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Arlington, Texas, goes mobile to manage parks and rec assets

By switching from a spreadsheet-based approach to condition assessments to a centrally managed, cloud-hosted one, the Department of Parks and Recreation in Arlington, Texas, stands to save time and money.

Previously, field staff drove around the city to inspect assets and entered the data into a spreadsheet back at the office. The survey would take weeks, and the department could evaluate only a third of the nearly city’s 94 parks each year, said Dan Withers, the department’s asset manager. Now they are beginning to use an app by Cartegraph on Apple iPads to track assets in real time.

“It results in better decision-making in terms of where we need to allocate our money and limited resources,” Withers said. “We can reallocate resources to other activities that we had been putting off.”

This use of the app for conditions management is too new to provide statistics on savings, but the department has been using Cartegraph for asset and task management for a couple years. The department has about 100 asset types, including the parks and their individual components, such as playgrounds, irrigation systems, benches and even trees. Parks and Recreation staff have recorded about 25,000 assets so far, about 10,000 of which are trees. The city owns the data, which is stored in and accessed from the Amazon Web Services cloud.

Additionally, the city is integrating the tool with the its Esri-based geographical information system technology. “What that means is we can now in a map format see where our assets are located, where we’re performing tasks, where we’re spending money,” Withers said.

When users open the app, they see a map of their current location and can filter their tasks for the day by proximity, park or activity. As the 50 or so operations field staff work on tasks, they enter how long it took them, what materials they needed, notes about what they did and supporting photographs. Then they close that task and move on to the next one. Standard tasks such as graffiti removal are prebuilt so field staff can use drop-down menus to enter details on those activities.

“We don’t want them spending a lot of time entering their information,” Withers said. “We want [it] to be easy so that they can spend the bulk of their time doing the work.”

Additionally, users can enter new tasks or assets on the spot. For instance, if they plant a tree, they can create a new asset, including information on the variety and size, and drop a pin marking its location on a map.

The app frees up the maintenance staff from gathering data so they can "do what they need to be doing, which is maintain the parks,” Withers said. “All they need to do is enter their information into the tasks as they create them and assign the resources that they use and the materials that they use, and then it’s captured from there.”

Besides increasing workers’ efficiency, the tool also benefits the department by making it easier to identify costs associated with operations and maintenance, which makes up $10.5 million of the department’s $17.3 million general fund budget.

“That’s a pretty big win for us," Withers said.  The department used to gather data from various sources and have to estimate its per-park maintenance forecast. Now that information is available from Cartegraph. "And that’s important because when we want to consider adding a new park, we want to know how much it will take to maintain that park,” he said.

The department plans to expand Cartegraph’s use to other groups that could benefit from it, Withers said. For example, recreation center employees use a different tool to track their labor hours, and yet another tool is used for data on the locations of holes and irrigation systems at the city’s four golf courses.

In 2016, the Arlington City Council approved the purchase of a Cartegraph enterprise licensing agreement for Parks and Rec and two other departments: Public Works and Transportation, and Water Utilities, which uses the application to  track work history and create maintenance plans. In total, the departments manage more than 50,000 assets.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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