B.C. city gets grip on assets with satellite-map interface

The city council of Prince George, B.C. gave asset manager Frank Blues a tough job – organize all of the town’s roads, buildings, and infrastructure assets under a single entry-point system that could be used to track spending and identify problem areas, then quickly respond with work orders.

The quiet West-coast suburb of 75,000 lies smack-dab in the middle of the province. It decided to focus its efforts on asset management when it became apparent there was no easy way to keep track of them all. The municipality is responsible for all the trappings of a modern city – $2 billion worth of roads, $150 million in buildings, plus sewers and fire hydrants to boot. But the database organizing these assets was a mess and council needed to fix the way they fixed things.

City staff can choose what assets they want to view on the map.

“One of the largest things we needed was a way of dealing with the multiple systems through a single point of data entry,” Blues says.

The city had been using several different systems to keep its assets straight. Linear assets, or roads and sewer systems (“the long strings you can see from the sky,” Blues explains), were organized in a Geographic Information System (GIS). Buildings were split between a collection of spreadsheets and a legacy database system. In short – it was a mess.

Enter Vancouver-based IT consulting firm iSP3 Inc. Blues brought in the company because of its reputation for working with products under the Oracle banner. Prince George had recently upgraded to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 8.12 to manage asset finances. Now they hoped to integrate that platform with Cityworks, a GIS software from Azteca Systems Inc.

“One of the challenges we set for ourselves was to fully understand what JDE is capable of before we go looking for other solutions,” Blues says.

To achieve the one-window interface iSP3 built a service oriented architecture (SOA) that relies on the Web to keep the systems in sync. The Web service acts as an arbitrator to the programs, exchanging information between the databases through a cloud. That means that each program’s logic is left to operate as per usual, but the user gets the benefit of combining both the feature sets.

“It looks like a Web page, but it actually resides on your own computer,” explains Jack Harasym, maintenance area specialist with iSP3. “You’re able to look at the assets. If you click on a water line, it’ll show you all the valves associated with that water line.”

The program’s interface has a large window that looks like a Google map of Prince George, or a satellite map image. Various assets can be found by typing in a street address, intersection, or a main feature like a park’s name. The user can also choose what assets they want to view and whether they want to view multiple assets at one time, because each type of asset is organized into layers.

From that interface, users can click on the assets and choose to get a status update or take an action related to it.

“You can click on a long road or pipe and add a break in the middle,” Harasym says. “Or you can add on to it and extend it.”

Status updates could include sewer inspections using CCTV cameras, or a fire hydrant flow test to ensure the needed pressure is there. Workers also update the system with results from inspections related to pavement conditions or manhole status.

Filling out a work order is done inside a pop-up window.

The financial information tied to each asset is tracked by JDE. To allow the two applications to communicate with each other, iSP3 tweaked the work order feature associated with Cityworks. Now the cost of the repair work could be entered into that system, but organized in the JDE database. Using Cityworks to create a work order in JDE was key to having the project work.

“Once the work order is in JDE, everything falls into place,” Blues says. “The work will be done, the materials will be purchased, and the charges will go to the right place.”

For example, a worker could use Cityworks to place a work order for a refurbish job on 10 fire hydrants to improve the water pressure. When filling out the form in the pop-up window, costs are entered and calculated. By being combined with JDE, the cost of the job can be tied to the 10 fire hydrants and distributed evenly across all of them. That’s a valuable budget-keeping tool for the council to have.

“It’s much easier to manage our assets now,” Blues says. “It can all be done from a single point of data entry.”

Using a Web services approach to integrate the software means that even if one of the systems crashes, work can still be carried out. Updates are carried out in real time, but the service oriented architecture means that commands can be held if JDE is offline. When the application comes back, it will be updated.

“It allows us to loosely couple our systems,” says Troi Eisler, technical specialist with iSP3. “We’re not waiting for someone to push a button to do the updates.”

Meanwhile, the Prince George municipal council is facing an election Nov. 15. Those who are elected will rest easy knowing that less time will be spent getting the city’s assets in order.

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