction project that blocks pick-up, a missing cart, a customer-caused obstruction or even a problem requiring attention from another city crew – he pushes a pre-populated button on the mobile’s touch screen. That message — tagged with the exact time, date and GPS coordinates — goes instantly to a central dispatcher. If the message identifies a task, the dispatcher uses the new software to drag-and-drop the information to create a work order, then sends that work order to another field worker also equipped with a mobile device. That worker goes to the designated location and takes care of the task. From a two- to three-week response time the new system reduces this to 24 hours. The cost savings include a smaller workforce – going from 14 solid-waste collectors to 2 which saves hundreds of thousands of dollars over time. In this particular case there was not even much downside about eliminating positions: not many people want to be solid waste collectors.
  • The last example involves an environmental regulator responsible for protecting and improving almost 80,000 square kilometers of land, which includes 25,000 lakes and more than 125,000 kilometers of rivers and streams. Nearly 75% of the land is in agricultural use, with the most significant environmental problem being diffuse pollution from agricultural activities. To improve quality the first step was to identify and classify pollution types and sources along the waterways involved which required on-the-ground preparation and data collection. To obtain efficiency and cost savings rugged handheld tablet PCs (with GPS and cameras) were introduced into the field, equipped with project-specific software that would eliminate paper, and paperwork, from the process. When compared to traditional paper-based data collection and data entry electronic data collection virtually eliminated typos and errors, as well as all the problems with writing legibility, loss of writing utensils and the effects of weather on paperwork. The time savings were startling. In the traditional paper-based approach collecting data took the equivalent of 45 days (converting data to a spreadsheet, scanning field maps into PDFs, importing data into a GIS, etc). The same data collection and processing using the mobile technology – from walking in the field to integration into the GIS system – took 8 days total. That 80% saving, if applied across all the regulator, will save c $1M in costs alone, never mind the professional time freed up.

As with the examples from Sales, Field Support and Distribution Logistics the facts speak for themselves.  In the local government arena there can be realtively little complexity (as with the sensors sending SMS messages from full waste bins) to the ultra complex (at the environmental regulator with data conversion and multiple back-end systems like GIS involved).  Whatever you choice, mobility technologies can deliver results with RoI.

[In this, and future analyses, qualified mobile technology projects with quantified benefits are grouped into the following categories, each of which warrant examination:

  • Sales (see previous blog)
  • Field Support (see previous blog)
  • Logistics/Delivery (see previous blog)
  • Local Government (see above)
  • Administration (including of mobile devices)
  • Changing the business model.]

(c) 2013 C3B Consulting Ltd


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