Facing the Challenge of Aging Infrastructure

The right tool for the job

In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructure a “D.” When most of America’s infrastructure was originally built, the country was in a growth mode and engineered every specific project to be optimal before moving on, not always understanding the mechanics of the complete system—how the various projects or components worked together and how they affected each other at a more regional scale. To add to this complacency, underground infrastructure also suffered from the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Today, with our limited budgets and declining workforce, we are experiencing the results of this oversight. We understand that infrastructure decays due to in situ conditions and operational extremes, material degradation and manufacturing defects, and dynamic loads not taken into account in the original design. We now know that skipped maintenance schedules shorten the life expectancy of our assets. Entire systems are being brought down by their weakest links.

A fundamental premise to asset management is understanding specific infrastructure performance metrics and derived useful life from an empirical review of failure history and condition assessment due to aging. The power of GIS technology comes alive when you extrapolate the performance of the known assets of your entire system, allowing you to define and understand the scope and magnitude of your aging infrastructure. It can show you what you don’t know. Once the problem is defined, it can be funded, engineered, and rehabilitated in a prioritized fashion.

Many GIS tools can be used to face this challenge. The spatial nature of distribution, collection, and transportation systems mandate a GIS-centric approach to your asset inventory. Spatial algorithms built into GIS can help you understand the causal effects of external factors on your infrastructure, both man-made and natural. Enterprise GIS is now reaching out beyond the office to field crews with mobile solutions and extends your workforce into the citizenry with smartphone applications. These help improve the accuracy (field markups) and define the events (work orders) occurring on your asset inventory. The next GIS implementation phase for public works departments is secure cloud computing, with its ability to lower costs through managed application use and data sharing. GIS is the right tool in preparing for our future.

How are you leveraging GIS to get a better grade on the next ASCE report card?

David Totman

About David Totman

David Totman is the public works industry manager at Esri. He has been using GIS for nearly 25 years in business process optimization, project analytics, and infrastructure management and has extensive experience in engineering and asset management.
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11 Comments

  1. Andy Richter says:

    Asset Management traditionally has been overlooked and underfunded for many decades. We are now seeing the effects of those decisions and can be overwhelming on the governing agency on where to begin and how to tackle this issue. The City of Colorado Springs knew as a government agency we needed to change how we conducted business. There are two parts to this issue from not only from an asset management stand point, but also from a work management point of view of activities that are being completed in the field. These activities are affecting your asset inventory daily. These two parts are crucial on having a successful asset management system.

    The first thing we realized was we needed a project manager or “champion” to see how we could get a handle on this issue. We have seen many organizations fail to implement an asset management system because they did not have that project champion to take it across the finish line and be successful. In 2004 I volunteered to take this project on and tackle this issue. The first thing I recommend is to take baby steps especially if no one on staff as any asset management experience. By starting slow and focus on one asset at a time you will learn from mistakes as you grow and help seed the buy in process for your organization one group at a time. When other departments see the success you are experiencing they will start asking you when can we get on board with asset management for our group. If, you try to tackle too much in a short window your risk of failure goes up and staff can be frustrated. Show them the benefits of using an asset management system and will make everyone’s job easier and your adoption rate will go up.

    We are using Cartegraph Asset Management System for both asset and work management. This has allowed us to leverage our ESRI investment and have both systems work together. We have seen many returns on investment examples using these two systems. Converting from a paper environment to electronic can have a huge return on your investment. The first year we saw a $564,000 return from an efficiency stand point. Having crews utilize GIS in the field for routing work orders more efficiently will save time and fuel. We saw specifically a 42.3 % return just going wireless with our crews. By having crews enter inspections and work orders and associating to your asset inventory you will be able to have a true condition of your assets and know where they are located. This proved to be invaluable in a 2010 court case involving a down stop sign. We were able to prove we were not negligent and saved the city in a $250,000 lawsuit by having this system.

    Implementing an asset management system takes time and I am starting to see asset management grow throughout the country so hopefully we all can get a better grade on the next ASCE report card.

  2. Bill Meehan Bill Meehan says:

    I had a discussion during a recent conference with a representative of a senior manager of a utility company. The senior manager’s dilemma was that he just didn’t know if his network was ready to collapse or was vastly overbuilt. What he needed was a better understanding of his network at a detailed level, so he could makes the best investment and maintenance decisions. Since most infrastructures are geographically dispersed, the GIS is the best tool to provide that level of understanding. Understanding first, then action. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to react first to a crisis without a clear picture of what we are facing. Great postings.

  3. Mike Fraser says:

    In Facing the Challenge of Aging Infrastructure by David Totman, he talks about the problem of our aging infrastructure. All of us in Public Works would agree there have been a number of reasons we have found ourselves in current situations and it will take a number of solution paths to work our way to a better place.

    Most of us would also agree that GIS can play an important part in helping us to better define assets and understand the scope and magnitude of problems. Defining the situation is critical.

    The next step in the process is to educate staff, elected officials, and the public with this information. It will be through improved evaluation of the problems, options, and costs that we can more effectively make better decisions and move projects forward. GIS system can better help us to accomplish this.

    In Salina, Kansas we find great value in the use of GIS and continue to expand our uses beyond planning/zoning asset location mapping. Our Public Works staff has been creative in assisting Fire Department responders with GIS based information that identifies potential hazard locations, including assists at these locations they may encounter. This information helps them make decisions quickly in the field, even while in route to the location.

    However, the larger problem is with gaining more funding to maintain our aging public infrastructure. In a time with shrinking budgets and attempting to do more with less, success with this effort appears to be extremely difficult to overcome. I do believe the answer can be found somewhere connected to educating the public about the issues. Their knowledge of the consequences related to our weak response is fundamental in diverting more resources to addressing the many problem areas.

    To this end, the City of Salina recently contracted for a complete inventory and inspection of our street system. This information was entered into CarteGraph Pavement View and linked directly to our GIS. This tool will not only allow us to inventory our pavement system, but will facilitate planning and budgeting. The link to GIS allows for editing the data and visually displaying pavement information symbolized according to many different criteria.

    Michael Fraser
    Director of Public Works
    City of Salina, Kansas

  4. Scott Keith says:

    As the owner of an asset inventory-focused GIS consultancy, it’s easy for me to see the value that an asset inventory program brings to local government. Spending more than 12 years in a public works operation, it quickly became apparent to me that important organizational knowledge, as it relates to infrastructure assets, was at risk of being lost. Employees with years of field experience would retire, and take years of often undocumented field knowledge with them. This would leave the rest of us guessing at where that communication line runs, or why is that signal cabinet wired that way? An accurate asset inventory is invaluable in providing an organization with a complete operational awareness picture. Whether it’s implemented in a work order management system, or just a stand-alone GIS database, possessing the information at your fingertips saves time and money. I think it’s important for organizations that are trying to get started to do just that – get started. Whether you have no GIS at all, or a robust enterprise system, just getting started is the key. Overcoming an antiquated way of thinking is another challenge altogether, but it is well worth the effort.

  5. David Totman David Totman says:

    A corollary to Aging Infrastructure I see developing in the industry and is reflected in these posts is the Aging Workforce. The GIS becomes a documentation tool of assets AND business rules. Much of the knowledge in the minds of the seasoned workers may or may not have made it to the as-built markups. So when the as-built deviated from the design, the in-situ configurations and conditions in the field go un-documented in the computer systems. That may have been OK when the workers knew their portion of the system and they were going to be around for years, but times are changing, they are retiring and their field knowledge is going with them. New workers rely on the computer generated maps and are liable to make wrong decisions if the information is incorrect. This is why it is critical to also implement a field component to the GIS and have the crews validate the existing asset inventory whenever it is being worked on. We need to value and respect the tremendous amount of knowledge that is being lost, and capture it in feature classes, attributes, domains, templates, editing rules, and metadata.

  6. Eli Safra says:

    The importance of a knowledge infrastructure is stressed nicely in the posting. I would like to add an important note for consideration when building such infrastructure.

    Building the knowledge infrastructure has many similarities to building the physical infrastructure. Three examples:
    1. The equivalents to manufacturing defects in the physical infrastructure are bugs in the software.
    2. The software and hardware of the knowledge infrastructure require updates in a timely manner (typically the life cycle of these items is shorter than the life cycle of components in the electric network).
    3. Building the knowledge infrastructure is not simple and requires expert engineers and vast knowledge.

    Therefore, when building the knowledge infrastructure it is essential to make a contract with a software company that is committed to product quality and to the highest level of support.
    It is also important to be aware of the amount of effort that is needed for building and maintaining a good knowledge infrastructure in advance.

    In the Israeli Electric Company we are now fighting to update our knowledge infrastructure from ancient CAD system to a real GIS system that is provided by ESRI. The update process started many years ago (since 2006) and required a substantial effort.

    We hope that we will start enjoying the fruits of this effort in the near future.

  7. Ron Wallace says:

    This believe this is an important topic — I would say that GIS is one of the “antidotes for aging assets.” In the work we are doing with clients around enterprise asset management we are finding GIS to be a critical element in visualizing problem area in utility systems – especially water and wastewater system. When trouble tickets and work orders are viewed in GIS clients often find very large percentage of work is being done in a proportionally small part of their system. With this type of analysis water system operators can easily demonstrate to management, public utility commissions and consumers why they need to focus maintenance, repair and replacement in specific parts of the system.

  8. Governments, public work departments and utilities in an effort to continue to streamline costs and efficiencies are turning to technology to gain control of current and future costs. GIS is technologies that helps address the increasing cost of aging infrastructure. The old paradigm of siloed databases and paper files is shifting to a digital enterprise framework. The three main asset management technologies concentrate on data collection, maintenance planning and decision analysis.

    At the foundation of this transformation of how information is collected, stored and processed is ESRI’s ArcGIS. ESRI is the leader in U.S. utility and municipal geospatial analysis and for all purposes should be considered the de facto standard for infrastructure asset management in the United States. Standardization will continue to bring additional cost savings through open architecture, data sharing and cooperation. ESRI ArcGIS provides the comprehensive geodatabase and helps maintain and manage up-to-date information about assets, including detailed descriptions about their current condition and operating status.

    Water utility asset management starts with compiling a geographic database of the utility network from source documents such as as-built drawings, construction plans, field observations and GPS data collectors. This GIS-centric approach for asset management provides the basis for a scalable enterprise-wide framework that can capture any asset identified from water and wastewater facilities and underground infrastructure to every facility, street, light, sign, park, port, school, marina, cemetery, vehicle and tree.

    Basically, anything that could require maintenance or tracking. Many Information Technology Master Plans have adopted the importance of GIS and the concept that asset management hinges on having up-to-date performance information about facilities, customer complaints, main breaks, leaks, meter readings and operating data. In many cases the GIS IT function is being moved to the public works or utility department to maintain or enhance its funding and to better facilitate asset management program initiatives.

    GIS manages asset information. With ESRI ArcGIS geodatabase as the asset registry or asset inventory, the next most critical component of an enterprise asset management system is the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Water, wastewater, solid waste and storm drain utilities are some of the most capital-intensive assets to manage and, as a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) have advocated the need to implement an effective Enterprise Asset Management System. The core component for managing the existing assets for operations and maintenance departments is a robust CMMS focused on maintenance and rehabilitation work orders, and the inspection and monitoring of assets with regular periodic condition assessments of selected assets. The asset management focus is to maintain a desired level of service of an asset at the lowest life cycle cost.

    EPA defines Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) as a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) focused on maintenance work orders and maintenance performance combined with an Asset Registry focused on an asset’s performance over its life cycle and on the aggregate performance of asset groups. A CMMS and Asset Registry is the core to any asset management program. An ESRI GIS-centric application shares the geodatabase without redundant database integration programming.

    The impact of GIS on infrastructure asset management and public asset management has now even been documented in Wikipedia demonstrating the power of a GIS-Centric approach.

  9. David Totman David Totman says:

    One of the things I have seen in asset management theory and holistic approaches such as a Weibull Analysis is that some of the detail is lost when talking averages. These tools are great for trending and establishing estimated behavior, but I see real value in GIS-centric work and asset management systems being able to understand performance history right down to the specific asset. With a GIS link you can then overlay external characteristics that may have contributed to premature failure or the opposite, very favorable in-situ conditions that may have allowed the asset to reach its expected useful life. This allows you to better understand the granularity of certain asset classes.

    That is why we appreciate many of our Esri Partners developing work and asset management systems that directly leverage the geodatabase in ArcGIS. With more users posting authoritative data on ArcGIS Online, anyone can begin to incorporate soils data, demographic data, weather data, etc into their infrastructure analysis and asset management programs.

  10. Our experience indicates most agencies are painfully aware of their infrastructure problems, but lack confidence in setting priorities and committing to action regarding needed improvements. To gain that confidence, agencies need to establish and sustain a foundational knowledge of what assets they have, where these assets are located, and how the various assets are related. Next they need to track meaningful historic data including asset inspections, service issues and customer complaints, and maintenance activities and repairs.

    David Totman made mention of Esri Partners developing asset and work management systems that directly leverage ArcGIS, and such systems can deliver this fundamental knowledge and historic data spatially. Using GIS as an integration platform for analysis purposes, impactful parameters from other sources (such as modeling systems) can be incorporated to produce a clearer picture of conditions, problems and causes, and potential solutions.

    Although GIS technology is a critical tool in helping us meet our aging infrastructure challenge, improving the grade (or not) for our infrastructure on the next ASCE report card will come down to the decisions of our elected officials, the capabilities of our public works professionals, and the willingness of customers and citizens to bear the associated costs.

  11. perryn56 says:

    The problem is particularly acute in urban areas, where growing populations stress society’s support systems, and natural disasters, accidents, and terrorist attacks threaten infrastructure safety and security.Novel construction materials may help address some of these challenges.A major grand challenge for infrastructure engineering will be not only to devise new approaches and methods, but to communicate their value and worthiness to society at large.