Farr West Engineering opened operations 18 years ago in Reno, Nevada, with a mission to support rural utility districts in tracking and managing their assets. Today, the core mission remains the same, although Farr West's staff and customer base have grown exponentially. Alongside this growth, Farr West has continued to maintain a high customer retention rate and attributes much of its success to scalable digital mapping solutions. In fact, Farr West's first client is still a client today.
Utilizing the latest geospatial technologies from Esri, Farr West consistently delivers high-quality projects, providing solutions that otherwise may be out of reach for many local utilities on their own. In turn, the Farr West GIS team is able to provide direct value to the company and is an integral part of the business.
The process of digital transformation began around six years ago when the team at Farr West had a single license to a desktop GIS product and used file-based data storage. Keeping its core mission in mind, Farr West had a vision to provide "all of the amazing benefits of GIS" to its client in an affordable and scalable way. The GIS team began to realize that to do this, they needed to start modernizing their infrastructure. Integrating their data with other systems was challenging and time-consuming, and this was impacting their ability to deliver to their standards of quality and frequency. It also required more of the client's time to help support manual processes, such as walking an entire site and filling in blanks that were missing in their utility network model.
Matt Forrest, Senior GIS Analyst, explained, "When I first started, the driver to build a GIS was to understand what assets the client had and what they were maintaining—'How many miles of sewer mains do we have and maintain?' and 'How much water system pipe do we have?'"
Soon clients were asking more detailed questions, applying for grants that required specific information, and determining their spending efforts based on these questions. As a result, Farr West began to research ways in which its clients could take advantage of more GIS capabilities—and potentially consolidate many products and tools into one to better support its clients.
Because Farr West already had a system in place, change would take some convincing. However, the GIS team was determined to update their solution to be more dynamic, faster, and integrated. One driver was to support many users editing the same data. A second driver was the need for a quick and easy way to create web applications and visualizations to see data in real time. The team landed on a temporary solution but quickly ran into limitations. The front-end viewer wasn't linked to a database or back-end server, so the data push was manual. In addition, the viewer wasn't accessible on a mobile device, restricting use in the field.
AEC Project Delivery Subscription
The AEC Project Delivery Subscription is a new way to deliver project work. Project Delivery Subscription allows organizations to quickly deploy GIS projects to their clients, allowing collaboration and sharing of information directly with stakeholders. Clients can view, edit, and review workflows and assets in real time throughout the project life cycle, ensuring a high level of customer trust and satisfaction.
The team members were eyeing new features and advancements in Esri technology and concluded they needed a comprehensive platform that would give their clients dynamic, real-time access to their data; rather than siloed products and taxing workflows. This led them to ArcGIS Enterprise, distributed collaboration, and Esri's new architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) Project Delivery Subscription.
Lucas Tipton, Principal Engineer and Utility Planning Manager, said, "The big selling point was technology that was better, faster, and more cost-effective."
In using ArcGIS Enterprise, Farr West dramatically reduced the time required to deliver data to its clients. Directly connecting to web services for data and customizing applications with ease meant that Farr West could complete its work in a fraction of the time. The process used to take 16 hours, but with Esri technology and the project delivery system in place, publishing data now takes only 2 hours. This greatly increased productivity within Farr West, enabling it to serve many more clients in the same amount of time. It also meant clients could take advantage of a suite of Esri applications on their computers and mobile devices to visualize their data, such as Explorer for ArcGIS. Utility staff appreciated these products because they were able to see photos, forms, and videos of their asset, from manholes to fire hydrants and more. Forrest said, "That's key for them because they are able to tie what they see in person and on paper to what is shown digitally."
The transformation didn't just stop there, though. Farr West was growing as a business and needed something that could handle distributed data. Farr West leveraged distributed collaboration to share data from ArcGIS Enterprise to ArcGIS Online, using Project Delivery Subscription. This provided a trusted connection to share data immediately to ArcGIS Online and synchronize changes in real time. Taking many sets of data edited by many users and sharing it in ArcGIS Online, where Farr West provides its clients with access, has been huge. Currently, Farr West operates 12 projects utilizing this framework.
Keeping with the momentum, Farr West has many plans to continue growing its solutions. Future projects include field data collection in ArcGIS Online using Survey123 for ArcGIS. It is currently deploying ArcGIS Enterprise on behalf of its clients to allow use of Collector for ArcGIS.
Constantly innovating and pursuing new technology have allowed Farr West to scale to levels that weren't previously imagined. In turn, the GIS department has been able to provide direct business value to Farr West and is no longer considered just a supporting role in the company: GIS is part of every contract. Supported by Esri technology, Farr West will continue to provide new and existing clients with applications and features that help their business while continuing to create efficiencies within the company.
GIS Specialist Alex Reid said, "Until now, we've been a supporting department, which I enjoy, and it's an important role, but it is gratifying that we are getting to a point where we can be self-sustaining in bringing additional business into the company."
The big selling point was technology that was better, faster, and more cost-effective.