Asset management: Features, people, or both?

April 2010 » Columns » CE + GIS INTERSECT
Janet Jackson, GISP

GIS perspective
26,763 water valves, 15,564 hydrants, and 4,580 backflow preventers: that’s a lot of information to track. But keeping track of thousands of pieces of data is the perfect job for computers. It’s even more perfect for a GIS.

Asset management programs are important because they provide data organization and recall. Just think of asset management in terms of money management. They both require that you keep your information in one central place if you want to get an accurate account of what you have (how much you have left), its condition (where it went or how much interest it has acquired), and how to transfer the assets from one department to another (from you to a vendor).

A work-order management program is a quick and easy way to keep information up to date. Custom scripts designed to enter your GIS asset information into your system easily perform “behind the scenes” work such as keeping hydrants, manholes, and water valves neatly organized and accounted for.

You decide how many pieces of information about each asset (called attributes) you want to keep and in what order. Then, when the time comes to “visualize your data,” your GIS software uses a geographic display to show and tell you not only what you have in your system, how many, and details about each one, but specifically where they are located.

Hopefully, the days are gone when one person is relied on to keep an entire water or sewer system in his or her head. Of course, that is a type of asset management system, but just try accessing that information at 3:00 a.m. when a water valve needs to be located.

Civil engineer’s perspective
You wax poetic about all the stuff the GIS system can track, and yet this is all in service of people. (Anyone else find it odd that the engineer in this conversation is the humanist?)

William Pollard (physicist and priest, if you can believe it) said, “Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.”

Unless we are building Hal (computer in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”), this is all about what the systems and hardware can do to leverage and support what we always call our most important asset — our people.

Knowing where the valves are when the pipe breaks at 3:00 a.m. provides decision-support for our people who are out there in the cold and dark, valiantly attempting to isolate that line to make the repair — effectively, efficiently, and expeditiously.

Knowing the condition of those tens of thousands of hard assets provides decision-support for our people in positions of financial and operations responsibility, allowing them to plan effectively and efficiently for the timely renewal and eventual replacement of infrastructure.

Warehousing the data about these assets enables us to transition knowledge effectively and efficiently from and to successive generations of our people in every level of responsibility in the organization, enabling them to make better decisions in the performance of their job functions.

It may sound like we are investing in hardware and software, but — in reality — a robust GIS system is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

T.S. Eliot questioned, “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Why, it is right here … in your GIS system!

Tim Baldwin, P.E., a regional manager with McKim & Creed, stays on the forefront of breaking technologies in the total water management arena. He specializes in helping clients find innovative solutions that address and integrate technical, financial, and environmental concerns.
Janet Jackson, GISP, heads McKim & Creed’s GIS activities company-wide. Contact Baldwin and Jackson at McKim & Creed is an engineering, surveying, and planning firm.

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