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Northville Township: Improving Efficiency in Public Works Using Cityworks

When Brad Lear joined Northville Township, Michigan, as the Detroit suburb’s Water and Sewer Manager in 2021, he embraced the community’s vision of being “the leading, innovative community built through a legacy of excellence.” While he appreciated Northville Township’s robust use of Trimble’s Cityworks for its public asset management program, he realized that the township’s daily operations would greatly benefit from expanding the use of Cityworks solutions and adopting new system integrations.

The township consulted with Ritter GIS, a long-standing Cityworks implementation partner, who spent a few weeks in-office helping Lear and his team evaluate their current system and workflows. Ritter GIS provided ideas on how the department could better leverage Cityworks and additional integrations. By mid-2022, the collaborative group introduced four new tools to Northville Township, all of which have made a positive impact, particularly for the public works team.

Security & Ease of Access with Single Sign-On

The information technology (IT) team and Ritter GIS worked together to set up Cityworks Single Sign-On (SSO), enabling authorized employees to easily access Cityworks using their existing Northville Township credentials. This new setup eliminated the need for multiple passwords when logging into different programs. Lear and his team can now easily log into Cityworks and Esri ArcGIS® simultaneously.

While no one on the Water and Sewer team had previously complained about having to repeatedly log in to multiple applications, once SSO was available, they immediately noticed a difference in the ease of access it provided, remarking how much time is saved and how much simpler it has become to navigate their workflows and access maps.

Through SSO, the Water and Sewer team now has access to Cityworks’ Web Map Manager feature, which allows Northville Township to create custom maps on all water or sewer-related infrastructure. The customized map view pinpoints assets such as fire hydrants and drains so that field crews can quickly locate the assets for repairs or maintenance.

SSO has also improved efficiency in Northville Township’s IT department. IT Director Shaun Nicoloff said he can now assign appropriate access rights to employees once through the Cityworks Active Directory feature instead of repeating that process in multiple applications.

“It is more efficient in terms of user management and it cuts down on mistakes,” Nicoloff noted. “You used to have three opportunities to miss a credential assignment when logging into three different sites. Single Sign-On has solved that.”

Improved Efficiency with Dig-Smart Integration

Before implementing the integration with Dig-Smart, a software that identifies the locations of excavation crews in real time, Township staff had to sift through stacks of printed emails from Call Before You Dig (MISS DIG in Michigan) to identify work orders that applied to them. This arduous administrative task is no longer part of the team’s workflow, saving them time and money.

Dig-Smart sifts through emails and dig requests and synthesizes information to give Lear and his team more insight into the number of team members they need to schedule for work activities. It then automatically creates work orders, simplifying the workflow by enabling field crews to quickly determine their daily routes using the Cityworks Mobile App.

In addition, Dig-Smart uses the township’s custom GIS maps of water and sewer assets to reveal the geolocation of each underground excavation request, giving exact details of a specific area. “A work order used to say, ‘stake 500 feet east of this address’ and it would be hard to find,” said Lear. “Now it provides us with an exact location.” He added, “This has mitigated the risk of hitting and damaging utilities, which means that less time is spent repairing utilities; it has been very beneficial.” An added benefit of the Dig-Smart integration is the ability to track the progress of utility staking workflows.

Prior to the Dig-Smart integration, the team would manually log into the MISS DIG website throughout the day and submit a job completion for each ticket. Now, that process is automatically triggered when a work order is completed in Cityworks. This automation facilitates quicker response times, better communication, and seamless workflows, and enables historical tracking for reporting and analysis.

Going Mobile: GIS and Dashboards

Northville Township is reaping the benefits of additional Cityworks capabilities after implementing Cityworks Mobile App and providing smartphones and tablets to its Water and Sewer team in 2021. The ability to view crucial data in the field has significantly improved team members’ productivity during their daily work activities, especially when emergency calls come in.

Crews now have access to exact asset locations and GIS data, which accelerates emergency response and repair activities. They can also enter notes and observations while on a job site directly into Cityworks, instead of handwriting them first on a printed work order and manually recording them later. “They can even document work activities through photographs,” said Ken Oetzel, Operations Manager at Ritter GIS. “They take a picture and it automatically attaches to the work order, eliminating the need to manually download an image and reload it in a desktop setting while at the office.”

Improved data accuracy is a key benefit of inputting information while in the field. Higher-quality data leads to more reliable data analysis, providing insights that enable the management team to improve their processes.

Process improvement is exactly what led the Water and Sewer team to develop a comprehensive Sewer Jetting Dashboard. This dynamic dashboard uses eURLs and action events within Cityworks to manage Northville Township’s 5-year sewer jetting program.

The dashboard “has organized our jetting program in one centralized location,” said Water and Sewer Foreman Tim Swailes. “Having access to live, up-to-date information helps tremendously with monitoring our weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.” In addition, he added, the dashboard helps the team meet regulatory requirements. “The state of Michigan requires us to clean 20% of our sanitary sewer system every year, and this dashboard helps ensure we are in compliance.”

Overall, the dashboard supports a holistic, data-driven approach to tracking progress on the jetting program and promotes transparency and accountability by the Water and Sewer team.

Empowering Community Engagement

To enhance community engagement and resident interactions, Northville Township and Ritter GIS developed an online form to automate citizen requests. This form is embedded directly into the township’s website and uses a direct link to Cityworks that generates service request tickets.

For example, residents can report issues such as a downed tree branch at a local park by filling out the online form, describing the issue and its location. They even have an option to add one or more photos of the fallen branch.

Once the request has been submitted, a work order is automatically created and assigned to the appropriate department, depending on the nature of the request. In the case of a fallen tree branch, the request would be sent to the Northville Parks and Recreation administrative staff, with an automated email notification informing them of the details of the request. A department representative then responds to the resident who submitted the request, and the work order is created to address the issue.

Previously, the IT team had to review more than 450 citizen requests and manually route them to the correct person. The online form has eliminated the need for that time-consuming task and has significantly minimized response times. Overall, the IT team has saved an estimated 37 to 113 hours annually by automating the routing process, which has helped in handling resident concerns more efficiently.

“We specialize in creating something that solves a problem immediately,” said Doug Ritter, CEO of Ritter GIS.

Northville Township and Ritter GIS are beginning to identify additional ways to further streamline workflows by implementing and expanding Cityworks in other departments. These efforts will contribute to benefits for the community, according to the township’s IT director. “All of these integrations and improvements help us with our commitment to deliver exceptional public service in a professional and creative manner,” said Nicoloff.

By Rene Wisely, Communications and Grants Manager, Northville Township. Photo by Gabby Iriarte. Used with permission.