In this time of tight budgets, it’s never been more important for public works managers to control costs and justify every penny spent.
For several departments and districts in the Chicago region, PubWorks software has proved to be an affordable solution to track and record all work performed, without creating technical headaches for busy managers.
An informal survey of PubWorks customers revealed certain common reasons they chose the software — affordability, ease of use and versatility — but also ways in which each organization customized the software to fit its needs and workflow. In all cases, officials said they received a good value for money spent on PubWorks, and they enjoy having a strong grasp of the time, equipment and materials they use to do their work.
As Shannon Quinn of the Edgar County Highway Department put it, “PubWorks allows us to be completely transparent and accountable to the taxpayers of Edgar County, because we can justify, demonstrate and illustrate everything we’re doing, where we’re going and how the dollars are being spent.”
Here is a glimpse at five of PubWorks’ Chicago-area customers, and how the software has changed the way they do business.
Village of Mundelein
Adam Boeche, public works director in Mundelein, a village of 31,000, only recently switched to PubWorks, but was amazed at how few employees complained about the change. The village’s mish-mash of different record-keeping systems, including paper and pencil, was sloppy and ineffective.
“It was very difficult to consolidate [information] or do any kind of report,” he said. “The reporting capabilities of this software are vast, almost limitless.”
Compared to other systems, PubWorks was affordable and easy to learn, even for employees without much computer experience, Boeche said. And the software has the power to change the way he runs his agency.
“Everything is much more quantifiable now, in an age where public works is headed in that direction,” he said. “We’ll develop into a more performance-based public works [department].”
The nature of fixing a pothole won’t change, Boeche said, “but this does provide us with efficiency on the reporting side.” With a few keystrokes, Boeche can answer questions from the town’s governing board and prepare accurate, detailed reports.
It’s also easy to add a new employee, vehicle or road asset into PubWorks, Boeche said, and supervisors can grant different privileges to employees within PubWorks according to their duties.
“It’s very powerful software,” he said, “but we can limit those powers.”
Palatine Park District
A parks department isn’t identical to a public works agency, but it’s close enough that PubWorks can function the same way in Palatine — tracking time and equipment usage to maintain and repair physical assets across a wide geographic area.
A PubWorks customer since 2009, Palatine Parks operates and maintains public parks in a district of 88,000 residents that spans several municipalities. Landscape Architect Cheryl Tynczuk says PubWorks tracks everything employees do, which protects the district against risk.
“If we get sued because somebody had an accident, we want to know when someone last went out and swept that trail or dragged that ball field,” she said.
PubWorks’ cost is “extremely reasonable” for the way it has strengthened the district’s record keeping. The airtight record of every hour spent at every location ensures district officials know when certain assets are bleeding red ink.
“Based on far more accurate reporting on our expenses for pool maintenance,” she said, “we made an important decision to close one of our pools.” The pool in question was underused, but also happened to be old and leaky.
The PubWorks database also makes it easy to bill recreational sports leagues that request more field maintenance for a big tournament. The district has even created its own labor codes to track time spent responding to vandalism. That built-in flexibility has enabled Palatine to get the most out of the software.
“You can determine how you’re going to gather information, what you need to quantify,” Tynczuk said.
Village of Schaumburg
With 74,000 residents, the large suburb of Schaumburg has been a PubWorks customer since 2004.
PubWorks’ customer support staff recently helped the village link its online customer service function to PubWorks, so when a resident reports a broken water main on the village website, that request is automatically routed into PubWorks. Whether a repair requires one person or five, whether a backhoe is needed or just a chainsaw, the time, materials and equipment will be logged in the database.
“We can generate an exact cost for that repair,” said Martin Metreger of Schaumburg’s Engineering and Public Works Department.
When a winter storm ravaged the area in February 2012, PubWorks comprehensively recorded all storm-related repairs and cleanup. When the event was deemed a federal emergency, Schaumburg simply billed the Federal Emergency Management Administration for reimbursement.
“They love PubWorks,” Metreger said of FEMA.
The same qualities that make PubWorks convenient for FEMA also make it a winner for Schaumburg, he added.
“It’s just a very cost-effective way of tracking our resources,” Metreger said. “It makes the data entry very easy and quick.”
Village of Montgomery
For Mike Pubentz, public works director in Montgomery, switching to PubWorks was like emerging from the Dark Ages.
“We weren’t far past being a paper-and-pencil department,” he admitted. “There was no way to quantify our work or how successful we were in completing it.”
Montgomery has just 18,000 residents and Pubentz has just 14 people in his department, but PubWorks has sharpened the department’s performance.
“We’re miles ahead of where we were when we started,” said Pubentz, a customer since 2006. “We’ve started to do some benchmarking and goal-setting, based on the information we collect each year.”
PubWorks’ customer support staff has tied Montgomery’s online ‘CivicPlus Request Tracker’ to PubWorks, so village residents’ requests for service are automatically routed into the system. ”It was a huge benefit to us,” Pubentz recalled. “It was much easier than having to monitor two systems, and ensured that none of those requests was going to fall through the cracks.”
The Edgar County Highway Department first purchased PubWorks in 2010 to accurately document its activities. The old paper-and-pencil system led to decision-making by “gut instinct” and “guesswork,” according to Shannon Quinn, the department’s GIS and IT specialist.
PubWorks was a perfect fit for a rural county on a limited budget that needed accurate timekeeping, project management and fleet maintenance. Now, when the department of 20-25 employees is faced with a budget decision, Quinn supplies the county engineer with the numbers he needs. “Information is power,” Quinn said, “and we have a lot more information at our fingertips.”
For example, information captured by PubWorks’ fleet maintenance module recently led to a money-saving decision. By tracking all the work performed on the department’s vehicles — hourly wages for an outside mechanic, plus towing fees to the garage — PubWorks prompted the department to hire its own shop mechanic.
“What the software has done is demonstrate the need to have an in-house mechanic,” Quinn said. “It’s much cheaper.”
Edgar County’s 20,000 residents are scattered across several towns, and the highway department maintains roads and bridges in nearly every one. PubWorks records all that work and assigns a location to each job, which makes for easy billing. “We have intergovernmental agreements with all our cities and townships,” Quinn said. “It’s nice to be able to back up what we charge them.”