Our world is growing smaller and, as a result, business processes that just a few decades ago involved only a relatively small business model are now increasingly larger. This phenomenon is evident in the realm of public asset management. Yet the tools and applications that professional managers use to manage buildings, assets, maintenance, infrastructure – and an array of business processes – were not designed to be truly scalable. Thus, these tools and applications are not ideally suited to meet the requirements for managing broadly geographically dispersed portfolios of physical assets and business processes.

The public asset management industry has had few tools to effectively visualize and manage its built environment. This is understandable because of the complexity in merging mapping tools with business processes. Geographic information systems (GIS) were conceived of and developed as a technology for managing information related to entities across the landscape. The value proposition for utilizing GIS for public asset management business processes is as a complementary technology that, when integrated with the business process management technologies and applications, provides much greater benefits than the sum of its parts.

Before GIS, there has not been a single user environment that provides a holistic view and supports integrated workflows for public asset management. Most technologies have a reasonably well-thought through workflow engine, but are lacking in the spatial context of the workflows. Most field personnel visualize workflows and assets in a mapped context, but the technologies they use lack this perspective. Only GIS deeply embedded into the asset management process can do this effectively because it is the only technology that has the ability to scale across any expanse, from the individual asset within a building to a virtually global context of interconnected and overlapping networks and processes.

The visualization and data management capabilities of GIS provide landscape-level visualization and the tools and technical infrastructure to generate and manage location data, including very precise locations, which are required for truly comprehensive and integrated management. These two components, landscape-level visualization and spatial data storage and management are core GIS functions. They are the glue used to precisely integrate disparate systems because, at its core, each enterprise system has some set of functions related to a location.

While many asset management systems utilize no GIS at all, there are three primary GIS integration methodologies with the public asset management market: open application programming interface, the “map it” approach, and the GIS-centric approach found in Cityworks.

Within an open application programming interface (API) model, the data within the asset management application is made available for use and integration with the GIS through an open API. This is essentially a “here it is, come and get it” approach. This approach requires custom GIS application development in order to take advantage of the data in both applications. This requirement generally requires the end user to develop the interface and tools for interacting with the systems. The primary advantage of this approach is that it is infinitely flexible. The primary disadvantage is it is not an easily maintained product and once one or two key stakeholders leave, the system collapses under its own weight.

The next model is the “map it” approach, in which the GIS data is made available to the other system through a separate but semi-integrated window launched from the asset management application. Most asset management systems that utilize the GIS fall into this category. The application’s map window is designed to look and feel like the host application, but does not appear to be a part of the core asset management application. The map viewer launches as a separate window when the user asks to see the map, instead of as part of the core application as a single integrated interface. Typically, this approach is used only for visualization of a point on the map representing facility locations and is not a true application of GIS capability to drill down into layers of information. Furthermore, this approach does not generally support bidirectional transfer of information between the two systems. A GIS-centric solution geographic information within native application windows so users do not recognize that they are interacting with a GIS. Rather, they simply have access to location data and a geography-based user interface (a map) that seamlessly ties together tabular and location data to provide a comprehensive view. There are many levels at which the map interface supports traditional workflows, such as maintenance management, GIS management, asset management and others, to take advantage of the landscape-level context provided by the GIS.

Efficiencies can be found in the area of asset and maintenance management from such a tightly integrated approach. To the end user, the systems appear as a single system, and can track and notify maintenance staff about weekly, monthly or annual schedules and their locations. The location of the items to be maintained helps staff combine work orders from different schedules with identical or proximal locations. This can help to drastically reduce the time and resources expended to complete maintenance and work orders. In addition, GIS routing analysis and recommendation reduce both the time and resources wasted in transit by optimizing travel routes between and within assets for more efficient, cost-effective work order completion. Additionally, the system visualization can be used for real-time coordination and dispatch of resources for maintenance and repair responses that fall outside of regular schedules. This real-time capability becomes even more valuable when deployed in emergency scenarios that require rapid sharing and dissemination of location-based information. Other spatial analytical tools such as spatial asset management via density of maintenance histories, condition assessments, and so forth can be visualized in scenarios that would be otherwise impossible in traditional tabular systems.

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