• 20th February 2018 at 12:00PM
  • Written by Steve White, Software Business Development Manager at Yotta
Featured Image

Overflowing litter bins in parks; pavements strewn with rubbish; fly tips by the side of the road: all issues that if not quickly addressed, can negatively impact not just the environment in which people live but also their quality of life. That’s why street cleansing is among the most important services local authorities deliver today. Most councils understand those issues – and are increasingly focused on getting the approach right. Unfortunately, there are challenges local authorities need to address before they can deliver the optimum street cleansing service.

Ongoing budget cuts mean that councils are constantly having to look for ways of doing more with less when it comes to planning and delivering their street cleansing services. That in turn means that collecting the right data and making it available in real-time to management and operatives to drive intelligent decision-making is increasingly key.

However, street cleansing has historically been an area where little quantitative or qualitative data has been generated or retained. In the past, it has been managed from hard copy spreadsheets or paper maps that were likely out-of-date, with little way of monitoring the progress of operatives whilst out in the field.

It was taken on trust that when operatives left the door of the depot, they were spending their full working day completing all the work assigned to them. There was generally little mobile working technology and next to no real-time connectivity in place between the operatives and the back office. Compounding the problem, councils often conducted their street cleansing work on a fixed frequency basis so work was done whether or not it actually needed to be carried out.

It was difficult for councils because intuitive, accessible technology capable of delivering a solution to these challenges wasn’t readily available. That’s changing today, as technology that allows the complexities of cleansing services to be displayed and reported on in real time by operatives is now available. Cost effective, easy to use systems that manage and process the data, utilising the information from the mobile technology to deliver insights and better planning are driving efficiencies in service delivery.

Councils are gradually embracing innovations in street cleansing. That’s illustrated in part by headline-grabbing initiatives such as solar-powered street bins – which feature built-in compaction systems that increase the litter-holding capacity by compressing rubbish as it is deposited – and fill level sensors that alert the council when a bin needs emptying.

This kind of approach fulfils an immediate service requirement but it can also potentially go beyond that. The level of data coming back to the council from these sort of ‘binfrastructure’ innovations helps it to look at trends and plan more effectively. The information provided may be able to help the authority decide how frequently individual bins need emptying, and more strategically whether the number and size of bins they have in place are optimally located.

We are starting to see greater use of connected devices and better monitoring of these assets, which is key to improving street cleansing services. It is also important to be able to monitor the work that operatives are doing. It’s crucial to give them the opportunity to engage more proactively with management in the office and report the work they have done, where and why work is unnecessary, as well as any issues arising.

That’s partly about having access to connected technology, of course, but it is also very much to do with leveraging the latest mobile technology to drive better communication between workers out in the field and back-office teams. Street cleansing workers can use mobile devices to view their scheduled work, reporting in real-time either that they have cleaned a street, or that it did not need cleaning, adding to the wealth of useful data for service planning. They can also view reactive work that has been allocated to them, or log additional service issues that they are unable to complete themselves.

Moreover, supervisors and managers can start to exercise much greater control over the work being done. They can see exact locations of each operative, what progress has been made against the plan and make any adjustments needed to ensure the service structure is as efficient as possible. From this, they can share that data with key project stakeholders and with the wider public, helping to promote a more positive sense of engagement in the street cleansing work they have done, as well as providing evidence to support decisions they have taken.

Positively, connected technology is starting to transform street cleansing services today by connecting infrastructure; organisations and customers. The next phase, already underway today, will see this technology connecting different service areas and asset classes. For example, seeing how the street cleansing, waste collection, green spaces and highways management services impact on each other and the interplay between them will be crucial in continuing to be able to deliver more for less. It’s an approach that has the potential to add a whole new dimension to the street cleansing services that councils deliver – but that could be the subject of a whole new blog…