Wed, 21 Apr 2021

Simplifying water shut-off day with mobile GIS technology.

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“We have a mature system with a great deal of data, and our users have come to expect high standards in both their applications and the data that is provided.”

– Ann Stark, Senior GIS Analyst, City of Bellingham

The Challenge

Every Tuesday in Bellingham, a list of 15-90 addresses is generated for water accounts that need to be shut off due to nonpayment. In the past, water shut-off day was a manual, extremely difficult to track process, as staff needed to be in constant communication about which addresses had already been visited.

Back at the office, the Finance Department would track incoming payments and notify the field crew about accounts that needed to be turned back on. Sometimes a customer would pay moments before their water was going to be shut off, and a phone call would quickly need to be made to ensure their service continued. It was typical for over 25 phone calls to occur during the day. This was frustrating for all involved.

It took three finance staff to handle the load on a typical water shut-off day, in addition to the field crews. Inefficient routing frequently occurred because the crews operated independently.

The Solution

The City needed a way to make water shut-off day more efficient and less stressful for customers and staff. After implementing an initial mobile application that greatly improved the process, the City took it a step further and moved to a Geocortex application.

City staff now log into the Bellingham Water Shut-off Map application using their desktops (finance staff) or iPads (field crew). The application accesses the list of stored addresses that need to be shut off and marks them on a map. The map is then shared as an app that field and office crews can view and interact with in real-time. The app shows users which accounts are waiting for action or payment. Field crews can easily determine where they need to be and what action to perform.

Moving to a Geocortex application also simplified the login process, as users can log in with the same password they use to log into other City of Bellingham services. Additionally, the app can be used to look up the history of an account from within the app prior to taking action.

The Result

The City saw significant results from the first day the application was implemented. Training new staff on the application takes approximately 15 minutes. The visual map has made dividing tasks much easier, with field crews estimating that they now, on average, complete all of their shut off tasks two hours sooner than before. Time-consuming phone calls to communicate last minute changes have almost entirely been eliminated, resulting in safer driving, happier employees, and greater efficiency.

In the Finance Department, the number of employees needed to manage the process has been reduced from three to one, freeing up a significant amount of time for other tasks. The application has minimized the stress that used to come with water shut-off day, created efficiencies with staff resourcing, and resulted in better service for customers. From a cost perspective, the City estimates that their Geocortex application and new process help them save upwards of $40,000 each year.

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