Austin IMMPACT Helps Visualize, Prioritize City Projects

The ability to coordinate land, roadway, transit, wastewater and other projects gives the city a better sense of what's happening with projects on the street.

by / September 11, 2014
City of Austin

Two years ago, the fast-growing city of Austin had a dueling bulldozer issue.

It responded to the issue with its own mapping application -- a Web-based GIS tool to help project managers, city employees, contractors and vendors accurately identify where city projects are happening, and to facilitate planning and coordination in times of potential conflict.

The tool -- called the Infrastructure Management, Mapping, Planning and Coordination Tool (IMMPACT) -- got its long, descriptive name and fitting acronym because of how it has impacted the way the city does business, and has saved the municipality millions of dollars. 

The key to this savings has been IMMPACT's power to coordinate processes among capital projects, operations and maintenance, said Annie Van Zant, capital program manager of the Austin Public Works Department. During one instance, the city saved $600,000 by delaying re-pavement of city streets until after the conclusion of a project that used heavy and potentially pavement-damaging vehicles. 

"IMMPACT has lent itself to the coordination process, in that departments can now visualize priority projects from other departments," Van Zant said. 

The technology brings data and workflows from the city's existing legacy databases, and consolidates them into one spatial and temporal context. This gives the city a better sense of what's happening right now with projects on the street. 

Before IMMPACT, the city's permitting and capital improvement program processes were entirely separate, making communication between them difficult, Van Zant said. Now, these are some of the city's biggest uses for the tool -- for capital improvement projects, staff use IMMPACT to coordinate land, roadway, transit, wastewater and other projects. And for permitting, staff use the tool to assign temporary rights of way for street events, excavation and vendors. 

To use the tool, city staff input information into their respective systems of record, and those data sets feed into IMMPACT daily. The idea is that users only need to input a project's mapping limits and details in one place, and then the information is consistent and can be shared, Van Zant said. 

"Project managers enter in one schedule in one place instead of using these Excel spreadsheets that are passed around from person to person," she noted.  

Since IMMPACT has been implemented, there have been countless coordination successes in managing the city's rights of way, according to Gregory Pepper, right of way permit supervisor for the Austin Transportation Department. And, Pepper said, there have been no accounts, for instance, of a backhoe in the middle of a race route or a detour route crossing another street closure. 

Austin began the project with a third-party software tool -- this helped the city see the project was possible, Van Zant said. But after much internal input, it decided to go with its own Web-mapping application. 

"We realized we needed a tool that was built in-house that could directly communicate with databases that were already existing and could tap into workflows that were already existing," Van Zant said. 

Before the tool could be created, however, the city had to do foundational work creating a process to map its capital projects for each department, according to Charles Purma, Austin's IT project manager. Another challenge came with creating IMMPACT's business, data and user analysis surrounding its "conflict/opportunity" components, or alerts. 

IMMPACT flags projects if they are within 500 feet of each other during a 10-year span, inviting users to leave comments for other project managers, and to change and update their coordination statuses within the system.   

"There can be activities that could have sequencing opportunities, for example, that may not be happening at the exact same time or place, but present cost-sharing opportunities if coordinated correctly," Purma said, adding that IMMPACT's rollout happened in three stages, based on the "personas" the city identified: explorer, activity manager and analyst. The parts were rolled out several months apart to garner confidence with the project and gradually get people familiar with it, he said.  

Using IMMPACT, a user is first taken to its explorer page, which allows a panning of Austin's map to see generally what's happening in the city. This information is helpful to answer the public's questions about what's going on around town, Van Zant said. 

Another page gets into the project details where projects can be flagged for conflicts/opportunities. The final page performs a more holistic discovery and coordination function, Purma said, allowing users to create reports and search the system by people, timeframes and geopolitical boundaries, such as watersheds and asset management districts.

The pages, or modules, interact with one another -- for instance, for conflicts/opportunities, users will be alerted on the explorer page and prompted to click on the map, which will then lead them to more information and a list. 

As the tool matures, the city also is looking to mature its components, and a group is now looking to weave more "smart" into the application, including push-button functionalities and other forms of alerts, instead of the blanket conflicts/opportunities, Van Zant said.   

One surprise benefit of IMMPACT has been the process of creating and maintaining it. As it required the city to review its own processes and work together, Purma said the tool has made Austin more flexible and responsive regarding technology and the people it serves.

IMMPACT has been recognized nationally; Purma said what makes it special is it provides a place for collaboration and informed decision making. "It really doesn't matter where these people sit in the organization -- this is a system that doesn't fit in the silos," he said.

IMMPACT was awarded the 2013 Digital Government Achievement Award from the Center for Digital Government, the research arm of e.Republic Inc., which also owns Government Technology magazine. 

 

Jessica Hughes Contributing Writer

Jessica Hughes is a regular contributor to Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.