Community Asset Tracker aims to optimize use of government resources
Keeping track of city assets can be challenging for resource-stretched local governments. In winter, for instance, sidewalks need to be cleared of snow to a certain boundary. But how do public works officials know which sidewalks have been cleared and which haven’t, so they can dispatch workers? Similarly, how do code-enforcement agencies know when vacantt buildings have been damaged by vandalism or storms, so they can take care of repairs?
Typically, the answer is driving to a location, to assess and document conditions – a labor-intensive and inefficient process. But now, another option may soon be at hand. UAlbany’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG) has developed a system to fully automate and enhance the tracking of local government assets in small- to mid-sized cities.
“Government staff from all kinds of departments – highways, economic development, public works – spend considerable amount of time in the field,” says Derek Werthmuller, director of Technology Innovation and Services at the CTG. “We think we’ve come across a better way to handle the daily challenges.”
CTG’s system, dubbed the Community Asset Tracker, uses a mobile Internet of Things sensor network on government vehicles and artificial intelligence to track government assets for inventory purposes. The system is designed to provide near real-time identification and notification of safety or other significant issues with government-owned infrastructure and properties.
Much of what city workers are doing in the field is operational, such as taking care of garbage or roads. They need data to make decisions on what to do, and they need data to plan, says Werthmuller. “This Community Asset Tracker is focused on helping to collect and share that data, without having to send groups from different departments out on a regular basis to assess and collect data by hand for analysis.”
Organizations, including in the public sector, are increasingly recognizing the potential of data and data analytics to help inform decision-making, solve problems, and make predictions. The same is true of smaller and medium-sized cities or regions, says CTG Director Theresa Pardo. “What they’re also beginning to realize is the resource limitations and the constraints that they face in collecting the data, and in having the analytical tools and techniques needed to increase the quality of decision making.”
CTG’s Smart Cities Program has been looking specifically at what’s going on in cities – not just in data collection, but also in a whole portfolio of innovations that are making cities of all levels smarter, says Pardo. “When you bring the Smart Cities Program together with the Technology Innovation and Services Program, it’s sort of a ‘perfect storm’ for CTG,” she says. “We get to work with our local government partners to learn more about how innovative technologies can be applied to the challenges they’re facing by gathering data in more efficient and effective ways.”
The SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund (TAF) investment will be used to pilot a prototype of the Community Asset Tracker in a specific city. CTG hopes to get come away with a better understanding of how the technology could optimize use of government resources. This will allow them to further develop the technology and to develop additional use cases.
Ultimately, CTG’s aim is to commercialize the technology through licensing to a startup or existing company, expanding its reach. “New York is not unique in this kind of need,” says Pardo. “We would want to take this to other states, and even other countries. This is a classic local government challenge, the world over.”
CTG is a university-wide, interdisciplinary research institute at UAlbany. Technologists work side-by-side with social scientists and public administrators whose responsibility is to understand the socio-technical aspects of technology innovation. “What’s unique about CTG is our holistic view, understanding the management and policy as well as the technology innovations that are required to create sustainable change,” says Pardo.
UAlbany students also are regular contributors to CTG’s work, participating as full members on project teams. The TAF-funded pilot of the Community Asset Tracker prototype will be supported by two graduate students in computer science who will get real-world, problem-solving experience. “What’s really exciting is that they’ll be creating and testing an innovation with the idea that it could lead to commercialization,” says Pardo. “I think that’s a marvelous and unique experience for the students.”
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