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5 Benefits of GIS-Centric Asset Management for Urban Forestry

The impact that trees have within our urban environments is often overlooked and underestimated. Trees not only bring beauty to our cities, they also improve a community’s overall health and well-being. Healthy urban canopies can help clean the air, cut energy consumption by up to 25%, boost property value, reduce costs associated with stormwater management and erosion control, and more.

Trimble Cityworks provides a GIS-centric asset management system that enables cities to start, manage, and improve their urban forestry programs, which in turn helps them reap the benefits of having beautiful urban forests. As Tiffany Giacobazzi, the urban forestry and natural resources planning coordinator for the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan, explains, “Planting trees is good, but if you don’t have a strong management program in place to care for the trees and keep them healthy, you’re not going to get the same benefits.”

Whether your forestry program is new, or decades old, here are five benefits you can expect when implementing Trimble Cityworks and ArcGIS in your urban forestry program.

1. Increased Productivity

With Trimble Cityworks, customers can achieve their goals faster and with fewer resources. This has been the case in Ann Arbor, a city with six International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborists, 60,000 street trees, and a Tree City certification for forty years in a row.

“We exceeded our goals last year,” Giacobazzi says. “Our target was to trim 4,212 trees but we trimmed 4,829. We also exceeded our goal of planting over a thousand trees and removed 575 trees that were dead, dying, or creating a public hazard.”

To achieve this, Ann Arbor needed to automate its workflow with Trimble Cityworks. As KC Bemish, the GIS applications specialist for Ann Arbor, says, “Without the need for paperwork, we’ve been able to work faster while saving time in the field, in the office, and on logistics. Because Cityworks streamlines our workflow, our field crew can make better use of their time, make better decisions, and be more productive.”

“I’ve worked in cities that didn’t have Trimble Cityworks,” Giacobazzi adds. “When I send a spreadsheet over to our planting contractor, he has to send the updated spreadsheet back to me. This takes time. Also, I have to make sure I’m working off the latest version of the spreadsheet. When you don’t open the right one, it can cause confusion and delay.”

Trimble Cityworks also provides multiple features and tools for field crews to report on their progress, and to collaborate from anywhere, anytime, and on any device. This makes communication seamless and improves staff productivity.

“Trimble Cityworks sped up our data collecting workflow. I can’t tell you how much extra time we used to spend on recording data,” Ian MacDonald, the city forester for the City of Arvada, Colorado. “Sometimes, one field worker out of three would spend the whole time doing data entry while the other two worked. Now Trimble Cityworks updates all that information for us and keeps a record.”

2. Cost Savings

Improved productivity allows organizations to reduce operational costs. “We save more with Trimble Cityworks,” says Giacobazzi. “In 2018, we got 1500 calls from residents about our trees. That’s 1500 slips of paper we didn’t need because everything’s being done electronically.”

Trimble Cityworks provides data, tools, and insights that help facilitate preventative maintenance activities such as tree trimming.

“Before Trimble Cityworks, we never really had preventative maintenance cycles. We simply took calls on issues with trees, and attended to the problem,” says Andy Badal, asset management technician for the City of Cupertino. “Now, we’re able to create a preventative maintenance cycle and prioritize tasks more effectively.”

Today, the City of Cupertino prunes trees on an eight year cycle and monitors trees for disease and pest infestations. In addition to extending the life of the trees, regular maintenance and inspections can also help ensure public safety and reduce legal costs.

Dashboard displaying Cupertino’s urban forestry tree operations.

“There’s been a tremendous reduction in tree failures since we started using Trimble Cityworks,” says Badal. “This has meant fewer tree-related accidents and fewer tree-related legal claims. Those are big costs for the city to endure because we’re either replacing or fixing personal property.”

As a consequence of having fewer tree failures, Cupertino also spends less on tree removal and replacement. Badal says, “When we remove a diseased or dying tree, its replacement may take 20 or 30 years to mature and add the same monetary and aesthetic value to the urban forest. That’s why we want to use preventative maintenance to reduce the number of trees that we’re actually removing. By using Trimble Cityworks, we’re able to do this.”

Mobile tools for work activity tracking and digitized back office workflows can help reduce the costs associated with inaccurate data. Badal says, “In Trimble Cityworks, we find and mitigate errors that would have required ​​months to find on paperwork. Some of these errors are misidentified tree species or private trees wrongly classified as public assets. Not correcting these errors can cost us valuable time and resources.”

3. Interdepartmental Cooperation

Trimble Cityworks is built exclusively on Esri’s ArcGIS, is easily customizable, and supports a wide range of powerful third-party applications. This means customers can leverage Trimble Cityworks to solve different needs across several departments enhancing collaboration among forestry staff and other departments. The upsides here are increased productivity, higher quality of work, and fewer errors.

That’s why MacDonald says, “Having a program like Trimble Cityworks that you can use in streets, utilities and forestry is more efficient and economical for the city than paying for multiple specific, highly detailed programs for one workgroup.”

Meanwhile, more than seven departments at Cupertino use Trimble Cityworks. “All of our public works staff are using it. That would include our facilities department, fleet department, tree department, traffic department, engineering, and others,” Badal says. “And within each of these departments, there are several different activities going on which Cityworks also supports.”

“While the GIS functionality is one of the first things I liked about Trimble Cityworks, I also love that it can be built to fit any situation. It’s 100 percent customizable,” says Bemish. “In fact, our current manager at public works has been pushing for the integration of Cityworks into all the areas that she manages. She sees the value of it from a management standpoint.”

Bemish said that there are 70 to 80 unique users signed into Ann Arbor’s Trimble Cityworks system every day.

Additionally, Trimble Cityworks helps foster collaboration and communication between customers and contractors by enabling contractor activity to be managed in one place.

“We have our contractors use Trimble Cityworks as well,” Giacobazzi said. “It has streamlined our relationship with them.”

Using work orders and Storeroom features, Ann Arbor was able to show contractors which tree species were available for the desired action, the selected locations, and the associated price. The city also monitored inventory levels.

Bemish says, “We communicate fully with our contractors on Trimble Cityworks. They can see work orders on their iPads, select tree species out of Storeroom, add it to the work order as material and notify us as they make progress. So we always know what they’re doing. It’s a process that is handled almost entirely through Trimble Cityworks. That’s a pretty elegant solution to something that used to be handled very tediously through a lot of phone calls, Excel spreadsheets, and sticky notes.”

4. Informed Decision-Making

Using a GIS-centric framework for urban forestry programs can help organizations understand the location-based patterns occurring within the urban canopy.

“Trimble Cityworks shows us everything on an ArcGIS map. We’ve been able to build a robust and efficient tracking method on Cityworks that makes it easier to make critical decisions,” says MacDonald.

These features enable organizations to apply location intelligence in the management of their urban forests—empowering them to prioritize work activities and justify budgets.

“We use Trimble Cityworks to know the trees and regions needing the most work. We can then concentrate our efforts in those areas.” Giacobazzi says, “With data from Trimble Cityworks, we’re also able to justify funding requests. We know exactly how much each tree costs us to maintain. We use the information to justify budgets and keep track of employee time.”

According to Badal, Cupertino has also been able to streamline the reporting for Tree City USA Accreditation requirements. “We must satisfy the requirements yearly if we’re to remain a certified Tree City,” he says. “Using Trimble Cityworks, we’ve been able to accomplish this for the last ten years. Trimble Cityworks helps us learn what things we need to be tracking and improving to hit our goals.”

5. Enhanced Communication with Residents

Sharing urban forestry data with the public is made easy with a GIS-centric platform. Organizations can externalize Trimble Cityworks data to the public using ArcGIS Dashboards, web maps, and more. These provide public-facing solutions that keep residents in the loop and foster community engagement and support.

City of Cupertino’s online tree plotter application allows residents to view data on the trees in their community.

One such example is Cupertino’s Tree Plotter application, which allows residents to explore the urban forests within their community. The Tree Plotter program pulls GIS asset data from  Trimble Cityworks and ArcGIS and displays it in an interactive map that allows residents to view information on individual trees—including an in-depth tree species biography, monetary benefits, maintenance work history, pruning cycles, and much more. Residents are also able to submit service requests through this application.

“I think one of Trimble Cityworks’ biggest benefits is it helps us communicate the history of our work to the public,” Badal says “It also helps us address the needs of the public quickly. When a resident creates a request on our resident engagement tool or calls our service center, it also shows up on Cityworks. This way, we can immediately access all service requests in one place.”

Giacobazzi adds, “We have all sorts of resident engagement programs. For example, we have a citizen pruner program where we work with volunteers to prune small trees so that our staff can prune the larger trees that require bigger equipment. There’s also a tree planting program for residents.”

Meanwhile, the City of Arvada relies on historical tree data from Trimble Cityworks and Esri ArcGIS to provide intelligent answers to queries from residents. According to MacDonald, “If we cut down somebody’s memorial tree five years ago and they want to know what happened to it, I can still find that asset in the database, even though it’s technically gone. I simply need to look up the work history of that tree. This has occurred a number of times.”

Urban forestry programs greatly enhance the beauty, sustainability, and livability of a city. Trimble Cityworks and ArcGIS assist to further maximize the benefits that come from having a healthy urban forest and increase the maintainability of your city’s trees—all while saving utilities money, encouraging transparency and communication, and enhancing departmental efficiency—allowing you to truly see the forest for the trees.