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Adapting an infrastructure management system to meet your agency's needs

Gordon Daring, P.E.
Senior Project Manager
Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
Middletown, Connecticut
Member, APWA Engineering and Technology Committee

With a population of 162,592, the City of Overland Park is the second most populous city in Kansas. The City consistently receives national recognition for its quality of life. To sustain its award-winning community, the City depends on a well-developed Public Works Department (PWD). The PWD sets high infrastructure maintenance standards that provide the optimum quality of life for its residents. The PWD maintains more than 913 miles of streets and highways, 1,600 lane miles of street pavement, 230 traffic signals, 48,000 traffic signs, six million linear feet of curb, 450 miles of sidewalks and other infrastructure assets located within city boundaries. To track and organize its asset inventory and maintenance activities, the PWD uses GBA Master Series commercial off-the-shelf infrastructure management software and a customized interface for streamlined data entry.

In 1997, the PWD began the significant transition from recording citizen requests and maintenance activity by hand to using infrastructure management system (IMS) software to track all of the activity required by the PWD to maintain the City. The City started with an early version of GBA Master Series customer request tracking software. At that time, Cheryl Carner, the City's current Work Management Systems Administrator, shared data entry responsibilities with supervisors.

"Before we went to the computerized system, we were just finding a way to record all of our citizen's requests," Carner said. "We were putting them on carbon pieces of paper, and they got stuck away in a box. There was no tie-in of data, other than maybe notes made on that request about what had been done."

The customer request tracking software enabled the PWD to systematically record requests and resulting actions. Then in 1998, the PWD implemented the GBA Work Master work management system to generate work orders and track resources, in addition to recording requests.

When the PWD began with customer request tracking software in 1997, supervisors were responsible for data entry. Data entry responsibility shifted to PWD field crews in 2002. Up to that point, field crews completed paper day logs by hand. When they moved to the computerized system, the crews found that work took longer than before because of the added data entry tasks. Crews found their efforts became redundant because they still had to complete the day log as well as software data entry. In addition, several crew members were not familiar with computers and had difficulty entering multiple locations for completed work. Duplicate entries for inspections and work orders began appearing in the system. For the first time, the PWD crews were behind schedule. With the City's budget tightening, the PWD could not afford to hire additional staff to perform data entry.

After evaluating its goals for computerized asset management, the PWD concluded that while they preferred the open database architecture provided by the IMS, its workflow setup did not accommodate their existing workflow processes (i.e., crews worked at several locations in one day and performed multiple types of work). The PWD decided that access to GIS would streamline their crews' end-of-day data entry efforts.

  Overland Park's custom interface

The PWD's solution was to develop a customized interface that accommodated crew daily workflow and provided access to the sign inventory and GIS. The customized interface, designed by Assistant City Engineer Mike Ross, displays the City on a GIS map in one window and an abbreviated menu for accessing inventory data in another. The inventory menu integrates with GBA Work Master for work management and inspection records housed in GBA Sign Master.

Ross created the interface using Visual Basic programming. The agency wanted the benefits of GIS but could not afford to outfit every computer with ESRI's ArcEditor software licenses. Since ESRI MapObjects licenses are low cost, and GBA Master Series includes a MapObjects extension, Ross developed the customized interface to allow direct data entry or editing.

Overland Park's custom interface contains an easy-to-use editing menu for users to change sign information or add signs to the GIS.

Field personnel can access data by selecting a point using MapObjects. Each asset included on the interface has a specialized set of buttons and menus and color code for easy data entry and retrieval by crew staff. Altered or new data entered by crew employees updates the database automatically.

"By developing an interface with GBA Master Series that also uses MapObjects, we found a happy medium," Carner said. "The interface streamlined data management and saved the crews time."

In addition to accounting for work, crews use the interface to identify lost signs. For example, a crew finds a sign lying in the street while performing routine work activities. Since the City barcodes all of their signs, the crew can bring the sign back to the office and search the system using the barcode. The interface populates with attribute data indicating which pole originally used to hang the sign and displays its location in a GIS map.

The City continued to develop the interface with tools to add data to a map. Crews can now use the interface tools to measure distances, draw lines or add features. Other PWD crews noticed its ease-of-use and wanted to include their assets in the interface. The City expanded the IMS and developed the customized interface to include signals, streetlights, rights-of-way, storm structures and storm conduits. The custom interface can access inspection data from the IMS for crews to record work performed.

Knowing its IMS data structure enabled the City to devise a solution that would be compatible with the supervisor's expectation for completed work assignments and would also ease the field personnel's responsibility for data entry. The streamlined access to data shortened the amount of time field personnel spent in the office using the computer to process the day's activities. Efficiency of the interface also provided for automatic updates of data into their installed work management program. Using data housed in the work management software application, the City can devise highly accurate plans for asset maintenance and rehabilitation. The interface also provides staff across numerous City divisions with access to the GIS data using all or part of their available asset data.

"The goal is to have everything in one central repository where you can find out whatever it is you need to know about public works infrastructure," Carner said.

Gordon Daring, P.E., can be reached at (860) 632-1500 or at gdaring@vhb.com. Cheryl Carner, Work Management Systems Administrator, City of Overland Park, KS; Mike Ross, Assistant City Engineer, City of Overland Park, KS; and Kelly A. Bailey, Communications Specialist, GBA Master Series, Inc., contributed to this article.