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GIS and Asset Management at Napier City Council, New Zealand

Monday, January 7th 2013
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Summary:

How do you manage your GIS data and all the data within your asset management system?  The Asset IT department of the Napier City Council in New Zealand has recently completed phase one of a project which will allow it to manage the data within the asset management system directly from the GIS environment. Napier’s GIS developer, Ian Tidy, takes us through the process.

Napier is a small provincial city on the east coast of New Zealand, with a population of 58,400 covering an area of 105km2.

Phase one of this project was to build the complete solution using the Napier City Council’s water supply network.  The solution was based on a 300-page functional specification which detailed the business rules, data flow and the functionality which the products and tools required. Phases two and three are to add the Council’s drainage and wastewater networks.
 
The objectives of this project were to:
  • Consolidate ad-hoc datasets, and create linkages between the main corporate asset system and the infrastructural asset system
  • Create a “single source of truth” for all GIS and asset data, and create data schemas that would allow the data to be efficiently repurposed
  • Improve data flow between applications
  • Maintain and improve data accuracy
  • Maximize the investment in staff by enabling staff to work more efficiently and make better use of the tools and training provided
  • Reduce costs in software licensing and data maintenance
  • Meet statutory financial reporting requirements

The Council undertook this project during a departmental restructure, with a limited budget of $120,000 New Zealand Dollars (NZD) for external work, with limited resources (one part-time staff member), and a limited time frame; this phase of the project had to be operational in nine months.  Council members also wanted to create a solution which was both flexible and modular so that they could easily make changes and individual components could be replaced without affecting the total solution.

They started by reviewing their data, data maintenance policies and procedures, and looking for data which were hidden away and not being maintained.  They then reviewed CAD, GIS and asset management solutions to find products which would meet their requirements. Consideration was given to the future direction of the products and what the Council would like to be able to do.
 
They decided to replace their GIS platform, infrastructural asset management system and backend database.  They created and documented data models for all their features; this included adding extra fields to allow the data to be consumed efficiently by other software products.  As a result of this work Council staff members chose to standardize their CAD, GIS and hydraulic analysis software on a single platform.  This enabled them to reduce costs and simplified the flow of data between applications.
 
When their existing data were migrated to the new solution, feature level metadata were added and definitive datasets were added to their global metadata register.
 
The group has taken a different approach to data maintenance than other organizations, and this is primarily to ensure that the data are maintained through a single environment.  
 
They don’t allow staff to edit “live” asset data.  When users wish to modify an existing feature, they use a tool which creates a copy of the feature to a “Capture” table on the database server.  The users then modify this copy of the feature and when the maintenance of that feature (and other associated features) is complete, it is pushed back to the “live” system using a Web-based management tool.  This prevents multiple users from editing the same feature, and means that partial changes are not shown to end users.
 
Every change is tracked and audited.  This applies to both spatial and non-spatial changes, and is critical since the financial details of the assets are managed within the solution.  Changes to features are made via a request system, which allows the data maintenance staff to create a link between the features and the electronic and paper records associated with the change.  The Council is able to track every change to a feature from the time it is added to the solution, and to know who requested the change and why.
 
They created a single source of truth and common data maintenance framework to enable them to manage all features in a consistent manner.  This also simplifies the maintenance of core metadata (which are stored at feature level). 
This new solution the Council has implemented enables users to reuse data directly as those data move through each phase of their life cycle.  So data prepared at concept time are then used to aid design, and eventually go into the GIS and asset system.  And from the GIS and asset systems into analysis products, Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Services, flat files for other CAD and GIS use, and looping back into the system itself for data maintenance.  This all works because all the data are stored in a single place and in a common support format.
 
Council staff has been able to complete phase one of the project on time and budget, consolidating all the infrastructural asset data (with phases two and three completing this process).  They created a single source of truth by migrating all possible data to the database server.  Creating a common framework and storing data in a widely supported format has enabled them to improve data flow between applications. The Council has improved its investment in staff by eliminating non-standard work methods, reducing the number of products staff use, and providing staff with access to better training and specific product- or task-focused training where required.  By managing metadata and accuracy details at a feature level, their end users have greater confidence in the data and are informed about the accuracy and completeness of the data they use. They have exceeded their financial reporting requirements by being able to demonstrate why every change was made, the value of the change, and being able to show a full audit and paper records associated with the change.
 
The Council has realized substantial savings in software licensing costs by signing a six-year enterprise license agreement with a single vendor who can supply all the spatial products required.  This agreement has enabled them to increase the number of product licenses deployed and choose the best products to suit their needs from a suite of several hundred.  They have done this without any capital purchases or increase in software maintenance costs.
 
They have also made savings in time by being able to reuse more of their data throughout the life of an asset. These saving are largely due to data maintenance staff not needing to manually recreate data every time they are needed.  The new revaluation and depreciation process has significantly decreased, from 80 hours to one hour each.  Data maintenance staff members were able to complete the 2011/2012 water data maintenance in a three-week period, approximately half the time previously required.
 
Some key lessons learned by the Council have been:
  • Product flexibility can be good and bad.  Good, because you can define features and processes to work the way you want them to work. Bad, because you can spend too much time defining your features and processes, and in too much detail.
  • Having a good specification enables you to communicate clearly with developers and consultants.  Not changing your specification enables developers and consultants to also provide fixed pricing, and this helped the Council stay within budget.
  • Documentation is something that can always be improved. Council staff had to not only improve its documentation, but also ensure the documentation for external developers met a standard where Council staff could make changes and updates if required.
  • Better Council resourcing would have allowed the solution to be implemented sooner.
  • By being able to reuse existing drawings and designs directly, Council staff has identified issues in the quality and accuracy of some drawings.  Staff members are now implementing and enforcing new drawings to improve the accuracy and quality of all future drawings.

To date, the Council has completed phase one of this project, with phases two and three due for completion in early 2013.  Council members will then look to migrate above ground infrastructural assets before adding other Council assets to the solution.  Beyond that, they are looking to integrate this solution with the existing service request system and other corporate solutions.  Moving their data into 3D will begin by storing the features in 3D space and performing extrusions for visualization and analysis.

This solution has enabled the Council to provide its asset managers with software and data for performance modeling and monitoring; designers have access to better design tools and more consistent data; accountants and auditors have a transparent and auditable financial process; data maintainers have a simplified workflow, and all users have a single authoritative data source.
 
Photo credit: Robyn Gallagher from Auckland, New Zealand, licensed under Creative Commons.

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