As a scale supervisor for transfer stations operated by Helena, Mont., Kathy Goroski wants a single software application that will handle scale transactions, collections and routing. For years, she's had no luck.
Why, she asks, isn't there a software application that automates all of the information tasks associated with a solid waste management operation — from collection through disposal? Today, her vendors are working out the final details of an integration project that will automate many of those tasks by enabling different software systems to talk to each other.
Waste operation managers across the country are demanding a connection of systems to automate expensive, time-consuming manual tasks. They want the various software applications at work in their organizations to combine forces, swap data and solve costly productivity problems.
Integration in Helena
In Helena, Kathy Goroski's transfer station scales process solid waste for 60,000 residential, commercial and roll-off customers. For years, the facility has used Wilmington, N.C.-based Carolina Software Inc.'s WasteWORKS to automate and record scale house transactions.
Not long ago, the city purchased RAMS-Pro, an application developed by Alpine Technology Corp., Colorado Springs, Colo., to handle route management, billing and other administrative functions. The product provides an automated route manager that re-balances service routes. It also smoothes the wrinkles that solid waste billing systems confront, such as managing letters to customers and handling spreadsheets that tabulate sales quotes.
The system also integrates related tasks. If, for example, a receptionist transfers a phone call to customer service, the account automatically appears on the representative's screen. In addition, the program checks container inventories and generates work orders to have containers delivered. But the system doesn't have scale-house capabilities, Goroski says.
“One day Kathy asked me: ‘Can RAMS-Pro talk to WasteWORKS?’” recalls Jon Leeds, a vice president of Carolina Software. “We talked with Alpine and discovered that we had similar philosophies about data integration and decided we could make it work for Helena.”
Leeds says local governments, haulers and disposal facilities would all benefit from considering how they would like to manipulate information and then working to create partnerships between suppliers rather than purchasing packages and discovering that the two systems can't be made to talk to each other.
While Goroski awaits the integrated software, she is making plans to mine and organize data in ways not possible without the integration. For instance, she wants to evaluate the city's solid waste programs and pricing. Helena residents pay $161 per year for solid waste services, entitling them to once-a-week pickup of a 90-gallon container (additional containers are covered under a pay-as-you-throw program), bulk waste pick-ups and a permit to self-haul two tons of solid waste to the landfill.
“In the past, we have not been able to track how many residents use the bulk-hauling service and the landfill permit,” Goroski says. With the software integration, “I'll be able to track tonnage brought in on permit and bulk orders and determine how often customers use those services.”
“It's possible that a large percentage of our residents use just the weekly collection and never call the bulk truck or use the landfill permit,” she adds. “If that's true, it might be possible to lower residential rates by $40 per year by doing away with the landfill permits. If just a few people use the permits and bulk pick-ups, then we shouldn't charge everyone for those services.”
The integration also will enhance billing services for commercial, roll-off and landfill customers alike. Right now, the city's Solid Waste Department piggybacks on the city's water bills, a system that has worked poorly. Property owners traditionally pay water bills, while tenants pay for waste collection, so the city is, in some cases, sending bills to the wrong person, Goroski notes.
In addition, since there is no room to provide service details, the city can't justify fees on the invoices. As a result, customers call and ask for details. Roll-off customers, for instance, want to know the daily charge, the number of hauls and the tonnage. “We have the details, but we can't put them on the bills,” Goroski says. “So, someone has to take the time to look up the information and provide it to customers.”
The new system will provide two-sided paper bills with details about both collection and transfer station services made possible by the integration. After the integration, Helena also will provide customers with online billing services.
Efficiency in Sacramento Co.
In Sacramento County, Calif., a private contractor processes the county's single-stream recycling collections. The county wants a weekly report from the contractor summarizing the tonnages collected. Up until last year, the contractor exported the data to an Excel file using its own scale-house software. Then, county personnel entered the data by hand into the county's WasteWORKS scale-house software.
Now, the two systems communicate to automatically enter the information into the county's program, says Doug Kobold, program manager for the county's Department of Waste Management and Recycling.
Kobold is planning another system integration. On the collection side, the county uses Routesmart from Columbia, Md.-based Routesmart Technologies Inc. to optimize routes. “It would be great to use information from the scale-house system to give [the routing system] a way to balance routes based on tonnage as well as on a map,” he says.
Kobold also has a small consulting business and is working with a hauling company that wants two of its systems to talk to each other about the commercial and roll-off sides of the business. One system is a routing software package with a billing component. When a truck makes a pick-up, the pick-up is entered in the billing module as a transaction. The second system is the scale-house system that tracks tonnage at disposal sites.
Sometimes, the billing module in the routing system needs tonnage information from the scale-house system to complete its billing work. For example, roll-offs that dispose of more than four tons generate an extra charge. Right now, tonnage data for disposal transactions must be keyed into the routing system.
Kobold's plan is to set up both the routing system and the scale-house system to export relevant data, which a spreadsheet can then combine and make available to the billing system as needed. “Another goal is to get the reporting to a level acceptable to regulators,” Kobold says. “This will require procedures that will send certain tonnage information to one system for reporting purposes and certain tonnage information to the billing system. Tonnages used by the billing system, however, will not be used for reporting.”
Last year, Hillsboro Garbage Disposal Inc. in Hillsboro, Ore., converted to PC Scales' Tower 6.0 routing, billing and accounting software. One of the first projects Information Technology Director Jason Barnes set for himself was to use the system's reporting capability to evaluate route profitability. However, the only way to get relevant real time route data from another system into the software was to enter it by hand. “We didn't want to get caught up in mass data entry that can occur when using incompatible software applications,” Barnes says.
So, Barnes integrated Tower 6.0 with the Routeware Back Office software, which works in conjunction with Routeware's on-board computer system. “The on-boards give us the actual time of service we need to evaluate route profitability and efficiency,” he says. “Additionally, we can analyze profitability at the individual customer level using drive time to location, time spent servicing containers and time spent traveling to the next customer.”
The integration has made it possible for data to move back and forth between the two systems. As a result, Hillsboro can view the data using reporting features from either application. “This eliminates the need to manually import and export data between the two applications,” Barnes says.
Helena's Goroski probably won't get her wish of one all-encompassing solid waste software capable of operating on an enterprise level. The market seems too small to support such an undertaking. Still, vendors across the industry are talking to customers about integrating their products with others. To facilitate those integrations, many software application packages are becoming less proprietary and more capable of combining forces.
Michael Fickes is a Westminster, Md.-based contributing writer.