When citizens of Riverside, Calif., walk into the Public Utilities Department and ask to expand or modify service, the response they get is much different than in past years. Within minutes, the customer service representative enters the person's address on a computer and pulls up a map display (complete with an aerial photograph) detailing electric, water and sewer service in the vicinity, as well as streets, sidewalks, buildings, trees, and other important land features. Sixty different layers of data can be accessed, making the system one of the most comprehensive and sophisticated GIS databases in the country.

With that information, they can discuss the customer's service expansion needs and begin the process -- online -- of meeting those requirements.

Only a few years ago, customer inquiries and requests for service took days or weeks to process. Adding to the frustration, mapped records were often incomplete. In some cases, multiple maps were frequently needed just to detail the utility services contained within a single intersection. In some cases, the city was as much as six years behind in record-keeping.

The Public Utilities Department found the city was spending roughly $7 million a year just on mapping and map-related functions, many of which were redundant. Engineers and staff could never be certain that the paper maps they did pull were current and accurate. Not only did this situation make engineering and service extension issues difficult to analyze, but it was anathema to growth.

The solution to these problems came in a project known as CADME, or Computer Aided Drafting, Mapping and Engineering. Designed, developed and made fully functional between 1989 and 1996, CADME allows the Public Works, Planning and Public Utilities departments to achieve significant cost savings and efficiency improvements by automating mapping and facilities management functions.

IDENTIFYING SOLUTIONS

CADME actually traces its origin to 1987 and the realization within the Public Utilities Department that maps and other paper records were outdated and inconsistently handled. Officials recognized that problems with their mapped records would be a hindrance to growth.

Despite the recognized need for a GIS, the demands that growth placed on everyone within Riverside's Public Utilities Department prevented the thorough exploration of alternative technology solutions to the problem. In early 1989, therefore, the city retained UGC Consulting of Englewood, Colo., to assist in identifying needs, designing a project and implementing the solution.

CADME's initial implementation is nearly complete. The consensus within utilities is that the investment in CADME represents a "1+1=3" equation: the department's ability to operate more efficiently and effectively far exceeds the investment made in the technology.

REAL SAVINGS

CADME is allowing the department to reinvest roughly $2 million a year that had been spent on mapping functions. Most of this money is being directed toward new projects and functions that could not have been done without the technology. The department is offering a wider variety of map products to the public than ever before, its workload is up to date and it is able to conduct more thorough and timely analyses of its distribution network and related facilities.

As a direct result of CADME, at least a half-dozen people who used to do mapping-related jobs have been reassigned to other functions within the department. The remainder of the staff is doing its mapping-related work more efficiently and effectively. This has enabled the department to do things it had never done before, such as more detailed project analysis and planning.

In one instance, the ability to put maps and records on-screen benefited the Public Works department to the tune of $6 million, when officials were able to respond on short notice to a federal program for bridge work. Had Public Works been forced to deal with paper maps alone, the deadline to apply for the funding most likely would have passed.