Problem Solving with InfoNet 1: A single system for asset data storage and retrieval


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This is the first in a series of articles about InfoNet, Wallingford Software's purpose-built network information system for water and wastewater network infrastructure. The articles will describe how InfoNet addresses and solves many of the issues of the storage and use of asset data in water companies all around the world.

This first article focuses on a problem that most water and wastewater engineers face most days – finding and retrieving, easily and quickly, every available item of data on particular network assets, their location, construction, condition and performance.

The problem

The reporting demands on water and wastewater engineers have grown considerably over recent years, partly driven by statutory requirements, and partly by commercial pressures. Regulatory bodies around the world are asking water companies to report, to a common standard, in ever greater detail on their network assets. These reports cover both the characteristics of the assets - how many, size, age, materials, financial value – and their performance – for example, the number of historical sanitary sewer overflows, or the forecast number of such overflows in the future.

Commercial pressures within a company also lead to increasingly detailed data requirements on all assets, to meet financial and customer service demands. What is the most cost effective approach to asset maintenance? What is the geographic pattern of customer complaints of poor pressure levels? Where is the data stored? Is it quickly available? Can we trust the data?

Some assets are fully recorded by a small amount of data - less than 50 items per asset. Others require hundreds of items of data to cover them completely. We know that even companies that have collected a ‘complete' asset data set have found 20 to 30% of required data missing, and there are often errors in the accuracy of the available data.

Even the data that is available can be hard to find, retrieve and collate. Common problems of data are:

· hard to find and use – data is usually contained in a variety of systems around the organization and held in different formats

· of uncertain accuracy – data is usually of mixed quality, with the level of inaccuracy sometimes known and acknowledged, and sometimes not

· incomplete – some data is often missing, and some data – text, images, clips of movies, scanned data – is hard to store in many databases

· duplicated – multiple data sets for the same asset

· hard to access – many systems are not designed for multi-user access

· difficult to export into reporting systems and to configure into the required reporting format

· out of step with hydraulic models because of the difficulty of moving data between hydraulic/asset models and data repositories

The use of InfoNet

InfoNet is specifically designed to address all these issues. It provides a single point of entry to all water and wastewater asset data for all users who need to use it, with database software that can handle the specific requirements of such data. InfoNet is both a database in its own right, plus a portal to other databases within a company.

InfoNet addresses each of the issues described in the section ‘The problem'.

Easy Access: InfoNet is designed to be a single accessible database of all network assets, with all the data validated and transportable. The full range of data types - numeric, text, graphic, photographic, video, and scanned images are all made available from a single desktop icon.

Data accuracy: stored data has little value unless it is trusted. InfoNet allows user-defined validation rules to be applied to ensure that all data meets agreed standards, running the rules either at the time of data entry or at any later time. User-defined inference rules can also be used to infer missing data values. Data flags can be applied to all data to specify the source of data and its level of trust.

Missing data: InfoNet allows inference on missing data, and also stores a very wide range of types of data – CCTV clips, photographs and scanned images of all network objects including pipes, manholes, valves, and pumps.

Duplicate data: most systems cannot handle the storage of duplicate data for a single asset, but this is often a sensible course of action. Old data sets should not always be discarded to make room for the new, partly because some of the old data may be more accurate than the new, and partly because a series of snapshots over time are very useful. InfoNet supports the storage of duplicate data sets (surveys), and coupled with its ability to handle very large volumes of data means that data sets need not be discarded for reasons of storage space.

Wide access to data: data is frequently held in a variety of single user systems spread around a department. In contrast, an InfoNet database offers controlled secure access across the engineering department and beyond, extending to other departments and to other partners such as external consultants. This access can be achieved either over a LAN/WAN link or by web publishing. In addition InfoNet's ability to rationalise outdated software solutions enables company it departments to reduce reliance on multiple vendor offerings.

Easy reporting: engineers need efficient reporting tools. InfoNet addresses this in two ways. First, it contains a number of pre-configured industry standard reports. Second, a bespoke report template utilises MS office tools to enable users to quickly create specific templates.

Linking models and the asset database: if data transfer between infrastructure and hydraulic models and databases is difficult, as it often is, these two important repositories of asset data get out of step. InfoNet links easily with InfoWorks, Wallingford software's hydraulic analysis solution, allowing each system to be updated from the other when required.

Subsequent articles in this series will address the issues above in greater detail.

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