Public works shop goes digital

'You have to realize that there is cultural change as well as economic cost. If you are not prepared to go down that road and fight that battle, you are not going to succeed.'

' Terry Biederman

Henrik G. DeGyor

The Public Works Department of Michigan's charter township of Waterford had just two PCs in 1996. In six years, the department has expanded its IT resources into a multimillion-dollar, award-winning IT infrastructure.

In carrying out the transition, director Terry Biederman emphasized culture change and management skills as well as sound technology.

The township received a Technology Excellence in Government award from Post Newsweek Tech Media of Washington, parent company of GCN, for creating the IT infrastructure.

'Most government agencies don't have the technology and work practices to run a business,' Biederman said. 'I had to formulate a plan to make us efficient.'

Biederman said one of his goals was not to computerize bad business processes. Another was to secure appropriate backing.

'You have to have support from the top [administrative] level, as well as the political level,' he said, so the technology projects won't be treated as secondary goals.

'You have to realize that there is cultural change as well as economic cost. If you are not prepared to go down that road and fight that battle, you are not going to succeed,' Biederman said. To begin the process of upgrading the Public Works Department's IT, Biederman formed an information services oversight committee. One of the first tasks was to select a consultant for the department's geographic information system, 'keeping in mind that we realized GIS was going to be the backbone' of the systems upgrades, he said.

Formal plan

The township's board approved a formal plan that included staffing requirements and a full-time GIS branch, within an information services department that the board approved simultaneously.

Waterford relied on the surrounding county of Oakland for the base map of its GIS. The department fielded its GIS in 1998. It uses Environmental Systems Research Institute's ArcGIS Version 8.0.2 and ArcView 3.1 packages for the core application and Oracle 8.x for the database engine. ESRI is based in Redlands, Calif.

The GIS works with a maintenance management system that records the beginning and end of every work task related to water and sewer operations. The system has generated more than 40,000 work orders since the department brought it online in early 2001. It uses Maximo Version 4.4.1, from MRO Software Inc. of Bedford, Mass., under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0.

Department staff also have created a document management system to store and retrieve paper documents. The system contains all invoices, purchase orders, customer connection records and water curb-box locations. It relies on OnBase 3.5.3 software from Hyland Software Inc. of Westlake, Ohio, and Oracle8i under Windows NT 4.0.

The city also bought automatic meter reading equipment and software that uses radio transmitters to send data to roaming trucks. The system uses RAMAR 15-11 radio interface units and RAMAR Vehicle Track-It from AT Ramar LLC in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to interface with Psion Work About handheld data collectors from Psion PLC in London.

'Our short term goal is to continue to roll out and use the system,' Biederman said. Later, the department expects to expand the system so equipment will be checked out via bar scanning. 'If we are down to five B.F. Goodrich tires, it will automatically e-mail our supplier,' he said.

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