Tag: work orders

Workforce for ArcGIS (Android) 1.0 Final Released!

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The Workforce team is excited to announce that the Android version of the Workforce mobile app is now available within Google Play and the Amazon App Store. Workforce on your Android device integrates seamlessly with Navigator for ArcGIS, Collector for ArcGIS … Continue reading

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Workforce for ArcGIS (Windows 10) 0.2.0 Beta release

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We are pleased to announce the second beta release of Workforce for ArcGIS on the Windows 10 platform! This update includes a number of new capabilities: Support for viewing attachments for assignments and features Filter your To Do list by … Continue reading

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GIS and Enterprise Asset Management

One of my favorite topics of discussion is the relationship between GIS and enterprise asset management and in particular Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) Systems.  This discussion happens with increasing regularity as most water utilities now have multiple computerized systems that store information about their assets and GIS is part of their system of record for asset information.

Breaking down silos of information

If you think about it, for years utilities have had pieces of information about their assets in multiple places.  For example paper as-builts (or perhaps even linens or mylars) describing what was constructed (or should have been constructed), maybe old project records with financial information that describe what it cost to put assets into operation, in other places paper work orders that described the level of effort to keep assets functioning.  You could rightfully call these silos of information – they all may be describing the same asset, with different primary pieces of information (and most likely some overlapping and contradictory information) and perhaps at different times in an asset’s life-cycle.  There was no interconnection between these information sources and often no senses of which was one was more correct or authoritative.

We’ve now moved into an era where most utilities have taken advantage of information technology (in some form) to store and maintain their information.  Instead of manual drafted paper maps utilities use GIS, instead of handwritten ledgers to track payments utilities use billing systems, etc.  Common IT systems used at water utilities are billing, financial, workorder (CMMS), GIS, SCADA, CIS, LIMS, etc.

Utilities still have pieces of information about their assets in multiple systems, but now they are computerized systems.  This means it’s still possible to have different descriptive information about an assets, costs associated with an asset, performance of an asset (perhaps describe by SCADA data or indicated by customer complaints) in multiple systems and that data may conflict.  So it continues to be a struggle for many utilities that still have to go to multiple systems to get a complete understand of their assets and it may also be a struggle to know what is authoritative information when data in multiple systems conflict. 

Some utilities are overcoming these challenges by specifying how their enterprise IT systems must work together.  This often takes the form of identifying where data is at a utility, how it’s maintained and then determining how systems should integrate with each other to share information and what systems are the “system of record” meaning they own the data.  It’s important to note that you may have multiple systems working together (properly integrated) that form your system of record.  So the “system of record” determination may happen on a field by field basis.

Enterprise Asset Management

The interesting thing about enterprise asset management is that it’s both a concept and now the name of a class of software commonly used at utilities and facilities.  A few years ago a trend started in the utility and facility industry where vendors of workorder and CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) began to refer to themselves as “Enterprise Asset Management Systems”, reflecting that the systems that create workorders and manage maintenance tasks (both planned and unplanned) rightfully should participate in the enterprise IT environment.  But this has also added to a lot of confusion about how assets are really stored and managed in the enterprise IT environment at most utilities.  While now called EAM systems, workorders and maintenance tasks are only part of what a utility needs to truly manage their assets.

From our experience with large water and sewer utilizes, enterprise asset management is something that is only achievable with multiple systems at a utility that are properly integrated.  After speaking with many utilities big and small, it seems like what utilities want for enterprise asset management is the use of integrated information from multiple systems to enable a utility to best manage their assets.  It’s the best data from each system to describe what an asset is, how it affects others related things (customers, service levels, other assets in your network), what its condition is, maintenance history, cost to build, cost to maintain, criticality, etc.  That data should be maintained in a way that it’s created or maintained one time and then stored in the appropriate system in a way that’s transparent to users.  So enterprise asset management as a concept is really the ability to access and use the right pieces of information (and that information needs to be descriptively and temporally accurate and authoritative) from enterprise IT systems at a water utility.

GIS, Enterprise Asset Management and EAM Systems

So how does GIS play a role in enterprise asset management?  Spatial location is typically the one common aspect among all of the data at a water utility.  We can understand the relationship between customers and distribution or collection system assets by their spatial location and interconnection.   A map is often the easiest way for humans to aggregate many sources of data together to visualize them all and understand how they affect each other.   When we spatially enable our utility data we can then use the analytical power of GIS to gain a better understanding of how our assets are performing and how they affect our level of service and our customers.  From years of working with utilities, we’ve seen GIS consistently be the gateway where large amounts of asset data enter a utility and where its basic characteristics (location, size, installation date, material, etc) is maintained.  So maps from GIS are the place to visualize, analyze and explore many pieces of asset related data and also enable you to propose ways to manage your assets better (maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement) and understand the impact.

Interestingly, when you look at how modern EAM systems (workorder & CMMS) are implemented at water utilities, they almost always have a GIS integration component that includes a toolbar in desktop GIS to keep assets in sync between the GIS and the EAM and also uses server based GIS to give a spatial view of assets and workorders to utility staff that are dispatching and managing workorders.  So the way EAM systems are integrated with GIS underscores the concept that enterprise asset management is about utilizing the best information from each system that stores data about assets.

Want to share your experience or thoughts on this?  Feel free to post a comment.

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Template Updates Part 2

We just posted two more updated templates, The Water Utilities Operations Dashboard and the Water Utilities Customer Interaction(formerly Citizen Service) template. You may have noticed we changed the names of the templates slightly. We switched to Water Utilities because these templates now cover more than just the Water Distribution network.

In the new version of the dashboard, you will find an updated basemap document with improved cartography. All the operational map documents have been updated to include layers for sewer and stormwater. You will also see a new set of widgets, some configured for the new data and some that were included in the most recent release of the sample flex viewer. Take some time and explore the new widgets and give us your feedback. We’re really happy about how user feedback is shaping this template into a true utility dashboard.

The Citizen Service template, now called the Customer Interaction template, underwent a big overhaul. The first release of this template was focused on getting information from the public. In this release, we wanted to expand how and what information can be captured. In the submit request web page, you can now overlay a map service from your utility. A user can click on an asset in that service and use the selected asset to power the request. The selected assets ID is silently submitted with the request, allowing you better identify the asset the request is tied to.

Not only did we want to provide a better way of capturing information, but we wanted to help you share information with your customers. There is a new web page allowing you to do just that. You can list any layers that you want to share with the public in the configuration file. We included two different configurations of this web page with the template. One that share main breaks, out of service hydrants and location of capital projects, the other is used to share boil water notices. The web page can also be used to summarize information by area and then display that to the public, so you can give the public a high level view of information by an operating district or administrative area. As they look closer, the overview will fade away and have access to the detailed feature locations.

Again, we are very happy and pleased with being able to roll out these enhancements. Which, came from all of you. So, please let us know what you like, do not like, what enhancement requests you may have, etc. You feedback drives the development of these. Thanks

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The Geographic Approach to Water Utility Customer Self Service

 

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to try out the first version of “Water Utilities Citizen Service Template” in the template gallery.  We’re about to release a new update to the template that includes some great enhancements.  We’ve also decided to rename the template to something more descriptive, the “Water Utilities Customer Interaction Template”.  Currently we’re testing the installation and configuration instructions, but in the meantime you can try the new template here – http://waterutilitiestemplates.esri.com/CustomerInteraction/

The intent of this template is to demonstrate how a water or wastewater utility can use a web based mapping application for better customer self service.  Web based self service is nothing new, many companies and governmental entities have include forms, information and applications on their websites designed to empower customers or constituents to do some form of self service.  The benefits of web self service are well known and proven – cost reductions, faster response and increased customer satisfaction.  Of course to make that happen you have to use the right technology and also the right workflow behind the technology.

Another way that we’ve been thinking about web based self service for water utilities is that it’s a bi-directional sharing of information.  Meaning that customers may have some information they need to share with a utility and the utility may also have some information that it needs to share with customers. 

The first version of this template was really focused on the customers sharing information with the utility, or more appropriately making a request of the utility for some service.  For example notifying the utility of a leaking valve in the street or a hydrant that appears like it’s damaged. 

The second release of this template introduces ways that utilities can use a web based map to share information better with their customer (and that’s why we changed the name). We’ll save a more detailed exploration of why and how water utilities should be sharing information back with customers and the general public for another blog.  We think it’s a compelling enough topic that we want to explore that on its own.

Now let’s get back to the topic at hand, the Geographic Approach to Water Utility Customer Service.  It’s a simple premise, and builds on the general concepts of the “Geographic Approach”, just about everything that a water utility owns, operates or serves has a geographic location and can be mapped.   Through mapping your assets, customer and operational data you’ll gain a better understanding of how they impact each other.  Service request and the work orders they generate are a key pieces of operational data that have a spatial component and should be mapped or tied back to an asset that has a location. 

Part of the geographic approach for water utilities is the fact that it’s easier for human beings to understand information when it’s in the form of a map.  Maps provide a richer context then information that is just textual or tabular.

So, what does the geographic approach mean for customer self service at water utilities? It means if you are deploying customer self service capabilities to your website, you should include a web based interactive map if there is a spatial component to the information being communicated.

Some examples of where a water utility could benefit from an interactive map for customers self service are:

  • Service requests – A well designed and simple to use web map for service request should be less confusing to customer than a text based form.  For example, we’ve seen a number of customer service request web pages that rely on some text based forms that key off an address.  But most water utility assets don’t have an address, what they have is a spatial location.  It’s confusing the customer to make them try and figure out the nearest address for something they are requesting service for.
  • Asset status – while the thought of doing this still keeps some utilities up at night, we are seeing the start of a trend in the industry towards giving a limited view into the location and operational status of certain water utility assets to the public.  A good example of this is fire hydrant operational status maps.
  • Operational information – Leaks, workorders, project work areas, and service outages.  This is dynamically changing information that also has a spatial component.  You’ll sometimes see this type of information posted on a water utility webpage as text or maybe with a polygon on a static map in a PDF.
  • KPIs – Some utilities track KPIs by spatial areas such as operational area or by city council district or the like and share this information back out with the public.  You’ll often see this information presented in a table, but its spatial information and can be better presented to the public in an interactive map.

Lastly, if you’ve been looking at both the Water Utility and the Public Works Resource Centers, you may have noticed that we have the same Customer Self Service template posted on both.  No, that’s not because we are lazy… it’s because any entity that needs to take service requests around assets can benefit from this template.  That’s also why when you download this template you’ll find service requests for general public works as well as water, sewer and stormwater.  When you configure the template you can just remove service requests that aren’t applicable to your organization and add additional ones that are.

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Template Updates

This week and the next, we will be posting updates to the templates on the Water Utilities Resource Center.  Our focus was to expand the templates to include data, cartography and examples for sewer and storm water. 

The next release of the templates will have an expanded and updated data model.  There are now feature dataset for both the Sewer System and Storm Collection System.  We have included these datasets in each the of map documents with sample cartography, scale dependency, label expressions, etc. 

We also restructure the Operations and Planning datasets.  All operational data, whether it be data for the field or the office, is now in the Operations Dataset.  This dataset has been expanded to include layers to support typical activities for Sewer and Storm data maintenance.  The Planning dataset is now only used to store and manage the reporting layers.  We have also included the results from the CIP template, both decision support results and the CIP project areas, in the core information model.  We did this so you can see how storing when you store CIP data in your utilities authoritative data repository in GIS, your analytical results and new CIP projects are available for publication to browser based and mobile GIS applications.

Since many public works departments also operate water or wastewater utilities, we’ve decided that the public works resource center and the water utility resource center should use the same sample data when possible.  So you’ll also notice in the newer template sample data some public works feature classes like roads and facilities.  We wanted to leave this dataset in the download to show how one Geodatabase, a central source of information, can support many different divisions or departments in a municipality and to show that these templates can be easily expanded to support different or other datasets.

At the time of this blog, we have already posted the first two updated templates, the Water Utilities Mobile Map template and the Water Utilities Network Editing template.  These templates have been upgraded and improved to handle the changes to the data model mentioned above.  You will see new functions and workflows built around the sewer and storm datasets.  Below I will highlight some of the new functions in each template.

In the Water Utilities Network Editing Template, you will find many new improvements and enhancements.  Most of these changes were a direct result of your requests.  First you will notice that we split up the Attribute Assistant and the ArcMap Toolbars into 2 separate installs.  This makes it easier for us to make future improvements and roll them out faster and also allows you to install just one of the components.  We heard from a few utilities that had built their own editing toolbar previously that they just wanted the attribute assistant.

When you open ArcMap, you will now find two toolbars.  We split the tools into reporting/tracing tools and into editing tools.  If you want more details, review the release notes, or you can click shift +F1 on top of any of the tools on the toolbar…yes per your suggestions, we included compiled help for each of the tools!!!  The new reporting/trace toolbar has commonly used tracing functions.  You can perform an upstream trace, downstream trace, or isolation trace, by just the click of your mouse.   There is also an option to Export to Excel the selected feature, or load the selected features into the ID Box. 

You’ll also have notice a new table, GenerateID, in the GDB in the updated data model.  This table is used to support a new option in the Attribute Assistant, GenerateID.  This new option allows you to specify a column in the GenerateID table to use as the ID index.  Yup, you can generate unique ID right in ArcMap using whatever incrementing scheme you want.  The tool uses the value, combines it with a prefix you specified, then increments the table.  There are a few more new options in the Attribute Assistant, so check out the release notes and review the help.  There is also a link for the help in the start menu, under ArcGIS Templates.  Note, Windows 7 does not support .hlp out of the box, please download the fix.

The Water Utilities Mobile Map now shows both the Water dataset, and  the sewer and storm data.  We added a new component that lets you toggle between the different datasets.  So it is easy now to just look at sewer data or water or storm, or turn all three on.  This is presented to the field staff as a single, large button that make toggling between them very easy.  We also improved the ID layer list.  You can now filter which layers are presented to the user for Identification, making it easier to navigate the drop down list.  You will also see the list expands when you click it, again, making it easier for the field personal to select a value.  This new version also includes a module to show how to record new data, such as inspections, leak locations, service request, etc.  This inspection module can linked to a source asset.  Say you are doing a fire hydrant inspection.  When you tap or click the hydrant, the inspection module copies information from the hydrant to the inspection record.  It does this by matching field names.  So it can help automate some of the information that needs to be captured, like ID.  Lastly, you will see a module for workorders.  This is an example of how you can work with a workorder system.  This module read a feature class that stores all the work orders, filters them based on the crew name and present them to the field staff.  The workorder module is linked to the activity module, so by opening a workorder, it starts an inspection. 

We’re very happy with these new releases, but we’re already looking forward to rolling out more enhancements.  With the expanded tools, symbology, data schema and workflows into Sewer and Storm, you now have a starting point for all assets at a water department, sewer utility or public works department.  

Please keep in mind, these enhancements came directly from your requests and feedback about the templates, so please keep them coming!

 

Thanks

ArcGIS Team Water

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Route optimization to increase efficiency and reduce fuel consumption at water utilities

Over the past few years, we’ve seen water and wastewater utilities increasingly recognize that they can leverage GIS to reduce fuel consumption in their fleet vehicles and more efficiently carry out their work through route optimization. 

No doubt the increased interest in routing solutions for water utilities is driven by 3 factors, first that regulated water and wastewater utilities have a fixed rate structure which leads to rigid budgets.  When the cost of things like fuel, water treatment chemicals, electricity, raw construction materials, etc. fluctuate than a utility has to look at its entire operations for place where cost can be reduced to keep budgets balanced. 

The second factor, which arguable was the wake up call to water and wastewater utilities, was the fuel price spike around 2 years ago.  When fuel prices were spiking, ESRI had an exponential rise in interested from water and wastewater utilities to optimize their routing.  That interest has not subsided with the decline in gas prices.  Many forward thinking utilities are using the economic pullback to prepare for when full prices do rise again in the future. 

The third factor is that water utilities view themselves as stewards of the environment.  The quality of our source water supplies is directly linked to the health of our environment, and many water utilities are taking proactive steps to be more environmental friendly.  We’ve heard a lot of talk about the water-energy nexus recently and also about carbon footprints.  Water utilities can reduce their overall energy usage (in the form of less fossil fuel usage) through fleet optimization and also can reduce their carbon footprint.

From discussions with ESRI’s water utility customers, we increasingly hear about the need to optimize vehicle routing for maintenance activities for fixed meter reading routes and for maintenance activities.  For the purpose of our discussion, we’ll lump workorders, off cycle final meter reads, customer service visits, in person billing dispute resolutions and emergency routing together as ad-hoc routing.

Whatever type of routing you are using,  spatially, descriptively and temporarily accurate GIS data about the location of your assets and your customer locations (premise locations in particular), are critically important.  More accurate destination information will yield better routing.  We’ve seen a lot of technology demonstrations for utility routing, and one thing we’ve seen lacking in many utility routing solutions is the ability to route to an asset.  The ability to route to an asset is often missing when routing solutions intended for the general public are proposed to utilities.  For example, if a utility crew needs to turn off valve number V-2421 during an emergency, they need to be routed right to valve itself, not the nearest property with a valid address near the valve.

For utilities, route optimization isn’t just about the fastest way to get from point A to B to C.  It’s also about optimizing the sequence of how you deliver your work.  Meaning that it to be truly beneficial a route optimization solution needs to be able to do things like honor time windows, handle routing and work sequencing for multiple crews some of which have specialty equipment or knowledge, allow you to add more stops and reroute all of your field vehicle on the fly and be able to leverage you existing GIS asset and customer premise locations.

Meter Reading Routing

First, let’s examine fixed routing for meter reading.  If your utility currently uses meters that require either proximity (drive by meter reading) or premise visits (manual reads), you’ve most likely created a fixed set of meter reading routes.  If your utility has to visit a customer premise for routing meter reads, than your meter reading route probably include a mix of vehicle route and then on foot routes (this require multimodal routing). 

We often hear from utilities that want to either optimize their existing routes because they are outdated or they want to establish formal routes for the first time.  From experience, we view meter reading routing as a specialty application of GIS and we suggest that you work an ESRI business partner such as Routesmart who understand how to deploy ESRI technology to overcome some of the special challenges of both drive by and manual meter reading route optimization.

Ad-hoc Routing

I use the term “ad-hoc routing” to describe routing for maintenance activities, emergency activities, customer service and bill resolution done on the customer premise, final meter reads that are off the normal meter reading cycle and inspections.  I lump these activities together into the category of ad-hoc routing because these are not rigid routes like fixed meter reading routes. 

Why do I consider maintenance routing to be ad-hoc routing when some of it is planned well in advance?  Because even though you plan for maintenance proactively and track that in your CMMS or workorder system, if a utility sequences the work to be done, assigns to a crew and creates a route that is often done the day before or the day of the actual work happening.  Utilities often mix in proactive work with reactive work (you didn’t plan ahead to do that task) into a crews daily work, so this is really ad-hoc routing.  It’s done the day of or day before doing the work and you may also need to reshuffle this on the fly based on the events of the day.

ESRI has a powerful core technology solution (of course this can also be extended by our business partners) for routing.  Our core solution is ArcLogistics.  

A few things to keep in mind about route optimization

We often get asked how to quantify the return on investment (ROI) for route optimization.  ESRI has recently released an ArcLogistics Cost Saving Calculator that you can plug in variable from your utility to estimate the ROI for ArcLogistics – http://roi.esri.com/costsavings2009/index.cfm

If you are selecting a new workorder, CMMS or EAM system think about how this will integrate with a GIS to enable route optimization.  Your workoder system is where you will create and track your proactive and reactive maintenance activities, but when you allocate crews and dispatch work route optimization will help you become more efficient. 

Like geocoding, route optimization relies on an underlying dataset to use for route generation.  Make sure that if you are routing, you have the appropriate dataset with the accuracy level and routing capabilities that fit the business needs of your utilities.  For example some datasets for routing are able to take into left hand turn restrictions, underpass clearances and road weight limits, those can be very important factors if you are moving large or heavy equipment around. 

Think about who will be generating the routes.  Do they need to be automatically generated, will someone create routes in a desktop application or will many people need to create routes (for themselves or others) with a web based or mobile application?  Also think about whether field crews should be empowered to route themselves, that is really a business decision at a utility.  In actuality, route optimization should be available to any system or employee that needs to optimize routes.  So it is really part of enterprise GIS at water utilities.

Understand how you will share routes once they are created.  Do you give field crews their daily routes and sequenced work orders on paper print outs or do you have computer in the field that you can use a mobile application like the ArcGIS Mobile or ArcLogistics Navigator to push routes to and enable turn by turn navigation.  When looking at a route optimization solution, you should assess how you can disseminate the routes and use them around your utility.

Feel free to comment or share any experience you’ve had with route optimization at your utility.

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Interfacing the mobile map with other systems

                Many of you have had a chance to test out the Mobile template and provided great feedback.  One question that keeps coming up is “How do I interface (or integrate) the mobile map with my other utility systems?”  Typically, when we get asked this question, people are referring to their workorder system (also called a CMMS or EAM).  Occasionally we are asked about interfacing with a LIMS system, mobile leak detection system, customer information system (CIS), billing system, heck we’ve been asked about interfacing with a utility’s time card system.   Hopefully you notice the trend here, that water and wastewater utilities can and do want to “spatially enable” their other business systems because most of these systems contain information that has a location to it, but the other business system can’t store spatial information at all or can’t store it well. 

Well, there is one simple easy answer because there are some many types of systems, vendors, API’s, gateways, etc…  So I wanted to talk about a few general ways to communicate with other systems and some ideas how to work with other systems.  First you need to decide what functions the field crew is going to need.  For instance, if you are flushing hydrants, do they need to access to when the hydrant was flushed lasted or every time it was flushed?  The reason I would ask this question is the answer is going to help us define how to work with other systems. 

Lets start by looking at were to record the inspection or flushing report in the above case.  If we are storing our field reports/inspections in the geodatabase, then this is fairly easy process.  We can create a feature class with all fields for the hydrant flushing.  This is exactly what we did with the template.  The user can click the hydrant, copy some relevant information to the hydrant inspection record, such as Asset ID and populated the geometry of the report from either the hydrant or the GPS location of the field crew doing the inspection.  The crew can fill out the rest of the information, click save, and use ArcGIS Server to post that information directly back to the Geodatabase.  If the user wants access to all historical inspection data, then that information can either be in the same feature class as the new inspections or in a separate one.  I would suggest that all historical information been in a separate featureclass.  The reason is that the historical inspection or field report data can be very large.  You want to manage the update of the devices with this information separately then the newly created field inspections.  If all the inspections, both new and old, are in one feature class, then the map may have 100’s of inspections at the same location, may be very confusing for the field crews.  The historical inspections never really need to be displayed, they really just need a tool to click the asset and pull up all related information.  With the new inspection, once they create it, they then can visually see on the map that they created and save the inspection and are done working with that asset.  So in summary, if you are using the GDB as you system of record for assets and their related information, inspections, flushing, etc.., then create a data schema for new data and historical data.  This will provide ultimate flexibilty and usability.  Just one more note on the above.  If you are going to load all your historical inspection information into the geodatabase from another system, then use a process to join your historical, non GIS inspection data, to the geometry of your asset and load this to your historical field inspection data.

                Now if you are storing some asset information in another system, like extended asset data in your workorder system, then you have a few ways to interface that data with the mobile map.  One way is to use the Geodatabase as your connection to other systems.  What I mean is build a backend process to pull out new inspections from the Geodatabase and push them to whatever system you have, and vice versa, use the same process to push information from the other system into the geodatabase.  This way you can use ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Mobile to interface with the information in the field.  It is much easier to write back end database scripts to move information around then it is to build a process to push out other systems data into a field, in a format that they can access offline, make edits or entries to that information and push it back into the office.

                If want to connect to the other system information store directly, without having to move it into the geodatabase, you have two options.  You can work with a local copy or cached representation of that other system.  This means that a set or all the data from that system will be loaded on the device.  The other option is to use a web services approaches or a Enterprise Service Bus(ESB) to directly talk to those other systems.

                If you want to work with the other systems directly on the mobile device, then you are going to need to figure out how to get that information on the device you are using and write a module for the mobile app to talk to that data store.  ArcGIS Mobile is built with the .Net framework, so it is very easy get your Mobile GIS Information to talk to other data stores.  The biggest challenge with this method is figuring out how to get the information on the device, keep it updated and push changes back into the office.  Some vendors have ways to do this, some do not.  I would suggest talk to your vendor and discuss what options they have.  You can also look at using provisioning software that can manage pushing out information to the field and pulling back in.  If you have a homegrown system, then you will need to develop a homegrown field version of the data and a synchronization method. 

                If the above is technical daunting and you want to use web services to have ArcGIS Mobile talk to your other systems, then I would ask yourself one question.  Can your field personal do their job if they do not have a connection to that service?  If so, this is a great way to interface mobile and office systems.  If your answer is no, then proceed down this route with caution.  Even with cell coverage getting better and better, there are always dead spots or connection issues.  What is one of the first things that happen when there is an incident, the cell networks get overloaded.  Also think about bandwidth.  This could be a chatty system.  According to Gartner, the days of unlimited data on cell networks are coming to an end, btw, unlimited data is 5GB on most carriers.  If you are ok with all the above or your field crews do not need access to this information to do their jobs, then web services are great, effective and easy ways to talk to other systems.  They are easy to implement and they can support many applications.  All you need to do is build a module for ArcGIS Mobile that when I click an asset, it hits the appropriate web service and displays the results.  This could be a simple hyperlink in the attributes of a feature. 

In closing there are a number of ways to interface an ArcGIS Mobile Applications with other utility systems and we wanted to highlight few of them.  The above strategies are not the only strategies; there are many ways to implement communication between different systems.  If there methods you would like to discuss further, please contact us and we can help you figure out the best approach for your utility.  You also may find that combining some of the approaches best suites you.  For example, with new inspections, you may use ArcGIS Mobile to create a new record, store it in the cache, and post it to the geodatabase using ArcGIS Server, then nightly, use a backend script to move it to the proper system.  When that field user wants to look at the historical info tied that asset they are inspection, they can hit a web service.  If your field crews do not have coverage broadband, well at least they can complete their work.

 

Thanks

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Generating Unique Asset IDs for asset discovered in the field

Based on our recent blog on Generating Unique Asset IDs, we had a few people ask about how to handle generating IDs in the field and how to handle new assets turned over from developers.  So we thought it would be good write a follow-on blog about that topic.

First off, for most utilities having a methodology for generating unique asset IDs doesn’t necessarily mean that an asset’s permanent unique ID is actually created in the field.  So while the title of the blog is generating unique asset IDs in the field, that’s a bit of misnomer, because not allowing field staff to create permanent asset IDs may be the most efficient process and also be the best solution to safeguard your data quality. 

I think the question to answer for a utility then is “what is my process for creating asset IDs for assets we ‘discover’ in the field?”  Since we are focused on GIS here, by discover we mean that you capture the asset’s location spatially and this drives the need to give it a unique ID, but what we are discussing is really applicable to any asset that is found in the field that you need to track in a computerized system.  Also, we are using the term ‘discovered’ here because these aren’t new assets, just assets that you didn’t know existed or may have known about, but didn’t know where or what exactly they were before.

There are many ways that you may discover new assets – as a water utility you may find the locations of valves that were paved over and recently restored to grade, or as a wastewater utility you may find buried manholes when you CCTV.  So ideally when these assets are discovered they are ultimately captured in the GIS with appropriate spatial and descriptive information.  Spatially they may be captured in the field as a feature in a feature class, ideally with the appropriate level of precision (such as with sub-foot GPS) or perhaps as a rough location with descriptive information that tells the utility the asset needs to be captured at a later date more accurately.  Incidentally, we often see this type of workflow with water utilities that want sub-foot asset locations, but only have a few crews that have the GPS equipment to achieve that level of accuracy.  So the GPS crews will go back and capture the asset locations when time permits because the utility has an attribute that allows them to know the spatial quality of each asset location.

You may also have developers build infrastructure for your distribution or collection systems and turn that over to you – these are new assets and different from discovered assets.  For assets that are being built and turned over to you by a developer, it’s best to track all of those assets in your GIS from the time you learn they may be built.  We see more utilities starting to use a proposed feature dataset in their geodatabase to track potential system expansion.  When the asset are built, the data is modified to reflect developer submitted as-builts or GPS data collected, assigned a unique ID and then moved over to your water or sewer distribution feature datset from the proposed feature dataset.  We’ll plan to cover using proposed, abandoned and active feature datasets and other tips on managing asset in GIS as the go through their lifecycle in a future blog.

IDs for Discovered Assets

So for discovered assets, there are 3 options for assigning asset IDs in the field – temporary asset IDs, permanent asset IDs assigned by the field crews & permanent asset IDs assigned by your asset “system of record”. 

Temporary asset ID assigned in the field

The simplest way to go for field users.  Basically let the field user or have your mobile GIS application give a temporary ID to an asset that signifies it was captured in the field and doesn’t have a permanent asset ID that conforms to the asset ID methodology of your utility.  Ideally there is some sort of identifier in the asset ID that shows the asset ID is temporary – for example for a manhole ID you could use MHT and for valves you could use VT. 

Then your workflow would be for the appropriate person or system in your office to assign the permanent asset IDs. Using our example, a simple query for the letter “T” would reveal any assets that don’t have permanent IDs assigned yet. If you are using a mobile GIS application with data synchronization capabilities, such as ArcGIS Mobile based solution, when the asset is assigned the permanent ID back in the office, the field users will see the new asset IDs in their applications the next time their data is refreshed. 

Permanent Asset IDs Assigned by the Field Crews

Field crews could assign permanent IDs to assets at the time of discovery.  We’ve seen data collection forms that call for an asset ID to be entered, often these are paper based forms that have a box for an asset ID.  We’ve also seen electronic data collection forms for GPS using ArcPad that allow or require field crews to enter asset IDs. 

So in this case a field crew has the ability to assign or record an asset ID in the field.  Allowing a field crew to record an asset ID is good workflow when there is already and ID on the physical asset, like a unique number on your manhole lid or a barcode on the asset and all the field crew is doing is recording the ID already given to an asset when they capture a more accurate location or do an inspection. 

But allowing a field crew to assign asset IDs without any guidance from a mobile application or without any coordination from your office is a workflow that could introduce data integrity problems.  For example, a field crew could assign asset IDs that are duplicates of IDs already in your system.

Permanent Asset IDs Assigned by Your Asset System of Record

If your GIS is your asset system of record, than using a mobile GIS application with real time connectivity back to your office can ensure that the appropriate asset ID convention is used and the next sequential asset number is assigned.  Or if you are using an Enterprise Asset Management or EAM System, which is typically now a GIS integrated with a workorder system, the GIS application can communicate with the workorder system on the backend in the office to assign the permanent asset ID on the spot in the field.

If you are a smaller utility and you don’t have mobile device connectivity, you can also call into your office and have someone assign an asset ID from your system of record, but this isn’t a very efficient workflow.

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Changing the Look of the Water Operations Dashboard

So you like the dashboard, but you want it to look different, maybe give it that home town feel. Changing the icons and title is easier than you think.  All you need to do is update a few xml files.  

Start with the Config.xml file in the root of the Flex application, located in <InstallLocation>WaterOperationsDashboard. Before you make and changes, save a copy of the original Config.xml file, then if you do mess something up, you have a backup. Modifying the Config.xml file in notepad or a similar text editor can be painful. It is much easier to use an XML Editor to make the changes.

Here I am using a product called Aptana Studio, you can see that the tags are color coded, so they are easier to read.

 

Lets start with the Title.

Under <configuration> and <userinterface>, you will see a tag called <title>. Put whatever title you want in there. Save the changes and open up the Flex application in your favorite web browser, you should see the new title.

<configuration>

<userinterface>

<banner>visible</banner>

<title>Water Distribution Operations Dashboard</title>

<subtitle>Powered by ArcGIS Server</subtitle>

Now while we are here, we change the Logo, this is the left icon on the banner.

On the tag below, look at the path. This path points to a location in the Flex Applications Directory.

<logo>com/esri/solutions/flexviewer/assets/images/logo_water_GE.png</logo>

Translate that path to a windows path, it should look like below.

<InstallLocation>WaterOperationsDashboardFlexViewercomesrisolutionsflexviewerassetsimages

You can either replace the image or change the image with a image editing software. If you replace it, watch your size, this one is 64×64. If you want to modify the default image than edit logo_water_GE.png in you favorite image editing software. You can use Windows Paint, but it can not create transparencies. I like to use a program called Paint.NET. It handles transparency well and it allows you to layer images and combine them.

 

That should do it. Open your dashboard and you will see the updated image.

You can repeat this process for the rest of the tags in the config file.

Good luck, if you are proud of your icons and skins, post them. We would love to take a look at them. 

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