October 29, 2010 By Delene Bosch
In December 2009, Vancouver, British Columbia, started a new chapter in the story of how it manages its infrastructure assets. Vancouver said goodbye to the days of planning, designing and managing assets using disconnected systems and processes. The city’s new approach integrates asset information — including design, value, maintenance and location data — and makes it available across the organization.
Integrated information has transformed a number of key processes. Customer service staff can address citizen concerns more quickly. Financial decision-makers have instant access to vital asset valuation data. The city’s engineers can coordinate projects with greater precision.
According to Rowan Birch, assistant city engineer for Vancouver, business needs drove the integration effort. “Consolidating our asset data into a database was really just the beginning,” said Birch. “By staying focused on the big picture, we’ve transformed the way data contributes to individual tasks and to our overall mission.”
Vancouver always has taken a proactive approach to ensure that its public works infrastructure supports and serves Vancouver’s residents. The city’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Vancouver routinely ranks as one of world’s most livable cities, with clean streets, good public transit and reliable infrastructure making key contributions. However, as the technologies that people use every day have advanced, so have expectations.
“Today when citizens have infrastructure questions or concerns, they expect us to respond at Internet speeds,” Birch said. “Before integrating our systems, the people answering customer queries didn’t have good access to information about service status and projects by location. We also couldn’t track requests easily. Customer service suffered as a result.”
Beyond meeting citizen expectations, city decision-makers saw other challenges looming. Vancouver experienced a growth surge in the 1950s and ’60s, and the infrastructure built to accommodate that growth needed to be rehabilitated or replaced in the near future. At the same time, Canada’s Public Sector Accounting Board mandated that the country’s local governments value assets more precisely. To effectively meet the mandate, Vancouver needed to count and value assets with greater accuracy.
“Again, disconnected systems slowed us down,” said Martin Tilt, a GIS analyst with Vancouver. “Engineers designed projects using [computer-aided design] CAD-based software tools, but the design process wasn’t connected to the GIS we used to maintain asset maps and other information. GIS specialists manually entered as-built information into the system after construction. The time-consuming process not only resulted in significant backlogs of as-built information, it also made accurate asset accounting more difficult because recently completed and ongoing projects weren’t visible.”
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