Unitywater consolidates geospatial systems

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Unitywater consolidates geospatial systems

Telstra latency forces redesign.

Queensland utility Unitywater is merging its disparate geospatial systems into a unified asset management platform, some two years after its formation.

Unitywater provides water supply and sewerage services to the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay council regions, the latter of which was created in 2008 from a three-way council amalgamation.

It outsourced the hosting and management of various platforms and infrastructure to CSG in January this year (pdf) and since late last year, has been working towards unifying its IBM Maximo and ESRI ArcFM spatial information systems under a GIS Establishment Project (GISEP).

Merging the previous systems into a new environment, called CAMS (Consolidated Asset Management System), required a massive effort to analyse, categorise and document existing data sets.

Engineering management firm Parsons Brinckerhoff worked with Unitywater staff to produce several documents – including a 775-page list of every field in every data source, and a separate 372-page list of the attributes of every feature class in the new system – that guided the migration.

"The idea was to build up a picture of all the data sources within the organisation by documenting anything we could describe," Parsons Brinckerhoff principal GIS consultant Phil Punter told the recent GITA ANZ 2012 conference.

CAMS ultimately involved the writing of more than 20,000 lines of Python and ESRI ArcObjects code to process data relating to 114 classes of water, sewer and recycled water-related features.

This included projects such as the establishment of a structured coding system to locate over 240,000 water meters whose location had previously been recorded in nonspecific terms like 'centre of rear of property'; a custom application converted these to consistent data using nearly 100 standard codes.

"The beauty of doing that was that we could join that information back to the meter identifier in the customer billing system, which gave us a hook that we can later use to join the customer billing information to the GIS," Punter explained.

The effort also involved the creation of Unimap, a Web-based intranet service used by Unitywater employees to access CAMS data through an HTML and JavaScript-based interface.

Unimap has attracted more than five million hits in the past seven weeks. Of those, half came from tablet devices in the field, confirming the value of building CAMS as a platform-agnostic Web application.

Phase 1 was not without its issues. For example, two instances of the database – one for editing and one for publishing and usage – were originally to be installed as virtual servers alongside CAMS, also running on virtual servers, in a Melbourne hosting facility.

However, testing confirmed that latency over Telstra services from Caboolture to Melbourne was too high for interactive editing.

Unitywater ultimately changed the system's configuration with a physical server in Caboolture for data editing and a virtual copy in Melbourne for use by Unimap; data is replicated between the sites in an asynchronous manner.

The project is now moving into its second phase, which will see Unitywater and Parsons Brinckerhoff working on initiatives such as further data validation. "We're improving that data so its maximum value can be realised for the investment," Punter said.

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