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South Tahoe Utility Finds Efficiencies With New, Connected Tools

Since 2002, the district and a well-known software development company have worked together to create an online document repository. Now, their focus has shifted toward digitizing forms and giving field crews modern tools.

South Lake Tahoe city limit roadside sign.
The South Tahoe Public Utility District has been working to digitize its processes and move information into an online repository, relying on a longstanding partnership with Laserfiche for help. Now, that partnership is evolving to include new digitized forms and capabilities related to the upkeep of Lake Tahoe.

The district — which was first established in 1950 to supply drinking water and provide sewage collection and treatment — started to add new capabilities to their system in 2018, focusing on simplified reporting processes and geographic information system (GIS) tools for their workers in the field.

“We had Laserfiche brought to us by one of our techs in 2002 after one of our buildings caught fire, and we lost quite a few files,” Brenlyn Borley, an information technology systems specialist for the district, said. “It was working mostly as just a document repository until we had the bandwidth to explore forms and some of the other features included with forms like workflow. From there, it’s just kind of grown.”

One of the ways the district is using the software includes inputting data into condition assessment forms and incorporating GIS asset information.

“We have kinds of sections or categories of forms. One of the categories is a condition assessment form,” Borley explained. “It’s a form used whenever you look at a hydrant, a manhole, a pipe or a sewer line.”

On those forms, she said, there’s a box that allows inspectors to rate condition: extreme, terrible, critical and so on. If certain criteria are met, the system creates a work order within the district’s maintenance or asset management software and sends an email to the management analyst overseeing the asset.

The district’s information technology manager, Chris Skelly, said working with the GIS capabilities has allowed for more control when it comes to planning capital improvements.

“Let’s say one of the engineering guys says give me all the valves that are in poor or really poor condition. Using this technology, we can map it and create a capital improvement project off of that and go out and replace them in one fell swoop on the next fiscal year,” Skelly said.

Despite these benefits of using the technology, there have been challenges. A lack of constant Internet connection being one of them.

“You go out to some rural areas in Tahoe, and the Internet connection isn’t there,” Borley said. “The biggest hurdle for us was getting all this data into the field and in the hands of the crews so they can see historical data when they’re out of the station and enter new data and update our tables.”

The other major challenge was getting workers on board with the switch from paper logbooks to digital forms. “I think when we first started deploying this, there was a lot of hesitancy around adopting the electronic format,” Skelly said.

Borley agreed. “A lot of it was just getting that buy-in of why we’re doing this; why are we making their job harder; we already have a good process in place; why fix it, if it’s not broken. I think the real way to overcome that was investing in our crews.”

That investment included purchasing tablets where crew members could monitor daily updates to any forms related to wells, sewer stations, water mains, leaks, fire hydrants and other services related to Lake Tahoe.

Because of this investment, that hesitancy seems to be replaced with acceptance and enthusiasm as district officials continue to receive suggestions from workers on how to utilize the technology in a more precise and specialized way.

“Now we’re getting feature requests, you know, things like ‘it would be cool if it did this’ from the field staff,” Borley said. “We’ve received a lot of great ideas that we’ve handed off to Laserfiche.”

An upcoming project the district is working on centers on a custom URL link from the GIS so that it opens the Laserfiche app on workers’ tablets. Currently, the option works as intended, but not without an Internet connection.

The goal is to work with Laserfiche to get that working so those out in the field can pull up a map and find the assets around them and input any information in the appropriate form.

“We’re a small IT shop; we’ve got four people working for us and support 120 users. I think the biggest hurdle was just getting started, but once you do that, it really takes off, so we are excited to see what else we can accomplish,” Skelly said.
Katya Maruri is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.