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How data could save us from disaster

By David Turcotte, Global Industry Director, Public Sector, Microsoft on September 6, 2016

Filed under State & Local Government

Solving our infrastructure crisis with predictive maintenance

Occasionally, I come across a statistic that piques my curiosity. That happened to me recently, and here’s the number that did it: according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the United States needs to invest 3.6 trillion dollars by 2020 to upgrade our infrastructure .  This is larger than the GDP of Germany, the fifth-largest economy in the world .

That simple data point hit home with me for several reasons. First of all, just like you, I deal with daily annoyances from outdated infrastructure every time I get in my car or go to the airport. And I’ve seen the tragic examples of bridge failures across the country in recent years.  But the real hard-hitting point is that it will take years, or probably more like decades, to bring our existing infrastructure up to today’s standards.  But what will our cities and towns look like at that point?


So the question is: can anything save us from the infrastructure apocalypse?

I think there is, and I think that one thing is data. Big data. The public sector is beginning to use new technologies to harness the power of data for enabling faster, more effective infrastructure management. Public agencies are using data to identify their most critical issues and the best approach for addressing those issues without carrying out wholesale replacements. In other words, they’re using big data to proactively maintain our cities and to prevent issues before they occur.

New solutions like AvePoint Citizen Services help governments get the most out of their data in innovative ways. A few examples include:

  • Scanning roadways to make quick repairs on specific sections without replacing the entire roadway
  • Tracking traffic patterns to determine when a bridge or trestle needs maintenance, instead of relying on the calendared lifespan determined by the original architect
  • Monitoring utilities remotely and dispatching crews to spots with indications of potential failure

Admittedly, these types of big-data-driven preventative maintenance solutions are still new to the public sector, and your local government probably isn’t doing all of these things. Or at least, not yet. I’ve heard of a few agencies that implemented early solutions to enable preventative maintenance, and it’s paying off.

Analyzing traffic and roadway data to make highways safer

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is responsible for more than 13,000 lane miles of highways . They collect enormous amounts of data on traffic accidents and roadwork projects which can then be searched and cross-referenced by employees in order to find trends and improve safety throughout the state. Recently, they used this data to illustrate that drivers veering off the right side of two-lane highways resulted in the largest number of fatal accidents in the state. They were also able to show that a two-year decrease in this type of crash coincided with the installation of “rumble strips” along many of these highways.

MDOT is looking forward to the impact of the next phase of the system–a business intelligence portal. John Simpson, the Chief Technology Officer of MDOT, says “The business intelligence portal will really deliver when we can use it across all our business functions. When we can seamlessly combine safety data with construction data and correlate different programs, we can really begin to layer them together to see trends.”  MDOT also aims to decrease the time required to make decisions and to more effectively prioritize their $700M construction budget. Engineers working on infrastructure construction or maintenance will be able to quickly find information on similar projects and even contact other design engineers.

Conserving water and saving money with IoT-enabled utilities

As a country with 50% of their land mass at or below sea level , the Dutch take their water management very seriously. In 2015, the city of Breda in the Netherlands decided to utilize new IoT technologies to manage their water systems. They developed a system that links physical sensors at their facilities in order to track real-time data about water flow. Breda has leveraged this increased access to data to enable system-wide asset management and predictive maintenance.

Breda is now able to better optimize power usage and limit waste by using sensor data from pumps throughout the city. Visibility into power consumption also helps them schedule pump maintenance and avoid costly equipment downtime: if the system alerts them that a pump is using more power than expected for a certain task, they can go to the location and repair the pump before it burns out. This is crucial in the Netherlands, where the water infrastructure must always be in peak condition in case of emergency.

The path forward – light at the end of the tunnel

The Mississippi Department of Transportation and the city of Breda were early adopters of data analytics and are great examples of how predictive maintenance can be used in the real world.  Government agencies looking to pursue similar solutions now have a new option available to them: AvePoint Citizen Services, built on Microsoft Cloud technology. This new solution gives agencies the ability to provide information and deliver optimal service to citizens through multiple access channels, including mobile and social platforms.

Perhaps most critically, the insights gained from the advanced reporting capabilities of AvePoint Citizen Services enable rapid andcitizen services precise identification of inefficiencies, so that agencies can reduce operating costs, streamline processes, and promote accountability between departments.

I’m really excited to see cities and governments already pursuing the new ideas and opportunities that big data and analytics present. I’m confident that AvePoint Citizen Services will make these opportunities even more accessible. Obviously, data analytics will not fix our infrastructure by itself—we still need a hammer sometimes. But I’m encouraged that we’re starting to consider data a new tool in our tool belt.

1(American Society of Civil Engineers, 2016)
2(The World Bank, 2016)
3(Microsoft, 2010)
4(Microsoft, 2015)

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