Deep Dive Blog Series #5: Breadcrumbs

A breadcrumb – also known as Automatic Vehicle Location or AVL - is the last reported position collected by your mobile device’s internal GPS; a series of breadcrumbs provides an accurate path of your route. When enabled, Mobile311 can collect and store breadcrumbs, providing supervisors a map-based visual of employee activities in the field while also providing the ability to better manage field personnel. Using breadcrumbs gives the ability to increase employee accountability, productivity and fuel efficiency as well as protect field employees from false claims.


Accountability

Breadcrumbs can minimize the unauthorized use of work vehicles (for side jobs and personal errands) by holding employees accountable. With breadcrumbs enabled, supervisors can see precisely where an employee is located and even where they have been, making employees more likely to stay on track and on target. Employees will be less likely to use work vehicles for personal use knowing there is some amount of oversight while they are in the field.


Increased Productivity

Breadcrumbs can provide an increase in productivity by allowing supervisors to see the locations of all employees in the field at any given time. When an emergency situation arises (a downed electrical line, for example), the supervisor can use breadcrumbs to determine the closest employee and have staff on the scene as quickly as possible.


Increased Fuel Efficiency

The increase in accountability and productivity may subsequently cause a reduction in fuel consumption. Having employees move from one job to the next without personal distractions as well as giving supervisors the ability to quickly locate the nearest employee to an incident location may result in an increase in fuel efficiency.


Protection of Employees

Breadcrumbs can also provide employees a measure of protection in cases of public complaints. If, for example, a citizen reports that an employee knocked over his mailbox, documentation can be provided showing where the employee was at the time of the incident and, perhaps, clear the employee of any wrongdoing.


Setting Up Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs can be optimized by clicking options in the Mobile311 application on your mobile device. From here you can choose to submit breadcrumbs immediately (if this is turned off, breadcrumbs are cached and only submitted when you actively submit the data). You may also choose how often you would like to submit breadcrumbs, ranging from 15 seconds to 30 minutes or never.


 Stay tuned for the next installment of the Deep Dives Blog Series when we will discuss Persistent Work Items.

Deep Dives Blog Series #4: Email Notifications

We’ve previously discussed the benefits of assignments and linking to GIS features, but another great tool in the Mobile311 arsenal is Email Notifications. Notifications can be automatically generated for new work items or for status changes to existing work items (a recent Mobile311 enhancement) providing an array of benefits while enhancing the already efficient workflow of Mobile311.

 

Notification of New Work Items

Notifications sent through email allow field crews to be informed of new work items while they are in the field. This feature also aids in the work effort when multiple departments are involved. For example, while doing their regular flow testing of fire hydrants, the fire department finds a hydrant with a broken valve. They create a new work item in Mobile311 and an email notification can be sent instantly to the field crew that repairs hydrants.

 

Notification of Status Changes

A new feature of Mobile311 is the ability to send email notifications not only for new work items, but for status changes as well. For example, a work item has been created to cut off the power to a residence due to non-payment. If the resident makes payment while the utility crew is already out in the field, an email notification can be sent to notify the crew that the work item has been cancelled.

 

Keep Field Crews Informed

Among the many benefits of email notifications is the ability to keep field crews informed of new work items as well as changes to existing work items. Changes to a field crew’s daily schedule no longer have to be conveyed by phone or in person, but by a simple email that is automatically generated with the new information.

Additionally, a Mobile311 account is not required to take advantage of this tool; the notifications can be sent to any email address and, in fact, Mobile311 doesn’t even have to be running on the phone to get the notifications. Also, on many devices, a distinct sound or vibration setting can be set up for when Mobile311 emails come in, though this would require an email account used only for Mobile311.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Deep Dives Blog Series when we will discuss Breadcrumbs.

Deep Dives Blog Series #3: Linking to GIS Features

Mobile311 has the ability to link work items with physical assets, like fire hydrants, streetlights and roads. These assets must be in a Geographic Information System (GIS) and published using ArcGIS for Server. Each asset should also have a unique ID. What if you do not have ArcGIS for Server? No problem, Mobile311 can host the data for you. What if your assets are not in GIS? Again, no problem, use Mobile311 to capture the assets and they can then be exported to GIS in a few simple steps.

 

Create Work Items and Link them to GIS Assets

On the web interface, linking a work item to a physical asset is as simple as clicking on a GIS feature (a fire hydrant, for example) and clicking the green flag in the data grid at the bottom of the screen. The New Work Item window opens and two fields are automatically populated; the Asset ID field will contain the unique ID of the GIS feature and the GIS Layer field is filled out with the name of the GIS layer. This combination links the new work item with the physical asset. The workflow on a mobile device is slightly different but essentially the same. Once an existing GIS feature is selected from the map, a new work item can be created and linked to it. Additionally, if barcode identification is in use, the barcode can be scanned to link the Asset ID to the work item.

 

Easier Import into GIS

When work items are linked to a physical asset, importing them to GIS is a simple process. For example, a work item linked to a fire hydrant by the Asset ID can be joined to the associated fire hydrant in the GIS layer. On the other hand, work items that aren’t linked to a physical asset can take longer to import and will not be as accurately placed. Work items linked to GIS features also have the added bonus of being easier to locate by field crews. If the work item is tied to a specific GIS feature, crews will know right where to go.

 

More Accurate and Informative Reports

Reports are more accurate and informative when work items are linked to GIS features, providing an accurate location of the item as well as the exact physical feature that is affected.

 

Analyze Assets

The ability to view the history of an asset as well as the potential cost of repairs is beneficial when handling recurring inspections on assets. This information can be viewed geographically and, depending on information available in the GIS layer, can also be viewed by asset information such as asset manufacturer and manufacture date in order to discover potential problems like failure points and warranty issues.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Deep Dives Blog Series when we will discuss Email Notifications.

 

Solutions for In-Vehicle Power Cable Issues

It has come to our attention that a few clients are having issues with the power cables for certain tablet and smartphone devices. For a variety of reasons, the cable connections are quickly wearing out at the point where they plug into the tablet or smartphone. Thanks to our highly resourceful clients we now have some solutions for this problem, among others.


Use a Tension Relief Loop

Tension in the cable can cause it wear out more quickly. The use of straight cables (not coiled) and implementation of a tension relief loop through the base will help to prevent vibrations in the truck, in conjunction with the weight of the cord, from causing excessive wear. The cable can even be zip-tied to the base of the device to relieve the tension. See photo:

Photo Credit: Curtis Short - This photo shows the loop into the base
of the device that relieves tension on the connection.

 

Cigarette Lighter Burnout

The “cigarette lighter” adapter in a vehicle is a convenient source of power but it also generates a lot of heat and can damage a charging cable. Fortunately, many newer vehicles come equipped with a power outlet. If a power outlet is available in your vehicle, use it instead. It could increase the life of your cable.

 

Purchase a More Expensive Cable

Not all cables are created equal. Some cheaper cables do not have a tight fit or produce enough amperage to charge a mobile device and they also tend to break more often. Purchasing a more expensive cable may help to avoid these issues.

 

Keep Backup Cables Handy

Since these cables tend to wear out rather quickly, it is good practice to always have a spare on hand. Keep a supply of cheap USB-only cables (about $5.00/each), but test them to be sure they are charging the devices.

Click here for a recommended example of a cheap charging cable.

Thanks again to our clients for providing these solutions!

Deep Dives Blog Series #2: Assignments

In our last post we talked about how citizens can report work items using Mobile311 Citizen Request; in this post we’ll discuss what happens after work items are reported and received by the municipality.

 Assignments, or work items that have been assigned to one or more employees, are beneficial in the overall process and can increase the efficiency of completing requests. Utilizing assignments creates a seamless workflow by following a logical progression of steps from request to completion.

Create, View and Assign Work Items Right from the Web Map

Once a work item has been reported, either by an employee or a citizen, the item can easily be reviewed and assigned to one or more employees. Work items can be assigned and unassigned directly from the web map by editing the work item and clicking on the assignments tab or bulk assigned from the Work Items Details report by checking items and then clicking “Assign Checked.”

Employees using mobile devices can view work items in the list or visually on the map. Users can choose to view all work items or work items assigned only to them and can even be notified by email when they have a new assignment. These options allow field crews to receive and complete work item requests without having to return to the office.

A Clear Method of Tracking the Status of Work Requests

The status of assigned work item requests can easily be viewed on the web map by clicking on individual work items. There is also a report that will show all open work items that aren't currently assigned to anyone. When an assignment is completed (and the work item status is changed), it is unassigned from every employee it was originally assigned to, eliminating confusion when multiple employees are assigned the same work item.

Municipal Transparency

Once a work item has been assigned to an employee, there is a measure of transparency provided to the citizen that reported it. Citizens have the option to check the status of items they reported and they can also see notes written for their benefit by the employees the items were assigned to. Furthermore, by responding to the notes, citizens can carry on a dialogue with the municipal employee.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Deep Dives Blog Series when we will discuss linking to GIS features.

Deep Dives Blog Series #1: Mobile311 Citizen Request

More citizens are utilizing mobile devices everyday. So why shouldn’t they be able to notify their municipality of work items straight from their smart phones? Mobile311 Citizen Request does just this; reporting of work items such as downed electrical lines, potholes or graffiti with the location, description and photo becomes a breeze. Mobile311 Citizen Request puts the power to clean up the Town or City in the hands of the stakeholders.

The Basics

Mobile311 Citizen Request is designed to work alongside Mobile311 so that citizens can report work items to their municipality directly from their smart phones. The system can be accessed with a smart phone App or with a standard web browser. Whether the citizen is using a smart phone, tablet or a computer, the work request is uploaded to the municipality’s Mobile311 system instantly. From there, the work items can be reviewed and assigned to a field crew as needed.

 

How It Works

 

Citizens utilizing Mobile311 Citizen Request have the option of reporting issues anonymously or with a registered account. Those using a registered account have the benefit of enhanced tracking of their reported issues, providing transparency to the repair process. Each request is private to the citizen that submitted it.

Determining the location of an issue can be done several ways. The address can be typed directly into the box that says Enter Address. This method is best when the exact street address of the issue is known. Clicking the Go To My Location button on the map will zoom the map to the location of the user. Using the Satellite and Street View maps, the marker on the map can be moved to a more accurate location, regardless of which method is used.

The most appropriate work item type can be chosen from the Select Issue dropdown box. The list of reportable items is customizable by each municipality but common items include down/missing street signs, downed electrical lines & trees, potholes and graffiti. The Description field allows the citizen to provide more detailed information about the request. If the citizen chooses to, they also can enter their first and last name, email address and phone number. Finally, a photo of the issue can be attached directly from the request form.

Once the work item is received by the municipality, they can then communicate back with the citizen through changing the status of the item and by typing in notes specifically for the citizen to see. The citizen can continue to check in and also respond by entering notes of their own.

The Benefits

Allowing citizens to report issues using Mobile311 Citizen Request will save time in the office previously used to take phone calls and create work orders. Work requests can include the location of the issue, the item type, a description and even a photo, providing field crews with needed information before they even locate the site. Spread the word to your citizens about Mobile311 Citizen Request so they can take part in the cleanup and maintenance of their City. 


Stay tuned for our next post in the Deep Dives Blog Series when we will focus on Assignments.

Web-Based GIS: An Invaluable Tool For Utilities 

By Chuck Wright on 1/28/2014 

Whether it’s Water, Wastewater, Storm, Gas or Electric, a web-based Geographic Information System (GIS) is an invaluable tool for Utilities.  GIS, in general, is the ultimate resource when it comes to both routine inventory and maintenance and emergency inventory and repair; having a web-based GIS takes it to a whole new level.  Web-based GIS provides an up-to-date display of information at the user’s fingertips that increases the efficiency of field crews as well as improves the bottom-line for utility billing.

No More Paper Maps 
With the advent of web-based GIS, utility inventory is readily available to employees who spend the majority of their time in the field.  Field crews once carried cumbersome paper maps to locate utility features.  These maps were often outdated soon after printing, making them unreliable at best.  Thanks to advances in technology, crews can now view and analyze utility data via laptops, tablets and cell phones.  Many of these devices are now GPS enabled, allowing users to find features faster and more efficiently.  

Attributes Available Instantly 
Not only does web-based GIS provide a visual display of the location of real-world utility features, but - if the information is available - it also shows attributes for those features as well.  Line sizes, peak flows, installation dates and many other types of information can be found simply by clicking on a feature.  Having this information readily available has a profound effect on the work efficiency of utility crews.

Update Attributes in the Field 
Web-based GIS, in conjunction with additional software, enables field workers to update attribute information from their mobile devices.  For example, a field worker might find that the physical condition of a fire hydrant has deteriorated since the last inventory check.  The condition can be changed in the database right from the worker’s mobile device.  Not only does the ability to instantly update feature attributes increase the accuracy of the information found in the field, but it saves time as well.  Crews no longer have to key in the information when they return to their offices, and the risk that they might misread field notes written hours before is eliminated.  

Save Time and Money 
Availability of a web-based GIS provides accurate and timely information in the field and increases the overall accuracy of utility data.  More accurate data will ultimately improve the efficiency of the entire utility system and, in turn, save time and money.


 

We intend to use this forum as a place to connect with our clients, giving timely updates and useful tips. We believe that by leveraging GIS data, a municipality can optimize their resources to improve reporting and efficiency.
By Holly Riley on7/29/2013 2:04 PM
One of the exciting features starting with ArcGIS 10.1 is that the Maplex Extension is now included in the core functionality of ArcGIS for Desktop and Server. Maplex Labeling enables much more precise control of labeling than the standard functionality.It allows you control how labels are positioned relative to features, allows them to be changed when the available space is constrained, and handles conflicts between them.

Since this functionality can produce much better looking cartography, it is a natural request to utilize Maplex Labeling for web-based maps in ArcGIS for Server. However, this does not come without a price, and that price is increased processing time compared to simple labeling.

In a recent analysis of the Maplex labeling tool, James Elkins (developer at Mobile311, LLC) discovered just how much additional processing time is required. He compared the Maplex tool with the standard labeling by running each through a sequence of tests. The chart below gives a side by side comparison...
By Holly Riley on10/5/2011 1:01 PM
Our Mobile311 System has so far been hugely successful. It’s easy to setup, easy to use, barely requires training and everyone loves it. That was, until we were doing a demonstration in the middle of an airport runway. The sun was directly overhead on a cloudless day and there wasn’t a sliver of shade in sight. The display on the Samsung Galaxy Tablet was just not readable in direct sunlight. We tried holding our hands to make shade, holding the tablet over our heads and looking up at it, and even carrying a piece of cardboard to “make-some-shade”. Nothing worked. The Tablet was too hard to see.

Fortunately, Chuck Wright found and ordered a 3 pack of ClearTouch™ Anti-Glare sun screens atwww.boxwave.com. We slapped a cover on…. And then realized that the tablet had a bunch of dust and bits of finger oil on it and the debris looked terrible under the screen. So we pulled the screen off (which incidentally cleaned the Tablet screen) and slapped...
By Holly Riley on8/9/2011 9:27 PM
I’m pleased to announce the initial preview release of the first major overhaul of the Mobile311 web interface.

This release represents the cumulative feedback from many of our clients, along with our commitment to make the site both easier to use and more powerful. The plan is to get feedback from a focus group over the next week, adjust as needed, then release to the general community. 

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