The best news is that similar comments came from city managers outside of the public works realm, like Beth Kinney, director of community services for Summit, N.J. “We're implementing information technology in Public Works for the first time,” she wrote. “There'll be access to a GIS system, a work order system, and asset management [using software from Vueworks and QScend Technologies.] Most of the personnel processes they're doing manually will be automated.”
And that's why we're calling 2008 “the year of integration.”
Actually, we should use the term “continuing integration.” Given the pace of improvements in software and hardware, moving from a paper- to an electronic-based operation is an evolution.
Take the public works department of Newport News, Va., for example.
In 2004, information systems manager Tim DeSalvo heard about a new grant program offered by ESRI and Trimble Navigation Ltd. to help city, county, and state governments improve operations using GIS and GPS applications. Having exhausted the capabilities of an asset-management system he'd built using the fleet department's maintenance software, DeSalvo applied for a grant. Newport News became one of 20 agencies to receive a total of $170,000 in free software, hardware, and training.
DeSalvo built a geodatabase that tracks the department's response to resident requests, captures maintenance costs to satisfy federal financial-reporting requirements, and automatically records parts costs in the city's accounting system. The database runs the GIS-centric Cityworks asset-management software package from Azteca Systems Inc. on a Citrix server farm.
DeSalvo then hired a GIS manager to help with the colossal effort of getting 380 employees to enter asset information exactly as required. Specifications just for mapping the city's sanitary sewers are 15 pages long, and begin with: “All field names must agree in both case and in spelling. Please note that all features must maintain correct connectivity so they can be successfully incorporated into the existing geometric network. Public Works is hereby requesting that any and all deliverables be consistent with our need for O&M, pursuant to the geodatabase and graphical requirements necessary to seamlessly migrate into Azteca Cityworks.”
As word of the project spread, De-Salvo's team has been asked to implement the system in six other city departments. The most difficult was bringing the engineering department on board, a project that required updating the GIS streets layer to incorporate data that wasn't initially captured. The codes compliance department is next in line.
It's likely that, eventually, all city departments will be linked through a system that originated in the public works department. If so, DeSalvo's team will have succeeded in creating a citywide “enterprise asset management” system that shares information across multiple departments, not just one.
This capability doesn't have to be developed in-house. In August, Salt Lake City signed a $1.45 million contract with Accela Inc. to eliminate the need for developers to work with seven different departments to approve construction plans, a process that hadn't endeared the city to the development community. Accela Automation consolidates multiple databases into one, enabling developers to apply for and track permits through one link on the city's Web site.
Other system components allow for wireless communication with field crews using laptops or PDAs, and a GIS component built on ESRI's ArcIMS platform.
While Accela's primary market is government, the demand for GIS-centric software has prompted developers of software for multiple industries to tweak their programs specifically to meet the needs of infrastructure departments.