Automation in the streets of Bozeman

~Bozeman Council makes unusual use of automation for GIS mapping~

Do you remember when social media went into meltdown over Snapchat rolling out the Snap Map? The nifty visual interface shows the exact location of your Snapchat friends.

GPS maps like this are more than a marketing ploy. When used in a business context, GPS data offers a valuable source of information that powers fast, informed communication. With the help of business process automation software, Bozeman Council has harnessed this power in an unusual way.

Here’s their automation use case.

In Bozeman, Montana

While tracking your friends’ every movement on a map may seem somewhat intrusive, it reflects a shift in the way people expect data to be presented. Imagine if this map didn’t exist, and instead you received an email every time your friend moved to a different location. This would seem old-fashioned, dull and hard work.

This imaginary outdated system is similar to a situation that a government organisation in the small town of Bozeman, Montana, USA, was facing every day.

Carrie Shockley’s team

Carrie Shockley, a geographical information systems (GIS) specialist, works for the local Bozeman council. The council supports the development and maintenance of the Bozeman community, which includes managing waste disposal and utility maintenance.

If a member of the public or a company wishes to dig underground in Bozeman — whether this is to replace a fence or plant a tree — they first need to contact the council call centre to check whether underground sewer and water lines are in the way.

The call centre agents then process these enquiries and send an email to Shockley’s team, who manage them manually. The emails, or ‘locate requests’ as they are called in the Bozeman office, are assigned to a driver to investigate. The driver must then travel to the location and mark out any utility lines with spray paint.

Time for change

Tired of drowning in emails, Shockley did a quick Google search and stumbled across Parker Software’s ThinkAutomation. This is a business automation tool that carries out a range of processes, such as analysing emails, parsing content and exporting data to the cloud.

Shockley thought ThinkAutomation sounded like a perfect fit for handling the locate requests, and, because of the 30-day free trial, she didn’t have much to lose by trying it out.

“Within 30 days, it became obvious this software would be ideal for improving the efficiency of locate requests in Bozeman.

The learning curve wasn’t too steep and we were able to get workflows working right away with the help of the user guides provided. There were a few times when we reached out for help, and when we did, the support we received was fantastic.”

Carrie Shockley

By implementing ThinkAutomation, emails that contain locate requests are now automatically mined for their key data. This is then recorded into a database and exported to a cloud vendor. The cloud vendor maps each locate request via GPS, like the Snap Map.

So, rather than having data gathering in an inbox, Shockley’s team now has a portable, visual and efficient tool that everyone can track in the palm of their hand.

“This new map showing where all the locate tickets are has been revolutionary. It means newer drivers, who may not be familiar with the area, can use the map to help them navigate.

Equally, it’s easier for us to see clusters of work in a given area. Now, drivers can grab five locate tickets in the same area at one time, rather than making inefficient repeat journeys. We are saving time as well as fuel.”

Shockley continues

Spreading the success

The original automation use case was so successful that the Bozeman team is already transferring ThinkAutomation into other council areas. For example, the finance department regularly receives emails regarding waste disposal services, from new residents asking for a pick-up to existing service users requesting account changes.

So, the finance department now uses ThinkAutomation to process these requests, sending the relevant data automatically to a cloud vendor.

These days, you can find Shockley at government conferences, sharing her good practice using ThinkAutomation. She informs people about how she has streamlined the processes in Bozeman to be more efficient through technology, allowing workers to spend more time on critical components rather than sifting through emails.

Final thoughts

Spatial mapping is the future. By equipping businesses with a powerful visual tool, workers can get on location quicker than ever. However, this way of working is reliant on automated processes running quietly in the background.

It is business automation tools, like ThinkAutomation, doing the hard work, extracting the location and other details from various sources like email. Without this, the cloud vendor wouldn’t have any data to map.

While the Snap Map caused some controversy, raising concerns over safety and privacy, it does show that GPS mapping is prevailing. But, just as the staff at Snapchat headquarters aren’t manually updating the millions of user locations, neither should businesses. Leave the legwork to business automation software.