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Property Management Tools and Techniques

3. Common Property Management Challenges among State Departments of Transportation

The SDOTs participating in the property management Regional Roundtables were given the opportunity to discuss challenges that their respective property management programs face. Participants identified a host of obstacles and barriers regarding the property management function, not all of which were related to inventorying the SDOTs’ property assets. The following section describes those challenges that were directly associated with either the property inventory systems currently in place or with taking the next steps toward enhanced future systems. It should be noted that each challenge listed does not necessarily represent a consensus reached among roundtable participants; the challenges denote common themes.

Property management inventories may not be user-friendly

Some SDOTs indicated that the “look and feel” of their current property management inventories could not match expectations for modern computer systems. They often do not have graphical interfaces, nor do they readily tie into mapping tools. They often lack clear forms for data entry and do little to address the issues of numerous data sources and reports to track that SDOTs must confront. Sometimes several layers of security developed early on to attend to security concerns may be limiting the dexterity and efficiency of data entry.

These shortcomings–perceived or real–contribute to an opinion within some staff members that their property management inventories cannot be readily updated and that the job function itself is falling behind the times. When the costs of data entry (e.g., scanning and/or digitizing ROW maps and plans) are factored in, some SDOTs are left to question how or when they might have the funding and support to improve the user-friendliness of their property inventories.

Lack of trained SDOT staff members who can update or modify the property inventory

Property management is an increasingly scrutinized function within SDOTs. Staff members are often being assigned more work with fewer resources. In some cases, this has resulted in SDOTs choosing to hire consulting firms to develop their property management inventory systems, which is an approach that some SDOTs suggested may be more effective in the short term versus the long term.

State Departments of Transportation can become constrained when consultants are asked to develop information technology (IT) systems. Contract terms may specify a certain contract period that is longer than the firm’s staff members remain in their positions. Some SDOTs have experienced a “revolving door” of contracted IT staff. They sometimes lack longevity in their positions, potentially leaving few people who know how to update the system. Private firms may also use proprietary programming language that creates a similar issue–few have the skills necessary to make what might otherwise be straightforward system modifications.Additionally, external IT staff may not be trained to make quick judgments.This can add time to the process of making system updates, since it could require that all system changes be meticulously explained and discussed

In cases where the inventory was or has been developed in-house, the coding language may be virtually obsolete and only understood by a few staff members. Training for new staff members or contractors in the archaic language may be cost- or time-prohibitive for a SDOT to provide.

Inventorying “old” properties

Some SDOTs struggle with inventorying properties acquired before the inventory was developed. Having “old” property data on record can mean that the property information is kept in diffuse parts of the state, such as in county courthouses, that are not easy to visit and search through and that the records are in the form of paper or Mylar maps and plans that need to be scanned and geographically referenced. Posting and storing such data by hand is obsolete, inefficient, and unresponsive to the demands of modern project management,[13] and converting old property records into the property inventory can be a time-consuming process that may be too labor- or cost-intensive for SDOTs to expeditiously undertake.[14]

Property Management and GIS at New Mexico DOT

In 2004, FHWA recognized the New Mexico DOT for its successful integration of a GIS into its real estate land and ROW management operations. Through the use of GIS, New Mexico DOT has greatly reduced record maintenance costs as well as its response time to internal and external customer requests to a matter of minutes rather than hours or days.

The integration of GIS and property management has allowed the agency to maintain an electronic, geospatial database of parcels, sales, abandonments, trades, leases, encroachments, and road exchanges.

Additionally, the information contained in aged property records may not match the fields required in electronic property inventory systems. This can make data summary and reporting across properties difficult.

Lack of GIS integration

Over the last two decades, transportation agencies have increasingly used GIS. As Hancock (2011) asserts, “when location is brought to bear on any fundamentally spatial activity, such as transportation, managing and analyzing information is more effective and powerful.”[15]Regional roundtable participants agreed, noting that the integration of GIS into their property management systems would add value by enabling a more efficient and effective way of organizing, visualizing, and sharing property inventory information across the agency. To many, a GIS-property inventory linkage represented a “dream state.”

To date, however, few SDOTs have been able to fully incorporate GIS elements into their property inventories.Reasons why this has not happened more comprehensively range from lack of funding (e.g., not enough of a current priority to allocate funds toward) to technical incompatibilities (e.g., dated inventories based on old or proprietary coding language) to institutional challenges (e.g., separate property management, IT, and GIS groups within a SDOT).

Updated: 9/5/2014
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