A few days ago I was talking to a manager at a small combined water and wastewater utility who wanted to know with a limited budget, how can they implement GIS and where should they get started?
That’s a question we often get. No doubt, most large and small utilities implement their GIS as a series of ongoing projects. Most of the time utilities set aside a yearly budget for GIS to fund things like data creation, software purchase & maintenance, hardware and training. Often small utilities will focus their data creation efforts on creating a few new layers a year. This holds true whether they do the data creation themselves or hire a consultant to create their data.
The starting place for the majority of water, wastewater and storm water utility GIS projects is asset management. This means both using your GIS as the system of record to store your assets information and then using that asset information to make decisions about when is the optimal time to repair rehabilitate or replace an asset. If you are implementing an Enterprise Asset Management System (EAM) than both your GIS and your work orders are part of a system of record for your assets.
So if you are a small utility, what is an example of a high level process to get started with GIS?
- 1. Download the ESRI Simplified Water Sewer Datamodel http://support.esri.com/index.cfm?fa=downloads.dataModels.filteredGateway&dmid=16 A data model is the structure (GIS people call this a schema) of how to store data in GIS. ESRI with a consortium of utilities and consultants has identified the best practices for storing water, wastewater and stormwater data in GIS and posted them on our website as data models you can download for free. The ESRI W/WW & SW data models were the first freely available data models for these industries and have become the de facto industry standard for how to store these types of utility data in a GIS. By using these data models as a starting place for your GIS you will save money and time and will not be reinventing the wheel.
- 2. Compare the assets you own with the layers (GIS people call these feature classes) in the data model. Also make sure that data model can hold the descriptive information you need about each of your assets (GIS people call this attributes). So in the sewer data model you’d have a feature class for gravity sewer mains that would have attributes such as diameter, material and installation date. The data models have been in use for years and have most of the common assets in use at W/WW utilities, so more than likely you’d identify features in the data model that your utility does not own and remove them and add some attributes that your utility wants to track.
- 3. Modify the data model you download to have the exact set of asset and attributes that you’ve identified your utility needs in your GIS. You may want to have a consultant do steps 1 to 3 for you or with appropriate training before attempting this task you can do this in house. Some utilities choose to have a consultant do a data model workshop where all of asset management stakeholders (the people in the utility that will use the information in the GIS) identify what specific information they need. Engaging all of the asset management stakeholders in modifying the data model is good investment for utilities.
- 4. Get base mapping data – Base mapping data is data that you want to lay your utility asset data on top of in a map. There is a tremendous amount of free GIS data you can get from places like the cities or counties your utility serves. ESRI also provides free base map content through ArcGIS online.
- 5. Identify data sources that you want to use to populate your GIS – such as hard copy maps, construction plans, as-builts, field maps, CAD files, data from spread sheets, etc. If you don’t have any good source data to start with then you may want to consider doing GPS data collection
- 6. Do a pilot – Start to put data into your asset data into the data model. If you are doing wastewater assets, select part of your collector system (such as one sewer shed). At the end of creating pilot data use your GIS to make some maps and do some analysis – ask the questions you need answered to make better asset management decisions of your new data. Doing a pilot makes sure that any changes you made to the data model suit your needs and also helps you become comfortable with GIS. Identify any lessons learned through the pilot and then modify your approach if needed. Also identify some steps to do quality control of your new GIS data.
- 7. After the pilot keep populating your asset data in GIS and maintaining the asset data you’ve already created. Now you have a production GIS for asset management. If you are a small utility with limited budget you may want to break your GIS up into phases – such as doing 1 sewer shed each year or doing your water distribution system in the 1st year and then your wastewater system the next year.
By investing in training or hiring someone with GIS knowledge you can achieve these tasks yourself. Also many small utilities use an ESRI business partner to help them get started with their GIS. Understanding the steps above will help you better engage with a GIS consultant.
While asset management has been the traditional starting place of W/WW & Stormwater GIS, we’ve seen an interesting trend emerge over the past few years where some utilities have made vehicle routing or a management dashboard their first GIS project. By starting with something like vehicle routing, water utilities can have a quick win with GIS (who can argue with the benefit of fuel savings & reducing vehicle miles driven) and become comfortable with GIS as technology before moving forward with getting your assets into GIS.
As always, if you have anything to share on this topic please post a comment or send an email to: ArcGISTeamWater@esri.com