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.”
To overcome its challenges, Vancouver focused on finding a way to link existing technology and processes more effectively. The city wanted to bridge gaps between its GIS, customer service and accounting systems. Recognizing that integrated data must also be timely, Vancouver made eliminating its backlog of as-built design information a priority.
After exploring a number of asset management technologies, Vancouver chose Infor Hansen Asset Management software to manage its infrastructure, including water, sewer and transportation assets. The solution included service request management and integrated with the city’s customer relationship management and accounting systems.
To deliver design and spatial information to the Hansen solution and the city’s GIS, Vancouver chose Autodesk Topobase software. Built on the AutoCAD-based design software the city already used, Topobase let the city make asset designs immediately available across the organization. “With the new system, we create design data once and make it GIS-ready at the same time,” Tilt said. “As projects progress, we manage the status of the information and update it as needed. There’s no more as-built backlog, because the design data is in the system as soon as it is created.”
Following the workflow on a typical sewer replacement project highlights the advantages of Vancouver’s more integrated process. Predictive analysis helps engineering decision-makers spot sewer assets requiring rehabilitation. Engineering technicians then turn to their CAD-based software to design system enhancements. Designs enter the GIS directly as a pending project. Then engineers can review the designs, propose changes and develop multiple alternatives.
Integration with asset management and financial systems give people outside the engineering department insight into planned projects. Even customer service agents can access project information, enabling them to better address questions from people who live on the streets likely to be impacted by the project. The tight connection between the design process and asset management system helps ensure that work orders contain the latest design information. It also facilitates the coordination of construction schedules and helps the city identify opportunities to conduct any needed work on nonsewer assets likely to be exposed during the project.
At each stage of the process, sewer valuation information is available to Vancouver’s accounting personnel. Through their SAP financial software, they have visibility into the number and value of current assets and planned project costs. Complying with new Public Sector Accounting Board accounting standards is easy. Just as significantly, the city has wider access to more accurate asset cost information.
“When projects are complete, we add any as-built changes to the design and mark the data as active,” Tilt said. “Design drawings instantly become current network information. The system also saves the history of the project, making it easier to leverage insights gained from past projects in planning. Start to finish, we’re able to work smarter and more collaboratively.”
Since launching its integrated approach to asset management, Vancouver has seen impressive productivity gains organizationwide. For example, people in the design department no longer waste time on duplicate data entry, and customer service agents can answer questions faster — and more accurately — than before. But the city is perhaps most excited about the prospect of using better information to drive cost savings through more proactive asset management over the long term.
“Now more than ever, serving the public means doing more with fewer resources,” said Birch. “That requires insights into what really needs to done — when it needs to be done. Using a more comprehensive infrastructure model, we can make better planning decisions. We’ll be able to do things like review maintenance histories, costs and failures by asset types. Real insights will help us to optimize maintenance schedules and cut costs while reducing failure risks. We’ve never been better prepared to proactively manage Vancouver’s $8 billion infrastructure asset inventory.”