In recent years, asset management has become a very popular discipline in the public works community. Simply put, asset management revolves around the optimizing of resources. In the public works realm, finances are finite. It is important to know that monies are being spent in the most responsible and well thought out way possible. Identifying the assets and infrastructure that are in the direst need of repair or replacement can be a daunting task. But using the tools and analysis capabilities that an asset-management system provides can bring peace of mind in knowing that a community is spending its capital improvement funds in the most responsible way possible.
So what role does GIS play in this asset management puzzle? You need to look no further than the discipline name itself. Asset management. Your GIS serves as your asset repository, providing the knowledge of what and how many assets you maintain, where they are located, and what condition they may be in. When you leverage an asset management system with this knowledge, you open a whole new level of insight. In addition to knowing exactly where a water main sits, you now can easily see all of the work that has been performed on that water main, how frequently you have to service it, and how much money you have spent over the years ensuring that water still flows through it. Armed with this information at a community-wide scale, you can streamline your planning when it comes to capital improvement projects, focusing funds on the most problematic areas.
Choosing which asset management solution is right for your community can be a daunting task. Cost, functionality, scalability, and ease of use are all critical factors to consider. At a high level, you have two choices: commercially available “off the shelf” software solutions or custom-built solutions. Both options have their pluses and minuses. Readily available software packages such as Cityworks, Sedaru, CarteGraph, and Lucity provide the user with all the functionality they need to track material, labor, and equipment costs on a host of public works related activities. All of these are GIS-centric, providing a map interface that references your GIS database and allows you to assign work-specific information to individual assets. While these packages have loads of functionality, they can also feel at times like fishing with dynamite. The sheer number of modules and capabilities that these products provide can be overwhelming and most do not give you the option to pick and choose which modules to utilize or hide. Paralysis by analysis can creep in, making the investment in the software a net loss.
Another option to consider is to create your own custom solution. At its root, an asset management system is a relational database–a series of tables tied together by common fields. In a commercial solution, the design work of this database and the user interface is done for you, but you are limited in your ability to customize the application. With an existing GIS database and the help of a GIS professional, you can tailor your solution to meet your specific needs without the extra bells and whistles that will be paid for via an off the shelf product. This option also can be run through a familiar application such as Collector for ArcGIS, eliminating the need to learn a new application interface. There are pitfalls with this option as well. For example, modifications done on the fly can be troublesome and cause downtime, but if flexibility and ease of use are high priorities, it can prove to be a solid solution.
Ultimately, which path you choose to explore in the asset management arena comes down to the needs of your organization. Having a centralized GIS database that houses all of your asset information is the building block necessary for any successful asset management solution. From there, choosing the right approach for managing your assets comes down to the level of functionality required, the ability of your personnel to easily operate the product, and the investment you are willing to make. If you are interested in hearing more about these solutions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to discuss further the benefits that these technologies can offer.
Jeff Miller started his career at AEW as a GIS Specialist in 2006, becoming the GIS Manager in 2015. His work in the GIS field has taken him from Fenton, MI to Boca Raton, FL to Mesa, AZ, and finally back to AEW (just testing out retirement locations, apparently…). Jeff graduated from Central Michigan University in 2004 with a degree in Geography with GIS and Land Use Planning concentrations. When he isn’t administering AEW’s Enterprise GIS environment, he enjoys playing all sports, camping, listening to GOOD music and learning to play the piano, albeit very slowly…