What every community should know about asset management

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, WSB

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, discusses how asset management can lead to better decision making with WSB’s Director of GIS Services Justin Hansen.

Asset management is incredibly important, but not often valued to its full potential. Gathering data is great, but only if that data is used effectively.

I recently sat down with WSB’s Director of GIS Services, Justin Hansen to learn more about Asset Management to get his perspective on how communities can use it to their advantage.

BF: Asset management is a big topic – I often find it overwhelming. What is the main thing a community should understand about asset management and GIS?

JH: Asset management is incredibly undervalued. Solid asset management can lead to more informed decision-making, proactive and practical planning, improved capital planning decisions and better resource management.

BF: What is one of the most common issues you see when it comes to asset management within a city?

JH: I think asset management is misunderstood by some communities. Many cities will go out and purchase a system, but they struggle to realize the benefits of it. The system becomes something that is just being used for data input and nothing of true value. It may be assisting a city with their day-to-day support of operations, but they’re not using it to its full potential as an organizational-wide decision support platform.

BF: What is the solution to that problem?

JH: Education and planning. Take the time to educate key staff about asset management and how it can be applied to your city. Include staff across the city; not just public works and engineering. Develop an asset management strategy and plan for implementation. This helps develop organizational goals and allows the city to make a more educated decision on how to proceed with asset management.

Some communities may only need to start with a GIS-centric asset management approach where they utilize tools like WSB’s Datafi. Datafi gives cities an easy-to-use tool to manage field operations using GIS. Datafi can help change the culture at a city to understand the benefits of using technology in the field to assist with operations. Other communities will want to invest in full-blown asset management systems that meet their needs for approaches to asset management, operations and planning.

BF: How does streamlining asset management benefit a city?

Cities have an immense challenge around how they operate efficiently and effectively. Balancing the needs of residents, planning for future infrastructure improvements and preparing for the unexpected are benefits that come from a strong approach to asset management. Data gives staff ammunition to back-up a decision or a recommendation. It provides transparency and helps align priorities. 

BF: How have you seen cities be successful with Asset Management?

JH: Cities that have been successful with asset management have always built a culture that embraces using technology to manage operations. It’s hard to think outside of the status quo when you’re driving forward fast and furiously but investing in these systems now will better prepare communities for the future. Also, successful communities get engaged and communicate the impact that asset management has on their organization to their residents while also providing ways for their residents to participate through citizen request applications.

There’s been a lot of chatter about Smart Cities and Smart Communities recently, but what I find the most interesting is that many communities are already smart. They’re using GIS and asset management to make data-driven decisions. Leveraging data to make informed decisions is the core tenant of a smart community. Don’t be afraid to embrace it!

Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator.  Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.

bfischer@wsbeng.com | 651.286.8484

Justin Hansen has over 13 years of experience in managing GIS projects, staff, software development, solutions design, integration and implementation. Justin works closely with clients to implement GIS-based tools and related systems that maximize value and foster engagement.

jhansen@wsbeng.com | 763.231.4846

The future of Utility GIS: Understanding the Utility Network

By Alex Johnson, GIS Solution Architect, WSB

Organizations have been using GIS to manage utility assets for years. Historically, GIS has been utilized as a system-of-record for mapping and asset management within organizations tasked with managing utilities, pipeline and telecommunications. It’s not only important to know the where and what of your utility assets, but also their condition and how they relate to each other.

GIS has evolved into a system of engagement that creates easy access to your organization’s data and the ability to integrate it with asset management systems through the web. This provides organizations systems for recording that encourages easy access to data and data sharing. As GIS continuously advances, so does its ability to manage your utility infrastructure. The release of ESRI’s Utility Network provides a new fundamental approach to utility management; a smarter, faster, and more accurate way model your system.

The Utility Network gives organizations a full platform to manage their system that is based on industries like water, electric and natural gas. ESRI has created data models that simplify the data structure and provide a foundational platform for companies to start with.

These data models will:

  • Organize utility information into a cleaner and better structured database.
  • Provide a solid foundation and allow for customization to better meet the needs of each organization.
  • Give users a streamlined editing experience that extends beyond normal desktop applications and into mobile and web applications.

Quality data entry is key when editing an organization’s GIS database. The Utility Network focuses on data quality through enforcement of industry standard rules and allows organizations to set requirements for how data is entered and edited. These requirements are fully customizable to meet the needs of each individual client and give more control over data ensuring that quality information is being entered.

In addition to new data models, the Utility Network offers new features and functionality. Users can now view and interact with data in ways that resembles reality including new data concepts such as assemblies, containers, and associations. In earlier systems, GIS assets had to be snapped on top of each other to enforce connectivity. Now, assets can be spread apart and shown in a more logical and easier-to-view way while maintaining connectivity. These new formats allow building a GIS system that is more flexible, connected, and easier to understand.

Performing analysis of utility systems is nothing new to organizations, but with the Utility Network it has been greatly expanded. New tracing tools allow for more specific analysis; users can experience greater understanding of how their system works and improve decision making. These tools were built for the ArcGIS Pro environment, users can expect quicker responsiveness and greater data processing capabilities.

Preparedness is an important step to getting ready to migrate to the Utility Network.

  • It’s about more than simply preparing the data but ensuring the appropriate system architecture in place to allow for a smooth transition.
  • Confirm the existing GIS systems will accept these new data formats.
  • Become familiar with ArcGIS Pro, this new system was built specifically for it.

Since this is ESRI’s model for the next 15+ years it is important to start preparing now, proceeding with care will help ensure a successful transition. Navigating to the new Utility Network does not have to be a daunting process. Experts at WSB help by creating road maps to facilitate the smoothest possible transition into the future of utility management.

Alex Johnson is a GIS professional specializing in the ESRI’s ArcGIS Platform, database management, ESRI’s Collector & Survey123, and administrating web and feature services. He has created web mapping applications, developed database schemas for utilities, and converted numerous data formats into GIS for utilities and local government.

ajohnson@wsbeng.com | 651.380.7042

How to leverage technology and streamline environmental compliance inspection

By Zach Kolsum, Environmental Compliance Specialist, WSB

Conducting inspections on infrastructure projects can be daunting, especially when they require extensive reporting and legwork to comply with local, state and federal regulations. Fortunately, there are technological tools available to assist environmental compliance and construction inspection, which streamline the arduous process of data collection and reporting for clients. Using standardized software, WSB provides the necessary equipment and materials to conduct a variety of inspections, enhanced reporting and automated data collection.

Enhanced reporting

Electronic inspections offer an effective way for teams to visualize the work being done onsite. Data is collected and compiledusing a software application to generate a list of report leads. Project partners can share critical information instantly using the visual media tool.

Share project information quickly

Depending on the project, problems that arise during inspection can be costly and take valuable time away from clients and shareholders as they work to find a solution. WSB provides automated reporting and digital photo sharing with the click of a button to the entire project team. Reporting is tracked through an online database and clients can save documents and project findings in the application archive. Sharing project reporting instantly between team members is an easy way to monitor and ensure work is progressing on schedule.

Manage your data

Leveraging the use of mobile devices for inspection improves the effectiveness of field data collection by integrating mapping and field technologies into a single workflow. This methodology also minimizes the possibility of human error which increases the quality of data overall. Collected information is analyzed using a powerful search engine that identifies trends and future forecasting.

Use Datafi for Environmental Compliance inspection

WSB’s Environmental Compliance and GIS groups worked together to develop Datafi, a mobile-friendly mapping and workflow tool to improve the environmental compliance inspection process. Datafi is a field-to-office data management solution that has allowed multiple groups within WSB to actively and efficiently inspect numerous project sites to ensure compliance. Datafi is used on small and large-scale projects including housing and land developments. Our team of inspectors have benefited from Datafi’s enhanced reporting, efficiency and improved data management in the field.

As tedious as documentation management may feel at times, it is an essential part of any program development. Discovering new ways to refine processes is paramount for keeping information as reliable and accessible as possible. We believe utilizing technology allows project teams to focus more heavily on the technical aspects of the work and bringing their client’s vision to life.

Zach is an Environmental Compliance Specialist dedicated to improving his community. He has a strong understanding of federal and state regulations, providing technical, administrative, and operational support for a variety of clients concerning NPDES regulations (MS4, construction, industrial permitting) and compliance with the Clean Water Act. Zach is committed to improving his community through environmental and conservation services, including soil erosion and stormwater management.

zkolsum@wsbeng.com / 612.201.6809

Optimize your data

By Justin Hansen, Director of GIS Services, WSB

As the world continues to evolve through the advancement of technology, new opportunities and challenges arise that you may, or may not, know the best way to tackle. Staying abreast of new systems and solutions can be a daunting, even overwhelming, task.

At WSB, we use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to improve the way organizations acquire, understand and use their data. A successful GIS program employs geospatial technology to improve the quality of services, positively impact the decision-making of a community, become a central location for all data and improve overall workflow. To help simplify it for you, we will share some of the most common issues that we encounter and provide some advice on how to handle them.

Unable to retrieve data quickly enough

A properly designed and managed GIS will allow you access to all your organizations information at the touch of a button. Through field to office integration software, your team can enter field data directly from the site of the work and make the data immediately available to you. If you need to be able to verify a critical utility repair in order to calm concerned residents, your team can document the nature of the problem, how and when it was repaired, and include supporting photos or documents.

Unable to locate needed documents

It is time to go paperless. There is no need to continue to store paper documents in your office. They take up unnecessary space, get disorganized and go missing. Have you ever needed to find an as-built in order to verify the location of utility lines and been unable to find the final version? Using a GIS will allow you to convert all your supporting documents into digital files, tag them to any relevant accounts or locations for easy retrieval, and support a greener way of conducting business.

My data is outdated

Using ledgers and spreadsheets to manage your data quickly becomes tedious, time consuming and inefficient. If your system for tracking data involves any of these methods, it is likely current data has not been entered more than once. Imagine you need to share results of a lift station’s most recent inspection, but the most current document you can find is 3 years old. This could create a serious problem if you are unable to provide accurate findings. To ensure your group is working with the most accurate data available, a GIS is an easy and organized way to allow anyone the ability to enter information, keep it all stored in one central location, and control access to sensitive data.

My team is not able to work together efficiently

Do you have people working from more than one location? Do you often find you are emailing the same spreadsheet to multiple people to add data? There must be a more efficient way for your team to work together, right? A GIS can allow everyone on your team the ability to access, edit, and report from your groups database without wondering which version is the most up to date. It can save you time and frustration, allowing your group to spend their valuable time on other projects.

Our GIS group has worked with many clients to find solutions to their data problems. If you find yourself wondering if there might be a better way, please contact us. We will help to determine which of our complimentary, introductory services can improve how your organization works.

Justin leads the GIS Solutions Team. He is an accomplished Solutions Architect with a broad subject matter and technical experience in enterprise GIS and asset management technology. Justin has over 12 years of experience in the GIS field and holds a Master of Geographic Information Science degree from the University of Minnesota.