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Angle Weber, with the Butler County Engineer's Office, says that the easier it is for staff to enter data into work-management software, the more accurate the reports will be.
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Scott Bressler, with the Butler County Engineer's Office in Hamilton, Ohio, says that work management software has helped his agency keep better tabs on costs, and to more quickly identify frequent problems at the same address. Photos: Tracker Software Corp.

Public works directors are accustomed to dealing with heavy equipment, road bases, and guardrails, so selecting work-management software can present a challenge. Scott Bressler, operations manager of the Butler County Engineer's Office in Hamilton, Ohio, says, however, that choosing the appropriate work-management software can be easy and rewarding.

The right software can keep you out of hot water, which can include anything from a testy county commissioner to an investigative reporter asking how your agency spends its tax dollars. The correct software also can help you manage costs and report them more accurately. These and other challenges led Bressler to seek a better system.

“Our old system was very old, difficult to use, and our support contract was coming due,” said Bressler. “I knew we needed new software and it was important to me that it close the gap between work orders and our call center.”

After test-driving several products, Bressler selected PubWorks from Snowmass Village, Colo.-based Tracker Software Corp., finding it to be the least costly and most user-friendly. “Now we create histories when calls come in and when work orders are fulfilled,” said Bressler. “This helps us keep track of employees and flag frequent problems at the same address. It also helps us with tracking reports, so we can say what it costs to do snow removal or patch repair, or a particular project such as a bridge replacement.”

According to Brian Pettet, public works director for Pitkin County, Colo., work-management software is also important when providing contract services to departments with dedicated tax sources, to quasi-governmental enterprise zones, and to neighboring jurisdictions. “There are a number of examples where we have intergovernmental agreements to help out other departments with equipment and personnel, and bill for our services,” said Pettet. “We need an easy way to keep track of those costs that everyone is comfortable with. That means effective cost-accounting practices.”

These, along with Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB 34) compliance, are some of the forces driving work-management software purchase decisions. Several firms provide work-management software with the bells and whistles needed to meet consumer and regulatory demands for government accountability. The challenge is in finding the program that meets your particular reporting needs, and is easy to use.

“If the program is cumbersome, you will either end up with bad data getting entered, or no data entered at all,” said Bressler. “What you have to do is put a team together of all the potential users.” His team included the administrator fielding customer calls and writing work orders, the inventory person for cost management, and human-resources and payroll personnel, to ensure that payroll integration flowed smoothly.

While the county is relatively new to the platform, Bressler is already seeing results. The county auditor's office has expressed approval of the information they are getting to fold into GASB 34 reporting requirements. County engineer Greg Wilkens also points to the ease with which they can now pull up work orders.

“You may get a call out of the blue from a reporter wanting to know what it cost to do something, like the one I got the other day wanting to know about snow removal costs,” said Wilkens. “Now, we can just pop on PubWorks and get the answer.”

That is the kind of accountability many consumers now expect, and that work-management systems should deliver, keeping public works directors out of the hot seat.

Gary Gleason is a freelance journalist based in Aspen, Colo.