How the past is creating the future for SA Water’s GIS project

Geographic information systems (GIS) have become integral to almost every aspect of the operations of public utilities around the world. As one of the first utilities in Australia to fully capture and store its entire network on a GIS, South Australia’s SA Water began their project almost 30 years ago. Today they have a sophisticated system that is continuously being updated, with views to expanding operations even further.

In 1986, SA Water began capturing its statewide water and wastewater reticulation-network data. With 25 full time equivalent employees manually digitising the information from hard-copy reticulation plans, this mammoth information transfer took until 1992.

During the digitisation process, more than one million as-constructed drawings had to be scanned, and each had to be linked to the relevant GIS feature. SA Water managed to create high-quality TIFF images by scanning microfilm copies of individual drawing books.

For the initial data capture, SA Water opted to use Data General hardware together with TEO/3D engineering database software. In 1994, however, the database was transferred to an ESRI system, and the utility currently uses the ArcGIS design and management-solution platform, ArcGIS Server for data distribution online, ArcFM, and ArcSDE. SA Water’s internet GIS is known as ‘AquaMap’, and the Geocortex Silverlight web viewer provides user access to data.

One of the major engineering challenges was defining the GIS database schema to make sure it would answer business needs. SA Water undertook extensive internal workshops with its business representatives – such as asset managers, planners, network operators, as well as those in customer service and finance – in order to: first ascertain those requirements the GIS needed to address; and then to define the database’s technical structure accordingly.

The utility also needed to ensure the GIS database schema enabled integration with other relevant corporate information systems and databases, such as their works management system (which uses Maximo 7), their Water Quality System, Property System, SharePoint and ‘Dial Before You Dig’. And so SA Water developed their own ‘loose integration’ model for Maximo to provide a broader range of compatibility.

Through the process, SA Water managed to create a GIS database schema that is now able to be recalibrated and adjusted to reflect current and changing business needs.

SA Water also developed a Data Quality Strategy and GIS Data Management Plan to ensure high-quality data.

The company came up against technology limitations relating to data distribution, particularly in the period immediately following the completion of the data capture. They had to figure out how to broaden user access to data and make the GIS ubiquitous throughout the organisation.

At first microfilm was used for data distribution, but then a web browser was created in 1997 using ArcInfo. From 2002 they began using ESRI Australia’s Eview/ArcIMS web browser, until the Geocortex software was implemented late last year.

In order to overcome challenges posed by proprietary GIS databases, SA Water developed a longer-term strategy to use a more open and non-proprietary database environment for GIS data, moving from a proprietary ‘tile’ based GIS to a seamless, open SQL-compliant GIS database.

The need for long GIS transactions (or edit sessions) presented a new challenge. “Unlike traditional databases, where transactions are created/updated over very short timeframes, the capture of GIS transactions may take a longer duration to complete, e.g. capture of pipe assets from proposal stage to official handover through to end of life decommissioning.” says an SA Water spokesperson.

SA Water uses a ‘check-in/check-out’ process for GIS transactions, which can last anywhere from a few minutes to several months. This process allows users to access and update the GIS remotely.

The GIS today

At the time SA Water created its GIS, there were very few examples to follow.

Through the process, SA Water realised,“ The GIS needs to be the corporate reticulation pipe asset register, and the point of truth for reticulation data statistics used for asset, financial and regulatory reporting.”

Today, the GIS is a powerful integrator of information, and this includes integration by location of customers, assets, events, land, water resources, other infrastructure, soil, rainfall and so on.

The GIS data is edited and maintained in an SDE (spatial database engine) Windows SQL Server database and is nightly transferred to the GIS Warehouse (Windows SQL Server) for user access.

A team of editors updates the GIS daily, and they use the ArcFM software extension, “which has been configured to ensure efficient and accurate data capture”, says the spokesperson. SA Water has developed a series of tight workflows and standards to ensure data for all new assets is transferred onto the GIS, such as data from capital projects, and gifted assets as a result of land development.

The GIS is used widely throughout the organisation to support a range of business processes, such as asset management, systems planning, field operations (work management), customer service, and land development responses.

There are different levels of users, ranging from those working in specialised complex spatial analysis and editing, through to basic viewing and printing. AquaMap is used extensively and offers a broad range of functionality. Editors, asset managers and other high-end users use ArcGIS Desktop and an array of sophisticated software extensions to access, capture and analyse data.

AquaMap is available to all SA Water and Allwater staff – Allwater being SA Water’s contractor for metropolitan water and wastewater operations.

AquaMap is also provided under licence to external users, such as the SA Metropolitan Fire Brigade, consultants, property developers, surveyors and plumbers. SA Water also makes available raw GIS data under licence to any approved state or local government agency or private utility that requests it. Data is also provided to Dial Before You Dig.

Looking ahead

There are many initiatives currently being considered to further evolve SA Water’s GIS.

The creation of a GIS Services User Publishing area would allow the GIS functions of individuals to be shared and reused. It would also permit users to create GIS services – such as mains associated with the sewer cleaning program – that others could use and view in a flexible, managed manner.

SA Water is also contemplating the use of Private GIS Clouds, which could facilitate greater collaborative use of data with other systems.

The utility could soon implement GIS Mashups and customised GIS Views. This would be done by making use of SharePoint 2010 capabilities, and would allow domain experts to create new views and models, and to share the information more easily with other general users.

There is a possibility of using GIS information more broadly in reporting and business intelligence (BI) – such as integration with a BI/Enterprise Data Warehouse Platform.

SA Water is also looking into the use of Mobility solutions to extend the reach of GIS to staff and third-party alliance members. Among other things, this would facilitate the capture of water main bursts and leak locations using mobile GPS, and would facilitate viewing of relevant information based on geographical area, as well as attaching photos of assets to GIS entities. The utility is also considering linking physical assets to the corresponding virtual data, with the use of – for example – barcodes, QR codes, and mobile device cameras and barcode readers.

The company may extend GIS services to external customers to allow for pipe-burst reporting, as well to view water holdings and related customer-focused information.

SA Water is also looking at increasing the linkage between the GIS and customer information, such as performance of assets against properties, and increased precision in identifying customers affected by network outages. And the utility could increase the transactional nature of customer data flowing between CSIS and GIS systems through a more flexible integration approach and use of business rules and the BI platform.

Increased integration between GIS and the Customer Application Management System is also a possibility, so that new service point locations are captured and entered directly into GIS as part of the connections and extensions workflow process.

Under consideration too is the possible integration of GIS with SA Water’s Incident Management System, to facilitate the management of incidents such as wastewater overflows by being able to determine the geospatial impact downstream.

SA Water is also considering enhanced integration with external GIS data providers – such as the Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure, and the Department of Planning and Local Government – from where SA Water sources cadastre, topographic and planning data.

GIS tooling could be utilised to develop schematic views of the information contained within the GIS system, so that it is maintainable and reusable.

The integration between the GIS and Hydraulic modelling software could be improved to enable the automated creation of models GIS Tracking would support the tracking of the company’s items, such as the operational vehicle fleet, and this could be facilitated by the creation of location-based alarms.

To heighten the precision of its information and output, SA Water might consider using 3D visualisation of new facilities, as well as line-of-sight spatial calculations. The use of satellite and airplane-generated imagery could provide more accurate and precise data for the inspection of above-ground pipelines, as well as being able to monitor sea grass growth in the vicinity of treatment plant outlets and to identify floristic vegetation in the vicinity of reservoir reserves.

Access to video on demand that is geospatially referenced could also be a possibility.

And of course, GIS data quality and maintenance of data is a continuous process of improvement in order to maintain a system that is flexible and adjustable to both business and customer needs.

Utility magazine would like to thank SA Water’s Asset Data Quality 
Manager, John Maitland for his invaluable assistance in compiling this article.

Michelle Goldsmith

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