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Asset managers crave location data

Michael S. Goldberg | Sept. 30, 2014
Visually seeing and tracking your company's assets can help save money, time and trouble.

The objective: Establish a lifecycle asset costing system that ties work performed to assets managed. Bates says: "We should be able to ask the question, 'How much did we spend last year doing maintenance on a particular type of hydrant? Does that work cost us too much, or do we need to replace them?'"

In Washington, the inspection of assets is all above ground. Two years ago, the D.C. Department of Transportation invested in street-level imagery of public streets and alleys. The images, collected by Cyclomedia, gather data on street conditions, signs, lighting, parking meters and more, and are accurate to a scale of 5 centimeters. (Faces and license plates in the images are blurred out.)

Colon, the department's CIO, says that by integrating the Web-based Cyclomedia data service with his agency's GIS system, the District can improve city planning and public safety while saving staff time for inspections and field visits. Inspectors can preview sites where there has been a zoning complaint or injury claim, becoming familiar with the location so they can save time on their investigation and reporting, with the goal of improving service for the public. Planners can view locations of crosswalks, checking for wheelchair ramps. Event managers can map out the best spots for first aid tents, traffic control and emergency vehicle access.

Having collected this data, the agency now has a baseline inventory of the assets it manages -- from parking meters to street lights, speed bumps to wheelchair ramps to crosswalks. The District saves time and money by categorizing asset location data from an office rather than sending workers in the field to help figure out where everything is.

Colon says the system alters existing workflows for employees, who are called on to bring a smartphone or tablet to record new images so staff can compare before and after photos. The agency receives 250,000 service requests a year and has filled 40,000 potholes so far in 2014.

"We've seen a change in the culture of our agency. People are starting to accept the technology and devices and hardware. The next piece is training the folks, doing the necessary handholding so you make the training process easy for them," Colon says.

Going forward, there's even more potential for using GIS models, says Dennis Wuthrich, CEO and founder of Farallon Geographics, a San Francisco-based GIS consultancy that has worked on asset management projects including cultural heritage assets. As the volume of machine data grows, today's tools also open up new possibilities for semantic data models that can, for example, track relationships among multiple material things and management systems.

"What we are really starting to think about now are including semantic models embedded in these geospatial representations of assets, so that we can support more interoperable data sets," Wuthrich says. In other words, businesses will be able to correlate things in the physical world (tangible assets) with other kinds of data, and those different data sets will be able to communicate with each other.


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