Owned and operated by the city of Palo Alto, Calif., Palo Alto Utilities Department (CPAU) is unique among the state's utilities for the range of services it delivers – electric, water, wastewater, natural gas, and fiber-optic communication services. The utility prides itself on the level of service it provides to customers. From capital improvement projects to routine maintenance, CPAU has always held itself to a high standard of reliability, safety, and customer service.
Until recently, the utility managed and mapped asset data in disconnected systems, which made it harder to maintain the accuracy of the data used for decision making. CPAU decided to integrate its asset data and maps to manage the data using AutoCAD Map 3D software. Along with AutoCAD Utility Design software, AutoCAD Map 3D is helping the utility to:
- save time by integrating design and asset management workflows;
- increase the accuracy of the maps and asset information it uses to drive decisions;
- decrease the time required to train employees to manage asset data;
- reduce backlogs of as-built/record information;
- provide one source of master data for engineering, operations, and ultimately, customer service; and
- link to other enterprise software/data systems, allowing utilities staff to interface graphically with these systems.
Years ago, the various sections at CPAU chose different processes and technologies for maintaining asset data. For natural gas and water, each section maintained network maps individually using AutoCAD software. Other sections could see the maps and add information from them to their own network information. This led to the utility having multiple sources of asset information, but the ad hoc nature of the updating process left the accuracy of the information at risk. The electric section had been using a third-party GIS application that was functional but difficult to learn and to integrate.
"The city maintained multiple sources of asset information," said Michelle Self, P.E., president of CAD Masters. "Different users using a variety of technology managed maps of the same area. There were discrepancies between maps and between disciplines. It was virtually impossible to synchronize from those disparate data stores. It was time to integrate their asset information into one place and consolidate the technology into a familiar, easy-to-learn, compatible suite of software. Our goal was to manage and map their assets in a single, integrated, and more accurate system."
Asset management solution
In selecting an asset management solution, CPAU made ease of use a top priority. Past difficulties in finding and hiring people to use little-known or highly specialized applications led the utility to focus on AutoCAD Map 3D software. Based on the AutoCAD software interface, the solution had a look and feel that was highly familiar to everyone who handled design and drafting for the utility. AutoCAD software is widely used beyond the utility industry, giving CPAU a large pool of potential new employees requiring little or no training to be productive.
In addition, the solution also made it easy to bring drawings created in the utility's design software, AutoCAD Utility Design, directly into the asset database without the need to redraw features. For the sections at CPAU using it, AutoCAD Utility Design has made it easier to improve design consistency with predefined workflows and standards and to create estimates of labor and materials used for customer development-related processes.
"AutoCAD Map 3D software adds a number of asset management features to an AutoCAD interface that's familiar to just about everyone with a drafting background," said Self. "It allows them to easily map assets, link assets to their attributes, and integrate asset data in a single Oracle Spatial database. Compatibility with AutoCAD Utility Design is helpful too. It eliminates the redrawing that their prior asset management solution required."
With the decision made to go with AutoCAD Map 3D, CPAU next faced the question of how to get its existing data into the solution. The utility wanted a way to enhance the quality of its data – much of it unsynchronized, duplicate information. For implementation assistance, CPAU turned to CAD Masters, a San Francisco Bay area-based provider of Autodesk software sales and support.
AutoCAD Map 3D software comes with industry-standard data models. For the electric network data, the utility and CAD Masters used the industry-standard data model to help identify and address inaccuracies as the data entered AutoCAD Map 3D. Since Palo Alto had unique needs, further development was needed for other city utilities. CAD Masters extended and configured the standard data models for water and wastewater, and developed additional models for gas (including modeling the companion cathodic protection system), traffic signal, street light, and fiber communication networks. Using the AutoCAD Map 3D application programming interface, CAD Masters configured the software to apply the data models to the network information as it entered the system. CAD Masters also configured the solution with workflows that followed and streamlined the utility's preferred processes and standards.
"The solution automatically flagged potential inaccuracies," said Self. "The team could then resolve many data quality issues and cleanse the data as part of the implementation process."
"Every day the city's data gets more and more accurate," Self said. "AutoCAD Map 3D provides a single source of asset information. The implementation process helped to improve the accuracy of their data just by making sure it conformed to standards. Now that they are using Map 3D, they are adding new corrections as data comes in from the field. Having more accurate data makes it easier to manage and maintain assets proactively."
Doing more in less time
All of CPAU sections are benefiting from having a single source of more accurate data, but the water, wastewater, and gas sections have seen particularly notable benefits. That's because the city replaces or rehabilitates about 20 miles of aging gas, wastewater, and water mains each year. The utility creates replacement project designs within AutoCAD Map 3D software, which includes data cleansing efforts prior to the bidding process. Upon completion, it makes the designs active within AutoCAD Map 3D – there's no need to redraw designs into the asset management system. The utility just repositions to the installed actual state plane coordinate location. CPAU instituted Real Time Kinetic GPS with +/-1 cm accuracy in 2008. Within Map 3D, the utility adds additional attribute data and as-built information.
According to Self, "Adding utilities services to asset maps using the customized workflow takes a fraction of the time it once took. The city identifies the location within the solution – and boom – it presents the required features as an assembly including all associated components automatically. It saves about five minutes for each service, and a large project might involve 500 services. So they're realizing significant time savings."
CPAU views the increased accuracy of its asset data as the single biggest win from implementing the utility solutions, including AutoCAD Utility Design and AutoCAD Map 3D. "Timesaving is great, but more accurate data touches and improves just about everything they do," Self said. "It takes the guesswork out of engineering decisions. Maintenance crews can find equipment in the field faster. They can plan ongoing maintenance better. Their locate services – where they identify underground assets for contractors and residents – can be more precise."
Drew Burgasser, P.E., is senior project manager at CAD Masters Inc. His primary role is to manage complicated projects, including large-scale GIS implementations, custom programming projects, and all varieties of civil engineering design projects.