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Data Integration Primer

Why Integrate Data?

As more and more transportation agencies implement successful Transportation Asset Management programs, the importance of data integration rises. Information systems used for TAM, including those for pavements, bridges, tunnels, hardware, and highway maintenance, commonly draw inputs from several data sources within an agency. Many transportation agencies have thus created effective databases and procedures for populating them. However, bringing the information from these disparate systems into a common decisionmaking framework exponentially increases the value of the information collected.

Transportation Asset Management relies heavily on highly organized and integrated databases to drive its many decision-support functions. With data integration, not only can individual departments within an agency access the information they need to make informed decisions about their own assets, but the impact of their decisions on other departments is clearer and the potential for synergistic decisionmaking increases.

The cost of effectively linking data agencywide can be high, but is generally far outweighed by the long-term benefits, both Transportation Asset Management specific and more broadly.

Data Integration Benefits

In an age of information, the basic benefits of information sharing are easy to imagine. In a transportation era marked by increased demand for both mobility and accountability, certain benefits advance to the forefront.

Integrated Decisionmaking

Pavement decisions are a core consideration that impacts a variety of skill sets within every transportation agency. Integrating a full range of data relevant to the pavement arena results in significant improvements that can enhance the return on the taxpayer's investment. In one Data Integration Workshop hosted by FHWA, a conversation between an agency's maintenance management system (MMS) manager and pavement management system (PMS) manager offered a glimpse into this dynamic. The MMS manager explained how, with proper data integration, he can better use resources to address pavement sections in need of maintenance that will not be rehabilitated or reconstructed under the agency's PMS program. Likewise, the PMS manager explained that he needs good MMS data that considers improvements from maintenance activities so that he can develop effective pavement condition forecasting models. In this case, the benefit of the agency's data integration program did not stop at basic information sharing, but extended into sophisticated adjustments in process and practice within two separate, but related, areas of the agency resulting in an overall improvement in the results of each department's work.

Data Integration, HPMS and HERS-ST The National Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) is used extensively in the analysis of highway system condition, performance, and investment needs nationwide (see http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohpi/hpms/abouthpms.cfm). HPMS data form the basis for using FHWA's Highway Economic Requirements System-State Version (HERS-ST). One agency manager responsible for submitting HPMS data noted in a recent FHWA-sponsored data integration workshop that data integration allowed him to prepare such input in weeks rather than months, summarizing location information, traffic data, pavement management data, geometrics, and other factors utilizing transformation rules and processes like dynamic segmentation.

Safety Analysis

Transportation agencies regularly sift through crash data to identify "black spots," which are areas of high risk to motorists. While important, this effort is considered reactive and many agencies now require a more proactive approach. Predicting where the next black spot might occur, and addressing its dangers before they become critical, is facilitated by the use of data integration. To accommodate proactive analysis, crash data need to be linked to various databases within a transportation agency. For instance, characteristics that contribute to risk might include the number of lanes (e.g., two versus four), vehicle speed, horizontal and vertical alignment, pavement condition, lighting, existing signs and their condition, and the presence and quality of pavement markings.

To isolate trends, an agency needs to identify contributing characteristics and develop a list of potential highway segments and locations in which multiples of those characteristics are present. At one FHWA data integration workshop, agency representatives were asked how long it would take to implement a safety analysis using such a proactive approach. One agency responded that without properly integrated data, at least six months would be required to complete the analysis of just one corridor. With sufficient data integration, the building blocks of safety analysis can be accessed within days rather than months. The benefit of data integration in a high risk area grows with each day in which multifaceted information sources can drive the delivery of life-saving ameliorations.

Other Benefits

Additional benefits driving the adoption of data integration practices among transportation agencies are similarly compelling and numerous:

  • Availability/Accessibility-Asset data that is easily retrieved, viewed, queried, and analyzed by anyone within an agency encourages the integration of such data into every area of an agency that can benefit from it, spurring both innovation and better decision-making.
  • Timeliness-Well-organized data can be quickly updated; one input will often apply the data across a variety of linked systems, and the information can be time-stamped to reflect its currency.
  • Accuracy and Integrity-Errors are greatly reduced because the integration environment drives a higher quality of input and can include automatic or convenient errorchecking and verification.
  • Consistency and Clarity-Integration requires clear and unique definition of various types of data, avoiding confusion or conflict in the meaning of terms and usage.
  • Completeness-All available information, including both historical and recent data, is accessible in an integrated database, with any missing records or fields identified and flagged via the integration process.
  • Reduced Duplication-Identical data is eliminated reducing the need for multiple updates and ensuring everyone is working from the exact same information.
  • Faster Processing and Turnaround Time-Less time is spent on consolidating and transmitting data to various users in the agency. The integrated data environment saves time by eliminating consolidation and transmittal to disparate users and allows many users to conduct separate analyses concurrently.
  • Lower Data Acquisition and Storage Cost-Data are collected or processed only once, and the information is consolidated and stored at locations supporting optimal convenience and ease of maintenance.
  • Informed and Defensible Decisions-Highly organized, comprehensive databases allow users to drill down through successive levels of detail for an asset, supplying more information to support decisions and supporting different types of analysis using various data combinations.
  • Enhanced Program Development-Comprehensive and coordinated system information advances program development by providing timely data for high-priority actions, promoting efficient distribution of funding among competing programs, and improving consistency in programs from year to year and across departments, among other benefits.
  • Greater Accountability-Data integration allows rapid and more accurate reporting of costs and accomplishments, including full attribution of results to relevant agency units and functions.

Peer Perspectives...
Arizona DOT recognizes that data integration will help it compensate for the loss of experienced personnel as valuable workforce leaders transition into retirement. When younger staff seek to meet the burgeoning demands of a growing population, the agency expects information and technology to offset traditional experience and precedent as the bases for important decisions.(13)

Supporting Core TAM Requirements

Five key components are required for any comprehensive Transportation Asset Management system:

  1. An asset inventory
  2. Methods of assessing current conditions and/or performance
  3. A process to determine and evaluate future system needs
  4. Tools to evaluate and select appropriate strategies to address current and future needs
  5. Methods to evaluate the effectiveness of each strategy(14)

Table 1 delineates how data integration benefits each of these processes. Each process is carried out at different levels of a transportation agency and by a broad range of staff within the agency. Data integration, thus, gives each organizational level and relevant staff member access to consistent, high-quality information, enhancing the ability of each to contribute to an effective Transportation Asset Management program.

Table 1: Data Integration Benefits to Specific TAM Requirements

Transportation Asset Management Business Process Potential Benefits of Data Integration
Asset Inventory
  • Acquire and upload data from a single source just once.
  • Update and process inventory records in a single transaction.
  • Determine more easily how much data exists and how much needs to be collected.
  • Reduce data handling and processing time with built-in data checking and verification.
Assessing Current Conditions and Performance
  • Analyze historical and spatial conditions more conveniently.
  • Quickly identify assets that need immediate attention.
  • Standardize condition rating procedures and establish more uniform criteria for evaluation.
  • Store condition/investment analysis data and results more conveniently.
  • Support collective decisionmaking across various skills sets within an agency.
Determining and Evaluating Future System Needs
  • Facilitate integrated decisionmaking.
  • Support investment trade-off analysis (across asset categories and modes).
  • Allow for more thorough and detailed assessment of investment requirements and help minimize the risk of flawed funding projections.
  • Effectively determine future funding needs.
  • Support the development of comprehensive improvement programs that cover multiple assets.
  • Enhance communication and improve the overall alignment of investment programs.
Evaluating and Selecting Strategies for Current and Future Needs
  • Develop more effective management strategies by combining data about previous activities or decisions with existing condition data.
  • Reduce the risk of choosing inappropriate or ineffective action.
  • Prevent the inadvertent development of multiple strategies for a single asset.
  • Evaluate the economic viability of various alternatives.
  • Readily store and retrieve results of analyses.
  • Support fact-based strategies.
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Each Strategy
  • Improve performance through immediate feedback.
  • Calculate performance measures and indicators with a higher level of confidence.
  • Promote more consistent performance measures agency-wide.
  • Calculate and evaluate multiple performance measures for many assets in less time.
  • Conduct different types of analysis with data more flexibly.
  • Quickly compare assets, resources, personnel and activities.

  1. Source: Transportation Asset Management Case Studies/Data Integration, The Arizona Experience, USDOT FHWA
  2. AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Joint Committee, Asset Management Data Collection Guide, Task Force 45 Report, June 2006
Updated: 02/07/2013