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Data Integration

Transportation Asset Management Case Studies
Data Integration: The Virginia Experience

What has VDOT Learned?

Organizational Lessons

  • Throughout large IT initiatives, it is important to maintain the ability to adapt to organizational change. Over the course of the Asset Management System initiative, VDOT's approach to delivering IT projects evolved from outsourcing work to performing it in-house. If VDOT had been unable to ramp up its in-house IT staff, development of the Asset Management System would not have been possible.
  • Improving an organization's data resources and system capabilities requires a long-term commitment. The Asset Management System requires data of a specified accuracy to be collected and updated periodically. Future success of the system is possible only if VDOT is able to fund and staff the required data collection program.
  • Data needs to be consistent across an entire agency. VDOT is a decentralized agency with staff in nine districts and the central office. These districts have geographic, organizational, and technological differences that had to be accounted for when developing the data collection program required to populate the Asset Management System.
  • Retention of key staff is critical for the success of large IT and business process reengineering efforts. Work on VDOT's maintenance management improvements has spanned nearly 10 years. Over that time, the agency has acquired significant institutional knowledge. VDOT has been able to retain a critical mass of IT and business process staff who are familiar with the effort.
  • Influence external to a DOT can provide significant impetus for change. A series of audits by statewide and legislative organizations increased scrutiny of VDOT's maintenance program, validated business process improvements, and strengthened the need for an integrated Asset Management System.
  • The Asset Management System project is a joint effort between VDOT's Asset Management Division and Information Technology Applications Division. A high level of cooperation is required for this effort because the staffs are separated both physically and functionally.

Process Lessons

  • It is important for IT staff to understand the fundamentals of the business practices that will be supported by an IT effort. In the past, VDOT's IT staff have been spread among the agency's functional divisions but have recently been consolidated into the Information Technology Applications Division. The experience that IT staff members gained while previously working in the Maintenance Division has made a significant impact on the Asset Management System project.
  • Pilot-level rollout programs provide the opportunity to test the validity of a system before undertaking a large-scale implementation. VDOT initially implemented ICAS in three counties-rural, urban, mixed rural/urban. Based on the results of this pilot program, data collection processes and technologies were fine-tuned for use throughout the rest of the State.
  • A key to the success of the Needs-Based Budget Module was the availability of a standard project management process. Project staff followed VDOT's protocol for software development projects throughout the effort.
  • VDOT is following an incremental process that delivers a critical piece of the Asset Management System project every 90 days. This approach has helped project staff maintain buy-in for the system and minimize the risks inherent in any system development project.
  • VDOT has followed an "outside-in" design approach, which emphasizes the use of prototypes that can be refined through an iterative process.
  • Project staff have developed feedback mechanisms that will enable managers and field staff to validate critical aspects of the system's design. This type of feedback is important in order to keep the Asset Management System directly in line with business process requirements.

Technical Lessons

  • VDOT is a large organization with approximately 10,000 employees and an annual maintenance budget of close to $1 billion. This environment drives the need for robust decision-support systems. However, large systems and the efforts required to develop them can be cumbersome. An incremental approach in which a large system is split into a series of individual modules can increase the overall success of IT projects.
  • It is important to maintain flexibility in terms of how a set of functional requirements can be met. Often there is no single path for success in large IT projects.
  • Managing an asset throughout its life cycle is a complicated process with many dimensions. VDOT's attempt to standardize the process through a customized off-the-shelf product was only partly successful. Even so, the process provided some valuable lessons in determining the most appropriate role for the off-the-shelf solution vis-à-vis other custom solutions. Given the broad range of Asset Management activities in a DOT, it is difficult for any one product to provide a comprehensive solution.
  • In large IT efforts, it is important to maintain an application orientation. Focusing on tangible products for which benefits can be easily communicated is important for maintaining widespread acceptance and managing expectations of the end users.
  • VDOT continues to utilize Highways by Exor, but in a more limited role than originally envisioned. Based on this experience, VDOT has learned important lessons:
    • Choose the software based on the data model
    • Fully understand the data model
    • Define business requirements and rules in relationship to the data model
    • Start with the smallest possible asset data sets
    • Prototype business requirements and push them through the system during testing.
  • Maximizing the utilization of existing systems and hardware is necessary for the rapid implementation of new systems. Significant cost and time savings can be achieved by developing inexpensive data exchanges that pull data from existing systems.
  • Data-driven system architectures can minimize the need for software code to be modified as business processes evolve.
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Updated: 11/08/2012