GPS / Telematics

Parish’s Technology Use Ascends to New Heights

October 2013, Government Fleet - Feature

by Grace Suizo - Also by this author

Ascension Parish’s fleet staff members are pictured here with Department of Public Works employees. Fleet manager Bill Depew is in yellow. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish.
Ascension Parish’s fleet staff members are pictured here with Department of Public Works employees. Fleet manager Bill Depew is in yellow. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish.
At A Glance:
Ascension Parish has worked new technology into its fleet operations, including:
  • GPS monitoring for 100% of its emergency equipment.
  • Remote camera monitoring.
  • Smart tank technology to monitor fuel requirements.


As one of the fastest growing parishes in Louisiana, located 50 miles west of New Orleans, Ascension Parish is moving full-speed ahead with technology to keep up with the times.

Fleet management, in particular, has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, thanks to Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez and the Parish Council, who identified technology readily available and accessible for the entire Parish, and Fleet Manager Bill Depew. Ascension’s 440-unit fleet includes 170 general purpose light-duty vehicles, pickup trucks, and ¾-ton trucks.

According to Depew, Martinez and the Council realized that many technology capabilities were being used in fragments in one place or another throughout the Parish. “They really put an emphasis on tying it all into a comprised network so that we use the comprehensive software and the applications that were already here and in place and just not being utilized,” Depew said.

Leveraging technology resources from other departments has not only helped improve fleet operations, but has also helped change the mindset of employees.

“We now have employees that had never turned on a computer — and frankly were almost physically afraid of what technology would do to their job security — now looking forward to turning on their computers,” Depew noted.

One of Ascension Parish’s fleet improvements is a new automated dispatch and work order work station. Clipped to the center monitor is the old manual work order form that has been replaced. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish.
One of Ascension Parish’s fleet improvements is a new automated dispatch and work order work station. Clipped to the center monitor is the old manual work order form that has been replaced. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish.

Promoting Change

Initially, using new technology systems and processes was somewhat of a challenge because many of Depew’s 12-member staff have been around for at least 35 years. These include master mechanics, a welder mechanic, and tracking/receiving maintenance personnel.

“We probably have the best group of master mechanics I’ve ever met,” noted Depew. “There is nothing that they can’t fix.”

However, when Depew first came on board in 2012, he discovered that the “automated” system the staff had been using all these years was really not what would be considered automated by today’s standards.

In its maintenance facility, fleet employees maintain equipment that ranges from sedans all the way to construction equipment and boats. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish. 
In its maintenance facility, fleet employees maintain equipment that ranges from sedans all the way to construction equipment and boats. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish.

“Basically it was the old multicarbon copy paper where you open up a work order, assign a number, give it to the mechanic, he orders his parts, and then you write everything down,” Depew recalled. Once that was all done, the completed work order was then forwarded to a data entry clerk, who would input the data into a computer three days later.

Depew likened it to a filing cabinet. “The only difference was they were filing it in a computer. Automated is real-time creating a work order, real-time closing the work order, establishing how long it’s going to be out of commission,” he explained. “We’re starting to do that now.”

The core system in place, Cartegraph, includes the work order system and the financial system, which has been heavily used for large engineering projects and available for more than five years. Fleet was stuck on using the paper method, however, because the staff didn’t understand the benefits of gathering that data.

“Once we explained to them that that’s how we document the work orders and labor hours and determine the amount of time it takes us to repair things, etc., they realized that it would help get more people and decrease their workload. Then they were all for supporting it,” Depew said.

In fact, Depew said staff members even volunteered to build an online library for all the master parts catalogs, illustrated parts breakdowns (IPBs), and operational manuals for further streamlining.

Of course, the strongest driving force helping to get staff on board with updating processes and running newer systems was the push from Parish President Martinez and the Council.

“The Parish already owned or had access to Web-based asset management systems that covered everything from GPS and smart tank fuel monitoring to preventive maintenance and repair programs, but they just weren’t being utilized. Our task was to implement it. So, the staff knew — not just from me, but from the Council and Parish President — that the Parish is growing very rapidly and we had to get into the 21st century. They were more open to it once they discovered how easy it was,” Depew said.

What also helped the transition to the new technology was leveraging the experience of existing staff. One of the dump truck drivers had an associate’s degree in computer programming and computer technology. “He knew most of the people and they respected him, so he could actually address it on a better level than me trying to convince them to use the things,” Depew said.

In addition, several of the mechanics already had a little computer experience using software to troubleshoot some of the newer vehicles. “One of them happened to have worked in a commercial shop where he did a paperless work order system,” Depew said. “So it was kind of finding the right people and moving them around a bit” to effectively begin using the technology.

The Parish now utilizes GPS monitoring for its entire emergency equipment fleet. The GPS monitoring includes a multitude of anomaly alert notifications, routing, utilization, and preventive maintenance links.

In the past year, the fleet has also implemented remote camera monitoring, smart tank technology to monitor and control fuel requirements, and vibration sensor monitoring and control on emergency flood pump stations.

Supporting Emergency Operations

Staying current with new tools and technology is a must for the department, whose primary function is emergency support. The Parish has integrated all the fleet management tools into a real-time management and control operation that supports daily operations and emergency operations in real time.

When an emergency event (such as an approaching hurricane) occurs, the Department of Public Works (DPW) assists just as its sister agencies, Police and Fire, do. This requires a significant switch in operational and resource priorities for the fleet, which supports the DPW.

“A lot of our assets are determined by our emergency requirements more than they are our daily operational requirements. In an emergency or in a hurricane, we’re basically on an island,” Depew explained. For this reason, the department does not outsource activities that would be inaccessible during an emergency or hurricane.

“In those situations, we have GPS locators on about 80% of our heavy equipment. We would find and identify all of our equipment out in the field that’s below sea level or flood-prone areas and dispatch our crews out there, first of all, to make sure our equipment is out of harm’s way. Then, we would start identifying where our serviceable vehicles were and start locating emergency generators,” Depew said.

Preparing for these worst-case scenarios is crucial, especially because of the critical equipment that needs to remain in operation. For example, without the Parish’s large pump operation out in the swamps up and running, some residential and commercial areas could be flooded with 15 to 20 feet of water instead of two inches.

Reaping the Benefits

Embracing the new technology and processes has been a game changer for the Parish, helping to boost the fleet’s productivity, efficiency, and accountability.

“The primary goal is to reduce downtime on equipment and vehicles. For example, if we have a bunch of delay discrepancies, we don’t want to bring a vehicle into a shop 10 times, so we’re starting to get all our parts in place before we schedule something in for deferred maintenance. It’s just more productivity and more efficient use of the assets. It should help us cut down on the number of assets required,” Depew said. He is also planning to put data loggers on excavators to determine the productivity of the heavy equipment.

Maximizing resources has helped with efficiency as well. Before, fleet would have to send individuals out to vendors or parts stores to get different parts and other equipment. Now, the fleet is really starting to establish a common bench stock base. “The goal is to get something in and out as fast as possible, but having qualified people to do it and the tools and equipment ready for them to be able to do it,” Depew said.

Prioritizing has also come into play. Critical equipment needed in emergencies takes priority over tractors, for example. “We can park those. But, other things like the LoBoy,  gravel trucks, and fuel trucks — those things are critical in an emergency. So we’re identifying those, and even in our daily operations, those are our priority maintenance repair items. Prioritizing is just one of the things that have given us more operational time on our equipment.”  

Data from the Cartegraph system also helps identify bad trends. “You can see things that are not as obvious to you on a daily basis. You might go through a month or two months not realizing you’ve gone through 10 windshields on tractors unless you have a report that says this is what we’ve been repairing and here’s what the costs are,” Depew explained.

Operators are also starting to become more responsible as a result of implementing these new systems. Fleet now conducts a semi-annual vehicle inspection where every vehicle is driven through the facility and inspected. Previously, some vehicles would go almost a year without being seen.

In its maintenance facility, fleet employees maintain equipment that ranges from sedans all the way to construction equipment and boats. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish.
In its maintenance facility, fleet employees maintain equipment that ranges from sedans all the way to construction equipment and boats. Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish.

The drive-through inspection takes about two minutes, with one person on each side of the vehicle. “One opens the hood and we take a look at everything and see the general condition. It gives us a benchmark every six months to look at every piece of equipment and every vehicle and put our eye on it,” Depew said. “Before that, we didn’t really know the condition of the vehicles like we do now. That helps us make decisions on which vehicles actually need to be replaced because mileage isn’t the only indicator anymore.” 

Customers are also reaping the benefits as a result of the new way of doing things and sharing their satisfaction with the fleet.  “I just got a note of appreciation from the head of the Recreation Department of how fast our mechanics jumped onto something and got it repaired. He said he really appreciated the quick turnaround and the excellent service,” Depew said.

At the end of the day, Depew said he and his team are open to entertain anything that will make them more efficient and help them complete their primary mission. For the Parish fleet, this mission is to support emergencies, save lives, and prevent property damage.

“That’s the first priority. Everything after, that you do 90% of the time, is really the secondary job,” Depew said.

Ascension Parish Fleet's Key Numbers
Total fleet: 440
On-road units: 170
Off-road units: 270
Fleet employees: 13
Daily Hours: 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


Sources:

  • Bill Depew, fleet manager, Ascension Parish, La.

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