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Data Integration Primer

Note From the Director

Office of Asset Management, Office of Infrastructure,
Federal Highway Administration

"Putting America to work." As this publication goes to press, tens of billions of federal dollars are spurring forward thousands of roadway construction projects nationwide, stimulating America's economy. Despite such massive investments, the needs and the urgency of these historic infrastructure development initiatives stretch the resources, both human and financial, of transportation agencies large and small.

Transportation Asset Management (TAM) came into the common transportation vocabulary nearly a decade ago and, for those agencies that have been capable of incorporating TAM principles into their routine operations, times like these produce real pay-offs. However, even the most facile among them have probably discovered the challenges of comprehensive TAM built on a foundation of vital data that is dispersed and often disjointed.

This is a natural by-product of another historic era-the revolution in high technology capping the heralded "information age." Rapid advances in hardware and software left many with a patchwork of responses to an avalanche of available new, existing, and unforeseen information resources.

Revolution is messy. Along with remarkable advances, it tends to expose long-held practices that no longer serve. Maximum benefit from the very best TAM practices is nearly impossible without flexible, fluid, and fast access to accurate information. This Data Integration Primer aims to update agencies at various stages of Transportation Asset Management adoption and assist them in planning for the information-related decisions and investments involved in conquering that critical TAM frontier. This Primer is step one in evaluating how your agency can achieve cohesive access to and application of the information now housed in a variety of formats, locations and silos-in other words, true "data integration."

Just five years ago, when FHWA's first Data Integration Primer appeared, many concepts that linked powerful distributed technology, such as desktop computers, were in relatively early stages of practice. Today, our baseline understanding of the tools that support data integration is somewhat more universal. However, the challenges remain steep: some are simply the province of experts.

The Data Integration Primer aims to provide the basic arguments for data integration, along with a framework for understanding and making the decisions necessary to select a data integration strategy that will work most effectively for your organization. From the "What is...?" to the "What if...?" questions, this Primer provides answers that will help stakeholders formulate their expectations, assess their existing resources, and choose appropriate levels of technical support for the data integration endeavor.

Data integration is not the "ultimate" solution for the inherent challenges of Transportation Asset Management. It is, however, a key component in the TAM toolbox. It will simplify the process of asset data integration and provide a valuable platform for asset evaluations, now and into the future.

"How can data integration improve the Transportation Asset Management process in my agency?" "What important steps do we need to follow?" "What hardware, tools, and software options are available?" "What potential obstacles can hinder the process?" "How can we overcome the roadblocks?" Answers to these and many other questions are outlined in the following pages. Common issues, including location and other data referencing methods, database standards, staffing, and a variety of technical and institutional considerations are identified and discussed. The document also features recent experiences of transportation agencies that have integrated some or all of their related data.

The 2010 Data Integration Primer is designed as a stepping off point, helping agencies target resources to those areas of further investigation that will produce the best return on their data integration investment. From there, FHWA's Office of Asset Management stands by to provide assistance in addressing the full range of data integration issues. Our workshops, publications, and relationships with strategic partners in the arena-from experienced peers to leading experts to State and private industry thought leaders-will help you access the resources you need to design an effective data integration strategy for Transportation Asset Management and promote the use of best practices within your agency. Call on us.

Butch Wlaschin
Director, Office of Asset Management

Updated: 02/07/2013