What is Data Integration?
The information revolution of the last half of the 20th century produced rich data collection resources that fueled process and technical improvements of all sorts. In the context of Transportation Asset Management, data integration is: the method by which multiple data sets from a variety of sources can be combined or linked to provide a more unified picture of what the data mean and how they can be applied to solve problems and make informed decisions that relate to the stewardship of transportation infrastructure assets.
In general, transportation agencies rely on large quantities of data to support routine operations as well as to respond to planning, design, construction and other programmatic needs. Increasingly, divisions within a transportation agency need to exchange information with others. The speed of access to, as well as the consistency and accuracy of, that information across a variety of platforms and purposes enhances their ability to do so. Such elements also allow agencies to mine the collected data for its optimum potential value.
Data integration is a fundamental requirement for effective Transportation Asset Management. An agency's structures team, for example, may need access to information about the performance of advanced materials in use on an aging arterial bridge in order to evaluate the best technological design and construction method for upgrading the structure"perhaps offsite construction of a replacement span"while considering the impact of the decision on traffic and user costs along the corridor. Data required to analyze the most favorable scenario may exist separately in the agency's pavement, bridge, and traffic operations units' databases. The information itself is vital, but the way in which this information can be shared is critical to the success of a Transportation Asset Management program. TAM is dependent upon coordinated decisionmaking, which springs from an understanding of the interdependence of often highly technical aspects of a variety of disciplines.
In order to create that data integration process, sources of available data are considered in the context of likely needs of users. Applications are constructed that help "translate" the data into useable forms and formats, allowing for migration of the information into new channels that meet those needs.
Beyond Transportation Asset Management, the incentives for data integration are readily apparent to organizations that collect, store, and manage disparate databases. Agencies that combine or link their multiple databases can reduce data collection and management costs, improve the accuracy and timeliness of the information output, and support a variety of applications that draw data from various sources.
3.1. The Goals
As new technologies and business processes affecting data integration continue to advance, FHWA seeks to provide robust resources that help transportation agencies adopt and improve practices. Two early initiatives, the Data Integration Workshop and this Primer, are now assisting agencies. Also, a variety of publications, including several State case histories, are available at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/asstmgmt/didoc.cfm.
3.2. The Workshop
As referenced in Section II, a key resource to agencies considering or implementing programs is the Data Integration Workshop. This day-long course begins with the basics of Transportation Asset Management and the importance of data integration to the successful implementation and operation of a TAM program. The benefits of integrated data are detailed and participants receive an introduction to key concepts of data and process flow. Case histories are used to provide relevant peer experience and the host agency shares its experiences, challenges and lessons learned. Breakout groups allow participants to examine specific applications more closely and provide a chance to discuss a wide array of related issues and topics. Information on the Data Integration Workshop is available at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/asset/dataintegration/workshop.cfm.
3.3. The Primer
This Primer is another key educational resource. It offers transportation agencies an introduction to data integration and a comprehensive view of the principles and practices involved in applying it to Transportation Asset Management. It supplements FHWA's "Asset Management Primer," which identifies data integration as essential in supporting a state-of-the-art decision-making framework. The Data Integration Primer describes benefits from a general information management perspective as well as in the context of specific elements of Transportation Asset Management. It presents implementation options and describes the most common data integration challenges. Where possible, State agency examples are provided to illustrate peer success stories and lessons learned.