One of the biggest challenges facing utilities today is managing their buried assets, and understanding and updating the data available on these assets. We spoke to Charles Moscato, Yarra Valley Water’s Spatial Information Manager, about some of the inherent challenges that come with managing an enormous catalogue of buried assets, and some of the unique technologies he is utilising to help make the task easier.
Yarra Valley Water is Melbourne’s largest water and sanitation business, providing water supply and sewage services to over 1.7 million people and over 50,000 businesses in the city’s northern and eastern suburbs.
According to Charles Moscato, Spatial Information Manager at Yarra Valley Water, one of the key challenges the utility – and indeed all utilities – face, is having confidence in the asset data available to them. In many cases asset data can be decades old – meaning assets won’t always be located where a utility thinks they are.
To this end, Yarra Valley Water has recently been working with Augview, developers of an augmented reality software application, which allows users to see a 3D visual representation of buried assets, overlaid on top of a camera view of a particular location.
“Augview has been fantastic and it’s simple to use. By using a tablet or smartphone, we can point to a location and very quickly see what assets are underground.
“The real beauty of this system will be when we start to get other authorities providing their asset information – that’s when we’ll start to see the real benefits.
“Having the ability for operators to quickly use the product, to give them confidence on whether or not there are assets within the area – whether they are ours, or whether they belong to another utility – would be a huge benefit to our crews,” he said.
“Not only that – if there are assets in a particular area, we can also see where they are, how deep they are, and how far each asset is away from other assets.
“With all that information available to us, we’ll actually be able to very quickly respond to incidents and over time, gain more confidence in our data.”
The benefits of the system extend beyond being able to visualise the existing assets in a particular area – the system can also be used to update existing asset data to make it more accurate if and when required.
“Where we don’t have the accuracy of our data, we’ll be able to actually go in and use this system to record where the location is not right, and feed that information back to be updated in the core GIS system,” said Mr Moscato.
Collaboration between utilities
Mr Moscato believes there are many benefits utilities can experience by teaming up and sharing their asset data.
“If we work together and put some tight measures around what is it that we’re actually doing with the data, and have some level of trust between the authorities, then it’s for the greater good of all utilities to have this information shared.
“If we can actually have the feedback mechanism by which utilities not only review the accuracy of their own asset data, but also that of all the other utilities in a given area – be it gas, electricity, water or telecommunications – how could that be anything but advantageous for all parties involved?
“As utilities provide one another their data, they’ll actually quickly start to see the extra benefit of having all utilities using the same sort of products – such as Augview – to feed this information back,” he said.
“I think this is an excellent win/win situation – we have the ability to be a role model for the industry, to showcase how good this technology can be.
“We could actually have a system in place to improve our data accuracy and improve the safety of our operators. What’s not to like about that?”
Understanding data accuracy
Another challenge for utility asset managers, according to Mr Moscato, is the fact that many utilities today are using asset data that was captured in the 1980s or earlier – when data capture methods were not as advanced as they are today.
He believes there needs to be a greater understanding of when various asset data sets where captured, so that utilities and asset owners can have a realistic expectation of just how accurate that data can be.
“If we had the ability to put some measures in place to quantify how accurate our data is, we’ll actually start to build some metadata underneath our data. For example, in areas where data has been captured from the 1990s onwards, we know we’ve got very accurate data that’s been captured by digital means and provided in a CAD format. We know we have a higher level of accuracy for that data.
“For any data captured prior to that, it needs to be understood that there are restrictions with the way that data was captured and hence the accuracy against it.”
Mr Moscato believes that with a product like Augview, which can incorporate GPS coordinates into existing asset data, major improvements in asset data can be made.
Seeing the benefits
Mr Moscato said he’s excited by the improvements products like Augview are able to offer when it comes to managing vast networks of underground assets.
“I’ve seen firsthand how effective a product such as Augview can be out in the field, whether being used to actually capture asset data, or to visualise the assets that are underground in any particular area.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Augview and other utilities to improve the quality of asset data available – which then helps us to best manage our networks and provide the best service to our customers.”
Augview is both a mobile GIS, allowing users to view and edit their asset data from the field; and an augmented reality application, which allows users to visualise underground objects as 3D assets in a life environment they wouldn’t ordinarily see.
Augview software, used on a smartphone or tablet, connects directly to one or more GIS web servers over a secure internet connection. Geographic asset data is then requested from the web server and displayed either as a map, text or as a 3D visualisation. Asset information can then be edited directly by the user in the field and the data on the server is updated immediately and without any additional administrative overhead.
With a modern user interface, Augview has been designed using familiar layouts and concepts that allow staff to leverage their existing knowledge of everyday smartphone and tablet applications. Augview provides all the power of a mobile GIS, in a way that a non-GIS user can understand and work with effectively.