Problem Solving with InfoNet 6: Reporting


Courtesy of Innovyze

The problem
It is a truism that if you cannot access data in a system then it is not worth storing the data. While few data storage systems are so extreme as to permit no output, many have limitations on their reporting capability that either restrict their outputs or impose a heavy burden on the user in processing raw outputs into a usable format.

The problem is being made worse for most water utilities by the fact that all around the world, regulatory control and intervention is increasing, and as a consequence the reporting burden is growing.

As users struggle to meet their reporting requirements from existing systems, there are a number of common problems that confront them, problems that are typical across computer systems that have evolved over time and are usually a step behind the advancing requirements of the users. These problems include:

Extracting the data: many reports require data from more than one system, or even some manual data collection to supply data that is not held in any of the connected systems. Where data is collected from several systems and from manual input for a single report, the effort required to integrate that data may be considerable

Formatting data: once data is extracted, its manipulation into the format of the required reports is usually a manual process, often laborious, and needs to be repeated every time the report is compiled.

Publishing reports: frequently the reports come out in the most primitive formats, with further manual manipulation required to produce and publish reports around the company and to the regulatory authorities.

The use of InfoNet
InfoNet brings two significant benefits to the minefield of reporting. First, as with all other Wallingford Software products, the user interface is the subject of as much design and development effort as the internal logic of the software, and reporting is a key element of this user interface.

Second, InfoNet is a totally modern product, with up-to-date flexible and extensive reporting at the heart of the design. Front-end links to relevant software and communications methods are built in, to meet the current requirements of users.

InfoNet addresses the problems of report production outlined above through the following features:

Extracting the data: InfoNet can provide the user with access to all corporate data, provided the simple links with other systems are established. There should rarely be an issue of incomplete data or a need to integrate data from disparate systems into a single report because of the comprehensiveness of InfoNet.

Although most reporting involves data, text and images are also stored within InfoNet and can be incorporated into reports. For example, for one client a report is produced that shows all assets in a geographic area on a gridded view, and then reports the required details of every one of those assets.

There are also of course many reports that show graphics of pipes and networks in plan and section view, and detailed images either from computer generated views or from photography and CCTV.

Formatting reports: InfoNet produces two types of reports – industry standard reports, and user-definable custom reports.

Industry Standard Reports: the library of industry standard reports is growing constantly, and now includes a number of the required reports in the United States, Australia, the UK, and Benelux countries. Recently added templates include defect summary reports, sewer record reports, and the new US report format from CH2M Hill called SCREAMÔ (Sewer Condition Risk Evaluation Algorithm Model), which evaluates asset condition and other risk factors to generate a ranking of assets that can be used to set priorities for capital and rehabilitation programs.

Custom Reports: with a minimal knowledge of Excel, custom reports can be built for regular populating with updated data. In summary, the format is defined in one part of a spreadsheet, and this definition includes a specification to take data from cells in other areas (other tabs) of the worksheet. The contents of these data cells are then populated from InfoNet, and once defined, it is a simple matter to reproduce that report every time it is required.

As well as formal reports, there are many times when a simple output of an analysis is required – for example a validation of network connectivity, or a listing of a group of assets. This simple reporting is greatly assisted by the ease of outputting data in comma separated variable format for swift input into MS Access tables.

Publishing reports: in addition to interfacing to the full MS Office suite, InfoNet is fully enabled for web publishing. HTML output can be produced automatically, and sent to a server for immediate web publishing. In this way, reports can be made instantly available on intranets for company viewing, or even on the web for public access.

In summary, InfoNet addresses the vital issue of reporting by taking responsibility for many of the processes that other systems require the user to complete manually. With the user interface and reporting being a key focus for development, each successive release of InfoNet increases the number of industry standard reports available, further increasing its power and value. While other products have reporting as an afterthought, it is one of the central reasons for water companies to use InfoNet for asset information management.

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