How GIS Data Makes Municipalities More Efficient

How-GIS-Data-Makes-Cities-More-Efficient

 

Our Chris Jackson, VP Government Sales, was asked to present at this year’s APWA (Alberta) Partners in Excellence 2013 Annual Conference & Tradeshow held in Red Deer, Alberta. On October 1, he shared the stage with CTS (Certified Tracking Solutions), and presented a 45-minute talk on GIS (geographic information systems) to a room packed with over 100 municipal planners from around the province.

Mapping all city assets to GIS (for example, each city street light tracked by its location and detailed information about its components) is significantly big enough that most municipalities either have a GIS person or a GIS department, and by adding telematics data (vehicle data) to the equation, the combined effect points the way to new benefits in visual interpretation, operational and service-level decision making tools, and spatial processing capabilities. Chris cited the example of InterFleet customer Alberta Transportation, which developed the AVLS Billing System to combine route information and material totals to bill third-party contractors.

Larger municipalities in Alberta, such as Edmonton and Calgary, have gathered over a decade’s worth of municipal GIS data and vehicle data, but smaller communities are just beginning to see the possibilities of what they can do with it. Even so, the successes of Apple and Google’s various consumer-oriented mapping applications have made GIS common knowledge for most people. The word’s out, and constituents are consuming data at ever-increasing rates, which is putting pressure on municipalities to provide it. For Public Works departments, the open data movement is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, communication and transparency; on the other, the risk of public misinterpretation of complex data.

Chris finished by mentioning the successes of the Webtech 511 app, which provided a middle ground for municipalities that want to share the vast amount of data they possess, but fear the risk of having it misinterpreted by software developers who could misrepresent it. Unlike predictive transit information, Public Works GIS information can be very complex, so by promoting an App that they themselves have had a hand in creating, municipalities lessen the risk of having their data misinterpreted while providing a reputable alternative in the event that someone goes ahead with the open data and inadvertently creates a public relations monster.

Automatic Vehicle Locating System

Carrie G. Koens, Weaving Influence Social Marketing

I personally enjoyed today’s blog post, Jason. Makes it so much fun to promote! Well done. And I loved learning about the background of a Webtech Wireless employee. You just never know what people do when they aren’t at work! 🙂 I appreciate the personal touches you’ve been using on the blog recently.

—Carrie G. Koens, Weaving Influence Social Marketing

On the First Day: The Importance of Planning

God knew nothing

I’m taking an IT course at BCIT loftily entitled, “Business Analysis and Systems Design”. It’s about project management for large enterprise systems, and with data coming in that such projects have a terrible track record—about 75 per cent fail or go way over budget—there’s a need to refine the planning process and train people better.

Some have postulated that the universe is really just a vast software system, but that idea always infers that it’s a successful system. What if God knew nothing of project management? What if He just jumped in and started making the cosmos with no clear plan of where he was going?

Here’s one scenario:

God Goofs OffOn the first day, God rested. He figured He had a whole week to create the cosmos so “hey, like what’s the rush?”

On the second day, God got up, made a cup of coffee, and checked His email. He had over 7 million messages.

Most were spam.

On the third day, God logged into Facebook and updated His status—28,000 times.

Then He tweeted about it.

On the fourth day, God realized that He had better start to seriously do something about creating the cosmos, so after lunch He created the night and the day. But then He realized that it might be too dark at night (even with the moon, which he hadn’t created yet), and people would get lost or fall down in the dark and would probably curse His name, so He revised His decision about creating the day and the night deciding that it might be a bit rash without considering all the repercussions of this cosmos building stuff before jumping in.

He resolved to sleep on it and start fresh the next day.

On the fifth day, God got an idea. He decided that He’d create the waters and the firmament. “Oh my God”, said God, “That would be so cool”.

But then He thought, “What’s the point of water and firmament (does anybody even know what the heck “firmament” is anyway?) with nothing to swim in it or fly through it? Instead, He thought it would be super fantastic to create all the birds, bats, insects and other flying things as well as all the fishes that swim in the sea.

He stayed up really late creating all that cool stuff.

The sixth day wasn’t a good day for God. On the sixth day, God woke to find that, without the water and the firmament, all the birds of the air and fishes of the sea had died horrible deaths. It was pretty depressing (and it smelt bad too).

God wasted most of the sixth day cleaning up from the fifth.

On the seventh day, God woke up in a cold sweat well before His alarm clock rang. It was dark and cold and He realized He’d done nothing useful to create the cosmos. He told Himself that He’d certainly tried—”but life can be so unfair, you know”—and now He didn’t have a prayer of getting the cosmos ready in time. What He needed was a miracle.

And just as he was about to curse His fate for the third time, God noticed a handbill from Wal-Mart and it was offering a ready-made cosmos for sale. At these double discounted prices, God knew this would cover His Ass perfectly. Sure it was cheap and made mostly of plastic and particleboard (probably in some country with dubious labour practices and no environmental regulations), but with all the plug n’ play features, it would do just fine as a last-minute solution.

God thought, “Hell, why not?”

wal-mart-smileyOn the eighth day as God checked out of Wal-Mart, He then noticed that, where His original idea for the cosmos stressed cooperation, this pre-fab version was built on the Darwin model of competition­–survival of the fittest. “Oh well”, thought God, “It didn’t matter really.” He was out of time and short on good excuses.

“Besides”, God said to Himself as He left the parking lot,
“No one would even know the difference.”

Testing the Limits

Testing-the-Limits

When you master a skill, it can appear simple, almost effortless—but that’s just an illusion. Mastery takes hard work and dedication. This week, Webtech Wireless salutes our very own firmware engineer, Alireza Nematollahi (Ali), who’s been pulling in the gold as national kayaking champion while working to ensure Webtech Wireless hardware products are put through tests of their own.

Ali Tests the Limits

Ali works on hardware engineering projects at Webtech Wireless, either involved with new deployments or redesigning existing products and processes for increased efficiency. “Currently, I’m redesigning the automated testing hardware to improve how we test our locators”, he says and then explains that locators were tested manually, but “due to complexity of the locators, they are not human testable in a timely manner. By automating the testing, it will be possible to test up to 24 locators simultaneously.”

My impression of a slow hands-on testing process replaced by a faceless machine is dashed by Ali’s description of the rigorous test procedures in automated testing. Automation is more than just hurrying up (although that certainly is one aim). Automated testing improves how Quality Assurance analyzes the test data through improved reporting, and by analyzing the reports, they can continuously improve testing.

“I Will Be Fast!”

Ali has won a dozen or so medals over the years competing as a flatwater kayaker, and he credits his success in part to having “the best coach ever”.  Six days a week, you can find Ali training, either on his own in the gym or on the water with Kamini Jain, a two-time Olympian. Her motto, “I will be fast!”, must be what inspires Ali to say things such as, “You can do whatever you want”, and “I can be successful at my job and I can be successful at my sport”.

Overcoming Adversity

Although he’s not a professional, Ali has competed and won against the best in the field. He won the men’s gold medal at the national finals in Regina and won gold in Seattle’s Ted Houk Regatta K4, but is still content to have placed seventh this year in Montreal. “Does it seem like a failure to only place seventh after winning gold”, I asked, but Ali’s answer is a case in point of what a winning attitude is all about. “It’s not a failure. Seventh is very good, and failure is what motivates me to do better”.

On adversity he says, “I don’t let myself get caught up in comparison with others or my earlier successes. Comparison will tear me apart from the inside. I’m always thinking about the next regatta and the next year.” Then he adds, “Failure motivates you to do better.”

It’s pretty clear from talking to Ali that his training has prepared him for all the tests that life can offer, both at work and on the water. Congratulations for being an inspiration.

Connecting the DoTs: How Good Intentions Can Pave the Way to DoT Fines

Connecting-the-DoTs

You were just pulled over for DoT violations. Then you were fined an exorbitant sum for failing to provide driver logs, which you didn’t even think you needed. You’re driving short haul. What happened?

A lot of small companies are not prepared until they get caught.

  • Your small service fleet grew—and now you’re a victim of your own success—your new truck exceeds the allowable weight limit.
  • Your vanpool picked up one extra passenger—you were just trying to help—and now you’ve exceeded the number of passengers you can take.
  • Your short haul truck had a record busy day—business is great—but now you’ve been fined for letting your truck overshoot its allowable 100 mile radius.
  • Your service fleet took on some LTL (less-than-load) business—to reduce costs and fully utilize the fleet—and now you’ve been fined for carrying hazardous materials.

While long haul drivers are not exempt in any way, short haul drivers have certain exemptions, and that’s where you could inadvertently drive into a trap. A simple change in your business (buying a new truck, or carrying different cargo) could bump you out of the zone of short haul exemption and into the zone of long haul obligation, leading to fines.

Short haul trucking is defined as driving within a defined small radius (usually about 100 air mile area) of the truck’s home terminal during the day and returning to the same terminal at night. While short haul drivers are usually exempt from the same DoT regulations (Hours of Service for example), changing business practices within a company can bring the same regulations as long haul into play—sometimes even intermittently.

When Do Companies Have To Maintain Driver Logs?

According to Michael Scott, Software Architect responsible for translating DoT regulations into software solutions at Webtech Wireless, “Maintaining paper driver logs is an onerous task. Every commercial driver must maintain driver logs, which involves recording each transition (starts, stops, on duty, off duty, and so forth).”

Consider the following:

  • Do I have vehicles that are over 10,000 lbs?
  • Am I attaching trailers to my trucks (or towing other vehicles that could push the combined weight over 10,000 lbs)?
  • Do I have vehicles that carry hazardous materials (such as chlorine)?
  • Am I driving vehicles designated for fewer passengers than I’m actually carrying (remember, the driver counts)?

Size Doesn’t Matter

Michael says, “It’s really about driver activities. Even if you’re driving a minivan and otherwise subject to short haul restrictions, if you start carrying hazardous materials, you’re required to maintain driver logs or risk being in violation of DoT regulations.”

Key switches to start maintaining driver logs:

  • You start carrying hazardous materials
  • Your distances increase
  • Your truck’s gross tonnage for commercial vehicles increases (over 10,000 lbs)
  • You want to increase passenger capacity in a vehicle (check DoT regulations for more details)
  • You attach a trailer that puts the gross vehicle weight over 10,000 lbs (or towing another vehicle producing the same overweight result). Note: When the trailer or truck that caused to overage in weight is disconnected, the driver no longer needs to maintain driver logs.

Read the Fine Print

Regulations differ between US DoT and Transport Canada, but the intent is the same: In the US you must be able to show driver logs for 7 days and in Canada for 14 days. If you’re found not to have driver logs, you may be fined up to $1,000 per day for each day missing.

If you’re in the US,

US DoT Requirement to Fill Out a Daily Log:

http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/administration/fmcsr/fmcsrruletext.aspx?reg=395.1

If you’re in Canada,

Canadian Definition of Commercial Vehicle:

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2005-313/

My Life After Civilization

CIV5

One month ago today inspired by my friend Todd’s commitment to quit smoking, I decided to take on a little addiction challenge of my own—could I survive one month without my precious computer game, Civilization?

It had all started out innocently enough about 15 years ago, when I first started playing Civilization II (we’re up to version V now). A lover of history and culture, this game promised me mastery over the minions, bestowed me with kingly powers to lead the charge to a better world, and enchanted me with hours of timeless imagination about other times and places.

The beauty of this game is you can play it as a warlord, a diplomat, a merchant, or a key religious figure—and still win (if you’re good at what you do). You can also pick your civilization as well as your opponent civilizations. Typically, you’d start at the beginning of recorded history and progress through Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, and so forth until you reach modern times (the game even went a little into the future (2025), to let you conclude your business if needed). Also, you could acquire Great Wonders to advance your civilization, such as the Great Pyramids, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, or the Eiffel Tower.

NapoleonI tended to play as one of the European civilizations, but would occasionally indulge in other exotic cultures to play out my quasi racist fantasies. I liked to start in the Middle Ages (an option) and would often play the French (so characters like Dagobert, Charlemagne, and Henri IV were popular). Some versions of the game were easier to mod than others, so there was a period where I’d set up unimaginable “Civilizations” such as the provinces of Canada all pitted against each other (imagine the Great Wonders available in this mod – the skidoo, Green Gables, poutine, the potlatch…).

I’m painting this picture, first to show how addictive it is and second to set up the craziness and unreality that comes from such things. Because, when it comes down to it, I’m not cycling, or learning new skills, or playing music, or meeting interesting people, or travelling or a thousand other things I could be doing with this all-too-short life I have. Instead, I’m dweebing away in my apartment pushing little pixels around a screen. What made matters worse was these games aren’t short—they can go on for hours and hours, so like any classic addiction, one minute was too long and an entire night, not long enough. And like an addiction, the next day I’d be staggering back to the real world half asleep and wondering why I wasn’t as productive (or happy) as I’d intended to be.

“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

—Desiderius Erasmus

But this month since I quit playing, I’ve started doing really interesting things, like reading books, and going for long cycles around the city, and taking courses to upgrade my skills, and playing more music, and, oh yes, and getting a full night’s sleep. How amazing is that?

End of Civ

So let this be a warning to you. Yes, YOU! Time flies on fleet wings. Don’t waste your time doing things that ultimately don’t matter. Turn off the computer and go outside.

TMW Transforum – Five Strategies for Success

TMW-Transforum_13

This year’s TMW Transforum was held at the Anaheim Convention Center in southern California and, as an opportunity to showcase TMW’s suites of fleet management software, it brought together TMW experts, partners, vendors, and prospects. Having helped several of our clients integrate their TMW products with our award-winning Quadrant fleet management solution means that we’ve always have an invested interest in exhibiting at the TMW Transforum over the years.

This year, TMW took the unusual decision to invite one of the great American screen actors of all time, Robert Duvall, to the TransForum stage for lunchtime chat entitled, “A Conversation with Robert Duvall”. For anyone who thinks trade shows are same old, same old, Robert Duvall, veteran actor brought an air of greatness to the event.

Robert Duvall, Award-Winning Actor, Director and Producer, is known for a string of legendary roles including Major Frank Burns, MASH; Tom Hagen, The Godfather; Boo Radley, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Lt. Col. Kilgore, Apocalypse Now; and revered by Texans for his role as Ranger Gus McCrae in The Lonesome Dove.

Duvall was interviewed by David Wangler, TMW Systems President. While Wrangler read from a prepared script, Duvall, like any good actor, answered spontaneously and extemporaneously. When Wangler asked Duvall about his early days driving trucks to support his early acting career in New York, Duvall quipped, “I did? Who does your research?” Despite Duvall’s casual style and dubious credentials as a trucker, what transpired over the hour-long chat was his winning attitude that can be applied to any field of endeavor.

Out of his talk, I pulled together Robert Duvall’s five strategies for Success:

  1. Do your research. From roles as diverse as Joseph Stalin to a US Marine, Duvall meticulous researched the characters, their times, and their environments to ensure he brought the characters to life in three dimensions.
  2. “Hobbies, hobbies, hobbies” – Throughout Duvall’s life he has always cultivated hobbies, most notably his passion for tango dancing. Hobbies point to his inner curiosity about life—at 82, Duvall is still willing to learn new things.
  3. Acknowledge everyone you work with. Time and time again, Duvall acknowledged the people he’d worked with from famous directors and lowly grips.
  4. Laugh – atmosphere is worth a lot. Duvall described the pranks and general hilarity on the set of MASH and how much it helped them work as a team—especially when there was stress.
  5. Trust the process. Although he starred in many, many films, there are many others he turned down. In his chat, he made a point of describing how he’d turn down a role that wasn’t right for him (or not right at the time), while trusting that the right role would fill the vacancy. His accomplishments now speak for themselves and  to acknowledge his inspiring message.

In the end, what made the delighted crowd of sponsors, exhibitors, and fleet managers jump to their feet, was to be in the presence of Robert Duvall is to witness how infectious optimism can be. In his own words, “If you make plans, something will come from around the corner and surprise you”.

 

Reaching out to Resource Industries to Reduce and Save

BCRoadbuilders

Andrew Paul, VP of Commercial Sales at Webtech Wireless, attended the BC Road Builders’ Annual Fall Conference in Kelowna, British Columbia this week and, apart from a few rounds of golf, came away with a renewed respect for the concerns of the transportation sector in the Interior of BC. Nestled between the Pacific Coast Mountains and the Rockies and stretching from Washington State to the Alaska/Yukon border, the Interior may be few in people, but it’s plenty in natural resources and keeping its primary industries (logging, mining, oil and gas exploration) clean includes the trucks and heavy equipment that service the region. The statistics support this need: while overall Canadian transportation accounts for 27 percent of all carbon emissions, in BC the amount is much higher at 37 percent.

Andrew mentioned his meeting with Scott Everall of the Carbon Offset Aggregation Cooperative (COAC). The COAC is a non-profit organization that promotes its Fuel Efficiency and Carbon Reduction Initiative to owners of heavy diesel burning equipment, and long and short haul trucks. Its aim is to help trucking companies reduce their carbon footprint by providing monitoring and reporting their fuel consumption.

I caught up with Scott to find out how greening a trucking fleet can save fleet managers money. Talking green to business owners in northern British Columbia can be a hard sell. “Imagine yourself visiting a trucking company that’s in the business of cutting down trees, and you go in there to chat them up about making their business more environmentally friendly”, said Scott. Then with humor, “the look they give me is like, ‘are you going to give me a hug now?’ But my position is to describe how monitoring carbon emissions can reduce fuel costs by 10 percent”, he says adding, “Even a one percent reduction annually can add up to $300,000 in savings over our suggested three-year monitoring period. That, they listen to.”

Scott mentioned that many trucking companies have the willingness to change, but they may not have the manpower to manage the administration of carbon monitoring, “so that’s where we come in”, said Scott. “We help them reduce their operating costs by help them monitoring, reporting, and finally trading or selling carbon offsets”, he said.

“If using a system like what Webtech Wireless has, they’d be able to save money while reducing carbon emissions”, Scott said.  Scott’s attitude is, “As we become more aware of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the Carbon Offset Aggregation Cooperative program will play an increasing role in helping the transportation and resource sectors reduce emissions, increase fuel efficiency and create a safer working environment”.

What’s Your Calling?

Addiction

My friend, Todd, made a commitment to quit smoking this month. To support him, several of his friends ante-d up with some form of commitment of their own. I don’t smoke, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have some addictive behaviour—everybody does. For me, it’s a nasty little computer game called Civilization, in which an hour of relaxing time can (and does) easily spin out of control into seven-hour marathons that leave me sleepy, unproductive, and somewhat guilty about not achieving the goals I’ve set for myself.

The only way I can think it’s possible to thwart addiction is to overcome it with something more attractive. That would be, something non addictive, that’s more attractive. Without the usual outlet to steal myself away, I’ve discovered something much more attractive than a computer game—people.

Since I’ve declared war on my addiction, not only am I going to more events (last week three concerts, the Tweed Ride, a francophone barbeque, a birthday banquet, and a new course I just signed up for at BCIT), but I’m also using these events to branch out more connections. That is, I’m meeting more and more interesting people.

Todd is back to smoking sadly, but I ensured my commitment was not contingent in any way on him keeping his (that wouldn’t do our friendship any good). I’m beginning to see what even a smallish addiction is costing me in terms of, well, life. Who knows, it might be my term to inspire him the way he initially inspired me.

 

Your calling is where your deep gladness
and the world’s deep hunger meet.

—Frederick Buechner

Waking Up to the Costs of Fatigued Driving

Waking-Up-to-the-Costs-of-Fatigued-Driving

Huffington Post’s Third Metric campaign recently warned businesses to redefine success to include wellbeing—or face burnout. The Post’s intent is to raise awareness on the dangers of overwork and the opportunities of employee wellbeing, and in it Arriana Huffington advised, “The biggest obstacle keeping our desperately needed redefinition of success from becoming more widespread is the misguided belief that overwork is the route to high performance and great results.”

What caught my attention is how she draws a link between overworked and fatigued employees, “There is no company whose bottom line will not be enhanced by healthier, happier, less-stressed, well-slept, centered employees.” In the world of commercial trucking, the overworked employees are drivers and an overworked driver is a fatigued driver.

Westcoast Crackdown

Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) Commercial Vehicle Division (CVD) is using a more conventional approach to combatting fatigued driving—fines. It recently announced that it has partnered with Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia authorities to crack down on fatigued driving along the busy West Coast corridor. “A fatigued driver at the wheel is just as serious and as dangerous as driving under the influence,” said WSP Assistant Chief, Mike DePalma, “The effects caused by a fatigued driver can be devastating.”

The crackdown targets commercial vehicle drivers’ Hours of Service reporting, especially as previous investigations have found that “eight of the drivers had falsified their logbooks so they could drive more hours”. According to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), “Driver fatigue is a contributing factor in 19% and the cause in 4% of all fatal vehicle collisions. It is the cause of about 20% of non-fatal crashes”.

HOS Promotes Wellbeing

Whether we’re compelled to change your behavior out of fear of fines or propelled to do so to create a healthier work environment for your drivers, the result is the same: preventing driver fatigue results in fewer deaths, injuries, and destruction on our roads—and that means safer roads for everybody.

Our Quadrant In?Cab solution is a fully automated device that monitors and enforces Hours of Service regulations, prevents driver fatigue, and saves the lives of drivers and innocent bystanders on the road.