Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San) in California strives to be a utility of the future by pioneering innovative technologies and cutting-edge practices. The GIS and asset management team is the tip of the spear in this effort. Before we implement anew tool or system, we evaluate it to ensure it helps us address one or more of these goals:
• Breaking down traditional silos by increasing systemic communication and collaboration
• Improving established practices to become best practices
• Increasing access to data and improving transparency
• Increasing data-driven decision making
• Implementing proven technology to improve effectiveness and/or efficiency
Making our GIS-centric systems accessible on mobile devices facilitated these objectives by reducing obstacles to good data collection and improving field access for our sewer collection crews.
CHOOSING THE APP
We chose the Cityworks mobile native app for its ability to store data locally on the device, allowing field crews to work even disconnected from the network. We’ve used every version of the app since version 4 and are testing mobile map packages in version 8. The crews like the mobile app for its overall ease of use and simple, large-button interface. They also like that once the map is downloaded and their work is synced, they can work disconnected from the network without the lag often experienced over a VPN connection.
CHOOSING THE HARDWARE
The Cityworks mobile native app can be used on both Apple and Android devices. Our IT team supports iOS mobile devices and chose the Apple iPad Air 2 for our field crews. We purchased 70 units in 2016 and experienced very few device failures in the subsequent years. The devices are configured with cell-enabled VPN network access and are centrally managed by the IT team via mobile device management (MDM) software.
Because our service territory has hilly terrain with poor cell service, we installed cell signal boosters in the field trucks. We also made sure that each field crew has access to hardware accessories like car chargers. Every organization’s needs will differ, so choose your hardware accordingly.
CONFIGURING THE MAP CACHE
Let’s discuss the nitty gritty of configuration. Getting tablets into the hands of our field staff with completely revamped processes required a combination of careful intent, motivation from the stakeholder groups, new technology, and good timing. Proper configuration also played a big part in our success.
Because the app design is set, one of the biggest impacts an administrator can have on user experience is designing the map cache. Setting up the map used to generate the cache can take a little bit of time, but good cartography for a field application is incredibly important. If users struggle to interpret the map, then a huge obstacle exists in their experience. You certainly don’t want someone wincing each time they open the tool.
For any field crew, knowing where you are and what you are working on is critical. Because much of our service area has poor cell coverage, we cannot rely on live map services in the mobile app. To accommodate this, the cached map covers more than 140 square miles of service territory and includes (but is not limited to) sewer features, roads, addresses, and even aerial imagery in the largest scale to allow crews to see manholes in the street or on private property. Critical attributes like material, diameter, length, depth, and structure ID are carefully labeled to fully enable the disconnected environment.
When a user opens the app, it shows the service area from 30,000 feet with only our service boundary and some contextual features showing, like highways and freeways. As the user zooms in, more detail is revealed: contextual layers turn on, then the sewer system, then parcels turn on, and then the custom-cut imagery.
After some testing trial and error, we discovered a winning cache configuration for our organization. First, we always use ArcGIS Pro to generate our tile packages (TPKs). While ArcMap will do the job, it does it much more slowly.
Then, we narrowed down our level of detail to 11 minimum and 19 maximum in the ArcGIS Online tile scheme. Next, we clipped the imagery only to critical extents—for example, only 50 feet of sewer features and all private property that our sewers travel through. Adding raster data to any cache (and the necessary scale for the imagery to be useful) drastically increases its size.
Lastly, we discovered that a mixed tile format (both PNGs and JPEGs) gave us the best resolution verse file size. Our final TPK file size is roughly 1.8 gigabytes.
It’s important to be aware of final TPK file size. Not only are there upload limitations for Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS)—up to 4 gigs, after some IIS configuration changes—but larger caches take longer to download to a mobile device. Since there is no way to bypass the Cityworks download procedures, the best way to speed up a mobile map cache download is to reduce its size. Luckily, we only update our map quarterly. This keeps most of the data adequately up to date without the hassle of frequently downloading a large file.
Keep in mind that every organization must address its own limitations and requirements as needed. While our setup may spark some ideas, you may need to consider other factors for your configuration.
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ALL ABOUT APPROACH
Central San still has room for improvement, but the benefits of our mobile implementation cannot be dismissed. Going mobile empowered our field staff to be not only the front line of keeping our sewer system operating but also the front line of gathering and improving asset and maintenance information. This paradigm shift has had positive ripple effects throughout the organization. For example, office staff who formerly spent most of their time manually entering map notes into the CMMS can now focus on optimizing cleaning schedules for over 1,500 miles of pipe.
Mobile technology helps us provide staff with better tools to improve our migration from paper to digital, enhance data quality and data collection, and bring us closer to being a utility of the future.
To learn what Cityworks native mobile apps can do for your organization, schedule a demo today!
By Ian Morales, GIS Analyst, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District
Lead image from iStock