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A Dashboard to Manage Trains, Planes, Boats, Automobiles—and Rocket Ships[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Florida's Department of Transportation (FDOT) is in charge of a vast network that includes trains, planes, automobiles, and rocket ships. Almost 120,000 miles of state highways and local roads, more than 700 aviation facilities, 14 seaports, and five active launch facilities are maintained by FDOT to keep the state bustling.
To effectively manage the transportation system, ensuring that people and goods can move safely while preserving the lush environment of Florida, FDOT divides the workload between its central office, located in Tallahassee, Florida, and seven districts that cover different regions of the state, as well as one turnpike enterprise, a business unit of the FDOT that covers most toll roads in the state. Each district creates and maintains a five-year work program that details specific maintenance and upgrades to roads, bridges, rail lines, and other capital investments of the transportation system.
To get a better idea of the health of the many projects open at any given time, FDOT's District 4 developed an easy-to-use computerized dashboard connected to a central repository of georeferenced information. Every capital project and its associated data is available to FDOT project managers whenever they need it. From this application, created using ArcGIS, project managers have access to more than 100 transportation-rich georeferenced datasets including proposed designs, construction plans, as-built drawings, and straight-line diagrams that are relevant to their projects.
Any given project has a vast array of information, from scope and schedule to roadway characteristics, asset inventory, as-built construction plans of the existing structure, financial and contractual information, and project location, to name a few. Historically, there has been no central system that maintains this information. Instead, project managers continually navigate between different project databases for financial and contract data and request hard-copy as-builts and diagrams from other departments as they are needed. Gathering information that can be helpful but is not normally collected for a project, such as sidewalk locations, bus stops, school zones, and property ownership, is also difficult. Assembling the data needed for just one project can take hundreds of man-hours.
"There is one element in common between these disparate systems—location," says Josť Theiler, program services administrator, FDOT District 4. "The only way to relate projects and all the data that is needed is with location-driven information managed with GIS."
FDOT has hundreds of layers of geographic information available to staff. Location information specific to projects is captured through a roadway identification number found between every milepost on the freeway. In the case of bridges, the actual geographic coordinates of the structure are used. Staff use ArcGIS to manage all the spatial information from a pool of floating licenses. While most geographic information is stored in one geodatabase, staff also maintain separate geodatabases of project-specific data.
To make this decentralized information easier to access by anyone at District 4 who needs it, such as managers of nearby or adjacent projects and executive staff, Atkins Global was hired. Atkins is the UK's largest engineering and design consultancy and the world's 11th-largest design firm. The firm worked with District 4 staff to create a project website based on ArcGIS called ProjectSuite. Now, approximately 200 District 4 staff members, including project managers, find, store, and analyze information for every project using the website daily.
The website essentially aggregates all the data located in disparate systems and performs nightly data pulls, including from a mainframe located back in the central office in Tallahassee. The most current information from these sources is updated in a single Microsoft SQL Server data warehouse at District 4 and accessed through the project website.
ProjectSuite opens to an easy-to-use dashboard application built on .NET using ArcGIS API for Silverlight/Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). The main screen is divided into different panes—the top pane allows the project manager to search for projects of interest, the left pane shows the project manager a list of all the projects that have been assigned to him or her, and a project tree in the top center of the screen allows the manager to set up specific options for each project and type in the project number to see more detailed information.
Once a particular project is selected, all the information available for that location is displayed. This information includes the roadway segment ID; project descriptions from the mainframe; and financial information, including key performance indicators based on the project budget and schedule.
After this displayed data, a list of modules is provided that gives the manager access to databases that are relevant to each project. One of these modules, called Project Impacts, is how the GIS data is accessed. The interface to this module is an interactive map that displays every active project as a point on the map, along with the boundaries of all the projects. The map and data in this module come from District 4's GIS portal that is built on ArcGIS for Server.
"This interface gives a project manager a frame of reference for where their project is," says Manuel Alayon, software development manager at Atkins. "We call this module Project Impacts because it provides information about what is around their projects and allows them to see external factors that may need to be considered for their project completion."
Under the map is a section that shows other information that is tied to certain locations—either roads or bridges—so the project manager can access this easily. Documents such as straight-line diagrams are scanned and stored on a file server and tied to the roadway segment. By a simple click on the segment, the diagram can be opened.
The project website is used throughout the district for many purposes, from denoting which manager oversees a particular project to understanding the scope of the project and its development progress. Instead of engineers sorting through thousands of stored, hard-copy, as-built plans, all plans from the 1940s to the present have been digitized and are now easily accessed by a click of the mouse. Similarly to as-built plans, engineers would spend hours sifting through paper maps that contained right-of-way information for each project. Today, access to all this information is quick.
The Project Impacts module has proved to be particularly valuable. By alerting engineers of projects that are close to their own projects, issues can be discovered that may impact construction. For example, it would not be practical for two projects next to each other to build at the same time due to staging and sequencing of construction and traffic maintenance. These activities may conflict to a point that roads get completely shut down, something that FDOT tries very hard to avoid.
Tracking location information is obviously much easier using a map. For example, if water is not draining properly on a project, instead of tracking information in a database by typing in the name of a project and making the best guess of where that location actually is, it can now be viewed on a map and the issue noted. After resolution, the data in the database can be updated, and this in turn updates the map. A map showing where and when projects are planned also provides opportunities to save costs associated with resources like fill dirt and heavy equipment that could be more easily shared between nearby jobsites. It is in this way that Project Impacts helps project managers and executives work together more easily to avoid conflicts and realize efficiencies during construction.
"The website has become a fundamental tool in the everyday life of staff here at District 4," says Theiler. "The GIS interface makes this a complete package for decision making by a project manager, executive, or anyone around the district."
The success and functional richness of the project website prompted the FDOT central office to adopt District 4's dashboard approach for project management throughout the organization. This effort is the ProjectSuite Enterprise Edition. "The dials and easily customized interface make this application something that people can use easily," says Alayon. "Some can get easily overwhelmed when they see all the information at once. With the project website and its enterprise edition, beginners can handle a small image and a table of information. More advanced users can move to the map, edit it, and generate reports."
It is with the fluidity of the system that the website caters to both audiences, allowing someone to see everything at once or dig around. The important aspect is that the users can choose how they view the data—either a portfolio thumbnail of all projects; a graphic representation of certain items, such as a critical path diagram for a project's schedule; or even analysis services for the entire data warehouse.
"We have a ton of information," says Theiler. "Now we can take all that data and make it mean something, because it is all tied together by location."
For more information, contact Josť Theiler, PE, AVS, program services administrator, Florida Department of Transportation District 4 (e-mail: Jose.Theiler@dot.state.fl.us or JoseTheiler@dot.myflorida.com, tel.: 954-777-4402).