What’s the best way to budget, design and operate utility and facility infrastructure? Or to avoid unnecessary construction delays and expensive overruns? Or retain precious institutional memory before your most knowledgeable people retire?
Answer: A next-generation Geographical information System (GIS).
Today, owners and operators of municipalities, colleges and schools, water and sewer districts, hospitals and medical centers, and commercial real estate face a $1 trillion price tag to upgrade or replace aging pipelines, conduits and other underground and surface assets.
Besides funding, the biggest challenges in making that a reality are proper long-term resource planning and unwelcome construction and maintenance surprises. Too often, operators and owners get waylaid because of the unknown location of existing utility and facility infrastructure assets. That’s because much of the information and data about these assets is missing, unavailable or outdated. When planning or construction begins, unseen or mis-located assets are damaged or require extensive unplanned workarounds. Either way, expensive delays follow.
A San Francisco Bay Area company called BetterGIS hoping to change all that.
“The current approach to planning or managing multi-million dollar utility and facility infrastructure is sub-optimal at best,” said Michael London, CEO of BetterGIS, a technology company in the San Francisco Bay Area working with owners and operators, as well as architects, engineers and contractors. “Everyone managing these knows what they can’t see can hurt them, but there has been no cost-effective solution to the problem.”
A Better Way
The demand for a better GIS is the reason why London, a serial entrepreneur, and co-founder Charlie Rudkin, an engineering and construction innovator with 30 years of industry experience, launched BetterGIS in 2015 along with their civil engineering partner, CSW/Stuber-Stroeh Engineering Group.
The company’s cloud-based solution has been implemented at 20 facilities in California and has mapped more than 25,000 structures, $200 million in replacement cost value and almost 3 million linear feet of assets – more than the distance between San Francisco and San Diego. In October, the company rolled out a new, more powerful version of the platform called UVARA. Previously available only in California, UVARA is now available nationwide.
“The market today is dominated by overly complex GIS solutions that aren’t practical for teams in the field,” Rudkin said. “The complexity and high cost of these first-generation solutions are the reasons GIS has not been widely deployed. Among our clients and our partners, we are seeing great demand for a streamlined, easy-to-use GIS that can be used throughout the lifecycle of the asset.”
The Complete Package
UVARA provides mapping, storage, reporting and analytics – all of the key functions needed to plan, design, build and operate an asset.
A key pillar of the solution is the Digital Plan Room, a safe, secure online vault that warehouses as-built drawings, record sets, reports, photographs and other documents. Users can view these documents online, eliminate trips to the physical plan room, cut reprinting and shipping costs, and minimize fears about losing documents. The platform can be configured by the administrator to grant permission to each user based on needs.
Another pillar is the geospatial database where accurate data helps locate new assets in the right place before a shovel is ever put into the ground. That gives capital and master planners, construction teams and facilities managers the ability to contextually see assets relative to one other. For example, spatially accurate data shows precisely where to bore for a geothermal installation or what a solar array would look like from a design perspective and all the way through completion.
A third pillar is the powerful analytics and reporting function - another priority for owners and operators. Anticipating that need, BetterGIS allows users to view and share detailed reports, including information about inventory of assets and their value, replacement cost, remaining life and more. Each report contains dozens of unique figures, tables and graphs that offer detailed analysis about every aspect of the infrastructure. The solution’s reporting functionality also helps administrators quickly produce routine and one-off reports for auditors, regulators and government officials.
A key benefit of a simplified GIS is the improved coordination among construction teams. In essence, UVARA is a central online repository for all work – past and present – and thus creates a single-source of truth. That means all contractors and sub-contractors can now work from a common set of plans. Because the information is constantly updated, teams have access to the latest information in real-time, thus avoiding trips to the physical map room.
Managing the Future
Continually updated information has created another important new benefit: recommendations on when to upgrade, replace or repair assets. The intelligence in the platform helps team members prioritize needs. This advanced functionality enables budget and master planners to help them understand the ongoing costs associated with maintaining an asset throughout its lifecycle.
“The intelligence built into our platform maximizes uptime and service continuity while minimizing risk to people, property, projects, and budgets. BetterGIS optimizes the value of your utility infrastructure or facility,” Rudkin said.
BetterGIS has also solved another key issue for owners and operators: Preserving institutional knowledge. Many infrastructure and facility professionals are now approaching retirement and have invaluable information that has not been stored or codified anywhere. A streamlined GIS solution can be a repository for the accumulated information and wisdom of team members and thus retain an institution’s memory.
Supporting Architects, Engineers and Engineers
The power of a simplified GIS solution hasn’t been lost on third-parties who support owners and operators of utility and facilities infrastructure. BetterGIS has seen strong interest in its solution from Architects, Engineers and Contractors (AECs), along with utility locators, surveyors, disaster response planners, risk management consultants, condition assessment specialists, resellers of facilities management solutions and other trusted organizations.
“UVARA is a way for AECs and others to generate new business, strengthen relationships, and deepen existing ones,” London said. “In addition to the direct revenue as a subcontractor to us on projects and commissions or referral fees from sales, our partners have experienced a significant increase in indirect revenue from the enhanced client relationships.”
The Bottom Line
With unmatched ease-of-use and advanced functionality, UVARA from BetterGIS is solving some of the most significant problem encountered by so many owners and operators of utility infrastructure and facilities around the world. Having developed a superior solution that addresses an enormous marketplace need, the future of BetterGIS looks bright.
"A streamlined GIS solution can be a repository for the accumulated information and wisdom of team members and thus retain an institution’s memory"
"BetterGIS allows users to view and share detailed reports, including information about inventory of assets and their value, replacement cost, remaining life and more"
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