SW ups efficiency with mapping tools

Southern Water needed to share geospatial information, reduce response times, and provide a firm foundation for the future - Dominic Jukes of Autodesk Consulting explains what it has been achieved

A new system using Autodesk Map 3D and MapGuide has given more than 500 Southern Water (SW) users real-time access to key geospatial data. The system has been integrated with SW's main business IT systems including customer service, works management, and mobile GIS.

Because users now view data directly from the database, the information is particularly valuable when dealing with critical operational issues such as water leaks or blocked sewers. It allows SW to make decisions more quickly and accurately, and has set the base for future requirements including changes in Traffic Management Act legislations.

By allowing documents to be linked to the GIS, users can, for example, access what Southern Water calls a "contiplan" about each reservoir. This might include the type of valve or pipes used, CAD drawings, web pages or any other type of document can also be held and accessed alongside the geographical data.

Southern Water is responsible for delivering clean, fresh water to around one million households across Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. It also treats and recycles dirty water from nearly two million householders.

Mounting pressure
Along with other utilities, Southern Water has experienced mounting business pressures over the past few years with an ever-strengthening need to ensure customers are at the heart of its business. At the same time, its assets need constant and careful management, as well as wise investment to ensure that standards of service are continually improved.

Southern Water is currently leading the regulated companies in this capital investment to improve asset condition and performance. The company has more than 35,000km of water mains and sewers, and naturally it aims to keep the operation working in a safe and efficient way.

However, when incidents do occur, they need to be rectified quickly and with as little disruption as possible to the customer. To do this, the company requires information to be easily accessible where it is needed.

The upgrade includes a single spatial data repository held in an Oracle Spatial environment. Oracle Spatial can support a range of applications including automated mapping, facilities management, GIS, wireless location services and location-enabled e-business.

SW's system now holds core enterprise data. It has allowed the utility to take maximum advantage of CAD-GIS, open technology and third-party integration. It has also enabled the sharing of up-to-date geospatial information to intranet users and offshore service providers.

Shashi Verma, project manager at Autodesk Consulting, says: "Southern Water was looking for an open technology-based solution to offer interoperability and future flexibility. In particular, it wanted to make vital asset information accessible across the organisation and enable teams using different systems to share data with the corporate GIS. The solution had to be scalable as Southern Water was expecting significant growth in GIS users over five years. Autodesk MapGuide fits this requirement with its high concurrent usage handling and distributed architecture."

The system has increased data quality by enforcing business rules and data quality standards with the CAD and GIS integration. Users are able to use integrated tools for analysis functions, including network analysis, status management, and reporting across the web via Autodesk MapGuide.

Another major factor driving change was the Ordnance Survey's switch from Land-Line to MasterMap data. It recognised that this new digital mapping data would bring greater precision and accuracy, and as such, brought with it new business opportunities.

"We went through a feasibility study about how to deal with this - considering everything, from doing nothing, to an entirely new system, and concluded that an upgrade was the most attractive path to take," says Pete Brown, GIS programme manager at Southern Water.

One of the main criteria for the new system was that it would provide company-wide access to geospatial information. The most effective template for doing this was a full corporate GIS in a centralised, open database, which would maximise the OS MasterMap and address data and be open to other business applications.

Multiple heavyweight applications are a thing of the past as they can now be consolidated into lighter client applications with Autodesk MapGuide as the user interface. The display of data can be integrated across a variety of common database and file formats. Because the system is open, it integrates with third-party systems including MapInfo and Snowflake Software's GoLoader product.

"There's a huge benefit in using a completely inter-operable system and to be able to read data from different applications," Brown says. "For example, we can go through a case base reasoning exercise of establishing whether we are responsible for certain assets such as a sewer. Also the system ties in with our job management system, whereby we don't drag someone from one side of our area to another to do a job when there's someone equally qualified to do the work on the doorstep. This, of course, can enhance our response times. If someone rings to say there's a leak outside their house, whichever member of the call centre takes the call can look on the system and know if it's already been reported."

Already more than 500 staff are accessing data whenever they need it. The web-based nature of the solution means that this figure is scalable to meet future growth.

Minimal training
After deployment of the solution, the user interface of Autodesk MapGuide required minimal training. Simple audio-visual files were made available to users across Southern Water, and they were able to be productive immediately after going live. The benefits of the system range from improved operational efficiency to enhanced asset management, improved customer response times, plus the ability to use the information to report on asset performance, trends and risks.

"Because the system has a web-based interface, we have been able to remove hardware and associated infrastructure such as local cache servers - and because it is based on Microsoft Internet Explorer, there are no updates required to existing client PCs," says Brown.

The system is also ready for future business needs. For example, Jaycocks explains that they have recently expanded capacity, via MapGuide, to deal with solicitors' inquiries connected with Home Information Packs (HIPs).

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