Middle Atlantic Geospatial Technical Users’ Group Meeting in Philadelphia: GIS in a Critical Role

Asset Management. By now, anyone in the public or private sector has heard of the term “asset management.” There’s a general agreement about its definition: knowing where your assets are, their value both currently and when purchased, and the ability to make some intelligent decisions based on that information. However, that’s about all there is in the sprawling nature of transportation fleets. Sure, there are owned or managed assets, such as buses and trains. There are non-passenger assets like trucks. There are the parts and other extraneous items that are used to maintain a fleet. All of those don’t even begin to address human assets, such as drivers and mechanics.

At the Middle Atlantic Geospatial Technical Users’ Group Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, May 2, 2012, 40-plus professionals gathered to discuss two major items: first, the state of asset management, and just as important, where it’s headed. In an era of shrinking resources, both financial and personnel, knowing where assets are deployed is important, but making sure they are used wisely where they are deployed can be the difference between good and bad policy, or as was recently seen in Miami, FL, it be indicative of a corrupt or poorly-performing politician.

The themes were based around the four basic users of transportation-focused asset management data: state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, local governments and transit agencies.  Each dealt with a specific portion of asset management: highways and their conditions, using assets to plan long-term goals, tracking individual or localized data to solve cash shortfall issues, or tracking the use of buses and subways and the stations that are built for them. All of these have direct and intelligible GIS applications, certainly in terms of static asset maps, but also in terms of dynamic, predictive maps that show where and how assets should be deployed a number of years into the future.

There is some critical information an organization must have to initiate good asset management. First and foremost, an asset owner must know how long an asset is expected to be able to work, and how long its peak life will last before maintenance costs begin to rise. One of the things GIS can help with is “time deployment.” A GIS-based solution can depict whether certain assets should only function in certain places because the maintenance schedule is more frequent due to age. The second piece of critical knowledge is where an asset is deployed and how it is deployed there. With these bases of knowledge, one can build a strong GIS-based solution, tagging geospatial data to an asset ID, and then having that asset ID linked to the asset’s nature and capabilities, whatever they are.

For example, SEPTA, the transportation authority in the Philadelphia area, has assets of varying ages, as it both purchased and was bequeathed assets when private operators of transportation left the business. Some of these assets are inefficiently placed, and as such, are being consolidated or taken offline. Sometimes, these assets, such as stations, are politically sensitive, and the local neighborhood doesn’t want to “lose” the station. Regardless of efficiency or utility, politics can change what is valued by government. It is important to have local leadership dedicated to solving problems in a critical, neutral environment. GIS can help make the argument by producing maps that can show people where expensive assets are deployed and why they are no longer as productive as they once were, helping the public or stakeholders own and understand the issue at hand.

These were the essential themes/best practices from the presentations:

  • Systematic approach
  • Strategically-oriented and goal-driven
  • Politically-sensitive but not politically-driven
  • Performance-based
  • Data-driven
  • Transparent
  • Reviews of the above lead to good policies and options for the future

While the words “asset management” have been bandied about for 20 years now, along with reengineering, six sigma and a host of other process improvement guides, GIS has not been at the forefront of this process-oriented change. This is due somewhat to culture: engineers and geographers have not always mixed well, and the priorities of the two have not always been harmonious. It was encouraging to see representatives of both Bentley and Esri at the Users’ Group Meeting, along with both engineers and GIS specialists. This sort of cross-platform, mutually inclusive professional development will be critical to GIS in the future. GIS is now recognized by many organizations, from the private and public sector, as critical to planning and asset management. The next step is to view GIS as critical to not just planning or even asset management, but as an enterprise-ready tool that factors into many portions of an organization’s strategy. GIS in asset management could be the next development in that effort.

Published Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

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