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How to Optimize Utility Asset Management with GIS
Tracking infrastructure assets such as water, wastewater or utilities is a technological challenge for smaller cities. Without the IT resources to create maps of pipelines and other linear assets, public works departments can have a tough time locating them.
At worst, technicians can cause costly damage because of inaccurate or incomplete information.
Geographic information systems (GIS) are becoming more powerful, affordable and easier to use for small local governments looking for utility asset management solutions.
GIS software has matured after decades of evolution. according to research and advisory firm Gartner, and can help with many use cases.
These include: asset management. facility mapping, real estate management, generation plant licensing support, planning, facilities design and estimation, outage management and field service. (The full report, “Hype Cycle for Utility Industry IT, 2016” by Chet Geschickter, is available to Gartner clients.)
We spoke with two experts about the key benefits of using a GIS for infrastructure asset management and tips for smaller governments to get the most out of an implementation.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What Is a GIS?
Location-based tracking gives users a way to see exactly where assets are in a facility or throughout a campus. But what about buried infrastructure assets spread across an entire city, such as water or wastewater pipes or utility distribution assets? In this scenario, accurate location data becomes much more crucial.
A GIS serves as a repository of location information and asset details, based on a web map with layers corresponding to various systems that can be updated and shared in real-time with workers in the field.
GIS platforms are gaining adoption as they become more affordable and feasible for local governments to implement.
Increased smartphone use is contributing to this growth. These personal devices are increasingly used for work, and offer a familiar, comfortable interface for GIS users, says David Totman, global water practice industry manager for ESRI. a major player in the GIS space.
A map of a water distribution system as displayed in ESRI’s ArcGIS platform
Above, you can see a view of a web map in ESRI that shows the exact location of water pipes, their connection to buildings and details about the assets. These maps are accessible on-the-go for any worker with a web-enabled device, so crews know exactly what is under them before digging.
Next, we’ll look at the specific benefits organizations can experience using a GIS.
How Can Small Governments Benefit from GIS?
In the city of Framingham, Massachusetts, the department of public works oversees 250 miles of roadway, 200 miles of storm drainage pipe, 300 miles of water pipe and 200 miles of sewer pipe.
Director of Project Development and Right of Way Acquisition for Framingham John H. Rogers and his team track all of these systems, and manage maintenance and improvements with a GIS and CMMS platform.
In addition, he vice-chairs the Asset Management Committee in the New England Water Environment Association. which helps manage water systems that serve millions across the New England states.
“Almost all of that is made possible by programs, including GIS,” he says. “That’s the most fundamental to infrastructure.”
A Framingham public works crew digs to repair a catchbasin. Checking the GIS beforehand will ensure that crews do not accidentally damage the infrastructure below.
A GIS is most effective when integrated with other systems. One prominent integration is with computer-aided design systems (CAD), which create 2D and 3D images of buildings or entire towns.
Many local governments already have CAD files of their infrastructure; by plugging this CAD file into a GIS, cities can build an evolving repository of locational data, available to any worker.
In Rogers department in Framingham, the system is also connected with VUEWorks, an EAM system that links GIS data with work order creation.
“That’s what’s used day-to-day,” Rogers says. “It’s an EAM that allows us to generate work orders for guys out in the field to fix pipe or investigate issues or clean, and also, if done right, collect work order history.”
Combined, the GIS and EAM platforms give the city’s public works department the ability to track every linear foot of pipe and roadway, locate issues and assign work orders, as well as perform analysis—the Framingham department can answer key questions that help them make smarter decisions:
- In which area of the city do we spend the most money cleaning the sewers? Why?
As mentioned before, the use of mobile devices increases the efficiency of a GIS platform. Rogers’ team can refer to the web map and asset information using rugged laptops, tablets or smartphones anywhere their jobs take them.
These field data collection tools help reduce the time needed to travel back and forth between the worksite and the office, Totman from ESRI says. In addition, they offer real-time information on-the-go, a channel of communication among the team and the ability to add details about assets from anywhere.
To recap, here are some core capabilities and benefits of a GIS and EAM platform:
GIS/EAM Platform Capability