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Data Integration

Transportation Asset Management Case Studies
The Michigan Experience

What Has MDOT Learned?

MDOT's experience in developing and implementing the TMS has identified several strategies that are critical to successful Asset Management data integration:

Establish cooperation between information technology (IT) staff and business process owners. The TMS integration effort, combined with the move to the client-server, open system computing environment, provided a solid basis for meeting various objectives across the agency:

  • Reevaluate business process relationships
  • Identify and define key data needs
  • Break down the stovepipes that exist in all organizations
  • Empower individual employees

Critical to the success of this approach was having the IT staff responsible for maintaining and enhancing the software work side-by-side with the business process owners and users.

Maintain buy-in using a business plan that supports technical efforts. The enthusiasm, focus, and buy-in that were established among the users during the early project conception process were difficult to sustain throughout the lengthy development process. Much of the initiative taken and progress created by the business process owners through the prototyping activity was lost and, in most cases, had to be re-established at the rollout, often with new staff.

Commit to a statewide referencing system. MDOT had envisioned an embedded GIS functionality for TMS that the marketplace had not yet produced. This resulted in higher development costs and delays. MDOT's involvement in the statewide referencing system helped offset these problems and led to the ultimate inclusion of GPS capabilities in the TMS.

Today there are more mature products available to facilitate data integration and analysis for Transportation Asset Management. If MDOT were starting today, it would likely not attempt to develop its own system.

Decide whether to build or buy. At the time the TMS was developed, MDOT had to break new ground—no suitable off-the-shelf solutions were available. Today there are many more mature products suitable to facilitate the integration and analysis requirements for Asset Management activities. MDOT would likely not attempt to develop its own system if it were starting out today.

Ensure effective project management. Two critical questions were not well addressed in the management of the TMS process: What are necessary "scope adjustments"? What are deadly "scope creep" issues? After the completion of the TMS contract, MDOT instituted new project management tools and internal controls to keep IT projects on schedule and within budget.

Ground view of Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac City

It is much easier and cheaper to stay current than it is to catch up. An important lesson MDOT learned is that it is one thing to develop an integrated system of databases and applications, and quite another to maintain that environment so it can continue to meet evolving business and technology needs. This is both a business and a technical challenge. Agencies cannot assume a system is "done" and neglect it. Similarly, the agency needs to ensure that the technical side of the operation stays current with existing and emerging technologies. Two other ingredients are critical: a methodology to design databases and applications that are flexible enough to accommodate the user's changing data requirements; and sufficient training for users to understand how to use the tools that are provided.

Satisfy system users. Keeping the system users' needs satisfied is the only way to sustain the shared data concept in any agency. This will prevent users from going "outside" the system because they do not understand or cannot use the data. A combination of education and facilitation to make systems and databases user friendly must be embedded in the maintenance process.

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Updated: 11/14/2012