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Calculating Non-traditional Return on Investments

February 26, 2018

Let’s face it: implementing an enterprise-level infrastructure management system in an organization takes a capital investment in software, hardware, services and personnel. The individuals who ultimately make the decision to invest an organization’s limited resources into technologies and re-engineering existing processes must also calculate and justify the Return on Investment (ROI).

In the financial and business worlds, determining ROI in terms of dollars and cents can be a pretty straightforward thing to qualify and quantify. It is much more difficult when it comes to ROI on an investment in tangible technology and intangible processes. It is especially tricky when these are not used to generate revenue or increase net profits.

Enterprise infrastructure management systems (EIMs) may consist of one or more application solutions for work and resources management, asset management, plan development and GIS mapping of infrastructure. This can make it challenging to calculate a Return on Investment, and it often requires a different approach.

Defining ROI

Return on Investment is traditionally defined as a profitability measure of the financial gain or loss generated on a financial investment, relative to the amount of money invested. This is often represented by the following formula:

ROI = (Net Profit / Cost of Investment) X 100

In terms of government investment in management solutions, ROI is often used to evaluate the efficiency of a financial investment.

Engineering, Maintenance Operations and Public Works departments are not in the business of generating financial revenue and profits from their operations. The exception is enterprise fund agencies, which do generate revenue, but their main motivation is not financial profit. For this discussion, we will assume that they fall under the same category as a general fund operation.

Not all ROI is created equal

In traditional ROI calculations, this is often done in monetary units (i.e. US dollars, UK pounds, EU euros, etc.). Without a historical baseline to benchmark the performance of your investment, calculations aren’t as black and white.

Therefore, a new way of looking at ROI for investments in management solution technologies and services (like those provided by VUEWorks®) must be re-imagined and redefined.

Because traditional ROI is often used to evaluate the efficiency of a financial investment, we can start by shifting focus from the ‘financial investment’ portion of the formula to the ‘evaluate the efficiencies’ portion. This is a trend that public infrastructure agencies have been dealing with for the last five decades: doing more with less through efficiency gains in re-engineered processes. Through the use of evolving technologies, many agencies are now able manage data – that in turn helps manage their processes and limited resources in a more results-oriented and efficient manner.
If an agency can start answering questions like the following, they can start to qualify the benefits of their investment, providing a non-traditional form of ROI.
Some of these questions may include:

  1. Are we doing more work per FTE (full-time equivalent) per day than prior to our investment?
  2. Are we able to do more work with less, or the same amount of time and resources as before?
  3. Are we seeing a shift from the amount of reactive work orders versus proactive preventative maintenance work orders we perform?
  4. Is the number of requests for service we handle on a daily, weekly and monthly basis being brought to closure sooner?
  5. Are we able to provide the right information in a timely manner from the new system than we were able to prior?
  6. Are we touching, inspecting and maintaining more individual assets more frequently with the new system? Are we able to replace more critical traffic signs per year because of better data provided by the new system?
  7. Is the system helping the agency comply with a mandatory regulation or reporting requirement?

A positive response to these and other similar questions is a clear indication that you are experiencing a positive Return On Investment. The difficult challenge then becomes converting efficiency gains into a monetary value.

Non-traditional forms of Return on Investment

While monetary value is the traditional measure of ROI, there are a number of alternate ways this can be quantified:

  1. Time savings
  2. Better data for decision making and reporting
  3. Migrating from reactive to proactive work, resource and asset management
  4. Increased level of service
  5. Timely regulatory compliance
  6. Monetary savings realized through decision support tools

Because public agencies are asked to do more with fewer resources, it is important to simplify and measure variables. Operational resources used to design, build, manage and maintain infrastructure through its life-cycle can be broken down into two basic components: financial capital and human capital. Financial capital relates to the available funding and the products and services that funds can buy. Human capital relates to employees and the total (and finite) time they have individually and collectively to spend maintaining your infrastructure networks.

Time savings are easy to understand, easy to qualify and, in many instances, easy to quantify. As the old saying goes, “time is money”. Most non-traditional forms of ROI can ultimately by broken down to some form of time savings. And time can then be converted to a monetary value to help gauge your ROI.

If a new database system within a DOT allows me to produce an updated report with the press of a button, when in the past it took one person from each DOT District an hour a week to develop their portion of the report, an ROI can be calculated. If you have five (5) DOT districts and the average FTE creating the report costs $50/hour in wages and benefits, we can calculate the amount of time the new system saved and convert that into a monetary cost savings.

5 districts X 1 hour a week X 52 weeks = a time savings of 260 hours over a year. Multiply the 260 hours saved by the average FTE cost of $50/hour and you have an ROI on the system for the creation of just one report of $13,000 annually. If 50 statewide reports are produced weekly, the time savings is similar to the first report, and now there is an estimated annual ROI of $650,000 for just those 50 weekly reports.

Because most agencies do not have enough historical information to benchmark these calculations against, especially non-financial benchmarks, sometimes estimates need to be developed or assumed based on experience, gut feel or empirical evidence. For example, prior to having a new management system, you may not have tracked how many catch basins and culverts were cleaned annually (reactively and/or proactively) by all crews, and which ones you touched annually more than once. With the new system you may now have the data to know how many activities are occurring since the new system was implemented. In this case, you may have to go back and make some gut-feel estimates to qualify past efforts before you can quantify them in terms of time savings or ROI.

Better data – Not only does better and readily available data equate to a time ROI, but it can also equate to other types of benefits and efficiencies. For example, with the implementation of a management system like VUEWorks, you may start keeping an up-to-date traffic sign inventory. As part of that inventory, you may start tracking current conditions for all your traffic signs and using that data within VUEWorks to prioritize your annual sign replacement program. Through this more methodical approach, you may be able to evaluate your sign inventory and current conditions against traffic accident data to see where your needs for better signage may help reduce the number of accidents. This information may be two-fold: increasing public safety and reducing the amount of property damage caused by accidents. Through this approach, your investment in VUEWorks has provided the ability to identify and replace more signs when they need replacing in a proactive manner, which may in turn reduce the number of traffic accidents, saving both citizens and the public money through the reduction of traffic accidents. This all plays into ROI.

Migrating from reactive to proactive – It is well known that reactive maintenance takes more time, costs more money and sidetracks you from maintaining public infrastructure in a state of good repair (SGR). It has been well documented that it is cheaper to maintain an asset before you have problems than to react after a problem arises. It doesn’t make sense to replace an asset too soon, while it still has useful life and value left. It is equally inefficient to wait until an asset has failed, potentially creating issues with safety and level of service related to the infrastructure network. This often costs more to repair or replace than it would cost to maintain. Proactive asset management allows a reduction of the number of reactive incidents dealt with annually, thereby reducing the cost to maintain those assets in a state of good repair without impacting public safety or level of service (which has its own cost).

Increased levels of service – Driven by the human capital aspects of an operation, this can be one of the more challenging forms to quantify. If a sewer crew can increase the number of sanitary sewer lines it cleans annually and can use a maintenance management system to help identify those areas of the network that need to be cleaned more or less frequently, an agency can coordinate their efforts by understanding and aligning their big-picture needs with limited resources. This results in maintaining the right assets at the right time – before there is a problem in service. This in turn provides an overall increased level of service and can have a significant ROI in the areas of economic (not to be confused with financial), social and political ROIs.

Cleaning a sanitary sewer line in a commercial restaurant district more frequently may reduce the number of sewer blockages and/or sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) that cost businesses money and potentially lost revenue. Lost revenue has a negative impact on local sales tax dollars received by the local agency. Increased levels of service by ensuring that infrastructure networks are maintained in a state of good repair can provide a community an economic ROI.

Timely regulatory compliance – This includes (and is the result of) the prior four non-traditional forms of ROI. Additional benefits to timely compliance with regulations can be gained in a variety of ways. First, being in compliance with a federal or state regulation or mandate can help an agency avoid a financial penalty in certain cases. This is especially true when dealing with environmental regulations, where the US Environmental Protection Agency has the ability to assess and levy fines against a public agency if found out of compliance. It may also be determined that an agency isn’t doing enough to mitigate a particular reoccurring issue, such as sanitary sewer overflows (SSO). Timely regulatory compliance in the area of reporting accurate and complete data from an infrastructure management solution like VUEWorks can also help a local or state agency capture a larger portion of federal funding. State DOTs that have an accurate and up-to-date system that can generate on-demand HPMS reports for FHWA tend to find it easier to increase federal funding for roadway and bridge projects, since they can qualify and quantify the needs through accurate data.

Monetary savings realized through decision support tools – The concept and tools used for decision support were developed over the last 50 years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a group of private sector engineering and technology firms.

Decision support tools, like VUEWorks’ Budget Forecasting module, allow an agency to model Capital Improvement Plans and Work Plans based on available budgets, potential activities and current conditions of an infrastructure. Users can target budget and asset condition levels as part of their model analysis.

Here, Performance Curves for like-performing assets are created in the management solution. Current asset inventories with age and condition ratings are then analyzed against an activity matrix (or a decision tree) to determine which assets should have which activities performed against them based on some decision support logic and where the asset falls on the Predictive Performance Curve.

The ability to prioritize which assets should receive attention and funding in the plan development process can help ensure that an organization is not spending limited funding on a low priority, low usage asset at the expense of a high priority asset that may have high usage or that carries a heavier risk if it fails (e.g. loss of sales tax revenue). This is the concept of Performance-based Risk Asset Management.

These predictive analysis tools allow you to create multiple plan scenarios so you can optimize your plans to get the right mix of budget dollars and conditional impacts on the infrastructure. This allows agencies to evaluate where they get the biggest bang for their investments. For example, if the total capital improvement budget is applied to fixing the worst road segments strictly on a worst-first basis, it may only increase the overall network condition rating by a few points. But if condition levels at or above a certain minimum level can simply be maintained, the lifespan of more assets can be extended, which saves money. This is especially apparent when performing a surface seal (preventative maintenance) versus totally reconstructing that same stretch of road.

Add to that the ability to prioritize assets based on other factors such as public safety or economic impact and you now have a powerful tool that can help you model out an even greater ROI. This applies to both the investment in the management solution as well as on the decisions you make.

For example, if we look at the pavement performance curve below, we can see that each tier of activities, from “Do Nothing” through “Reconstruction”, becomes increasingly more expensive per square yard as the maintenance for that asset is deferred. Let’s say the curve is used to consider the potential life-cycle cost of a newly constructed road segment with a 50-year useful design life. If nothing is done to the asset over the next 50 years, total reconstruction of the road segment is estimated to cost an average of $72/sq. yd. Under this scenario the road segment will have spent approximately 32 years of its 50-year design life below a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 70 (the industry standard for an acceptable condition that is still in a state of good repair). If, however, the goal is to maintain road segments at or above the minimum desired PCI condition level of 70 (to be compliant with SGR) four Preventative Maintenance activities can be performed over that 50-year life-cycle at a cost of $6/sq. yd. per event. ($24/sq. yd. over the life of the segment).

If the road segment is 200 feet long and 24 feet wide, or 533.33 square yards, the difference in cost of ownership for this one road segment based on the two approaches is $25,599.84. ((533.33 sq. yd. X $72/sq. yd.) – (533.33 sq. yd. X $24/sq. yd.) = $25,599.84). Now imagine if you had 200 miles of 24-foot pavement segments. Assuming everything else is equal for this example, you can see the difference in cost of ownership between the two methods now becomes $135,167,155.20 over the 50 years. (5,280 segments x $25,599.84 per segment). Now you are talking about real efficiency gains as well as a real financial Return on Investment. This is the power of automated decision support tools like VUEWorks Budget Forecasting.

An example of a Performance Curve for pavement.

As you can see, ROI is much more than a traditional financial return on your investment when speaking about software technologies. It encompasses gains in efficiencies and effectiveness of your operations. It increases the quality and condition of your infrastructure and your levels of service. And it impacts citizen perception. These are all worthy Returns on Investment!

Want to know more about calculating your ROI? Contact John Pregler:

Imports… almost as cool as teleports.

December 14, 2017

Congrats! If you made it past the title, you just earned a virtual badge because you are likely wondering how you can save some time by telep … importing something into VUEWorks.

So, how is all of that clicking going for you? We get it. As designers of the VUEWorks application, we realize that building something out, designing a large template, or creating bulk assets can also require bulk clicking at times. That’s precisely why we have created a variety of channels throughout the application to import templates and data into VUEWorks. Aside from making life a little easier, importing into VUEWorks can save time too!

There are several locations within the application that allow something to be imported. Let’s take a quick look at how imports can be used.

  • Set up Users
  • Facility Templates
  • Facilities, Containers, and Assets
  • Work Orders
  • Resources – Labor, Equipment, Inventory

Most of the time, importing anything into VUEWorks requires a data source to be set up on the server. This enables the application to connect to the data that needs to be imported. Data source formats will typically be Excel files but can also be set up as Access, SQL, Oracle, or ODBC connections. Excel files used as data sources should use the .xls file format. Excel files used for imports should have no spaces in the filename, tabs, and field/column headers. Facility templates are unique, however.

Importing a Facility Template

Importing Facility templates can be really handy. The ability to import Facility templates gives users the option to build out a template in the Sandbox environment, plan it out, test it, and update it, all before importing it into the Production environment (users with only a Production environment can simply make a copy).

The process is fairly straightforward and there is an import wizard that walks you through the process. Exporting/Importing Facility templates can be done via the Administer Facilities interface and – quick reminder – the user needs administrative access to Facilities to perform template exports/imports. Exported Facility templates are saved as .zip files and these should not be extracted/unpacked. The import process uses the .zip file.

Importing from a Data Source

Everything else needs a data source! VUEWorks is hungry, so feed it some food. Once you have the data formatted and ready to import, it just needs to be set up as a Data Source. This can be done by going to Manage Data Links within Administration. Click the Manage Data Sources button, then just click the plus button to add a new data source to your list. The interface will walk you through connecting to your file on the server.

Run Import, Run!

There are a variety of reasons to set up a data import. Perhaps you have a long list of new VUEWorks users that need to be entered into the system. Another reason could be that you want to create a large batch of Work Orders with some of the information pre-populated on the forms. All of these channels of importing data are for the sake of saving time. After the Data Source is established, fields just need to be mapped within the module so the information to be imported gets a new home.

After mapping the appropriate locations, the import can be run. Here are a few places to find import capabilities.

  • Within Setup Users, you can use the Import Manager to bring in a batch of users.
  • Facilities, along with their Containers and Assets, can be imported using the Import Manager in Administer Facilities.
  • Expand Work Orders and explore the Import Manager.
  • Resources – Labor, Equipment, Inventory – can be accessed by expanding Resource Manager and then selecting Import/Export.

Quick Tips

  • Not seeing the import options or buttons? These need module codes that VUEWorks Support can assist with.
  • Keep things simple. When setting up the import template, fields should match or be very similar to the item that they would be mapped to in the application. This just makes field mapping easier.
  • Excel files used for imports should have no spaces in the filename, tabs, and field/column headers.

Need More Info?
Contacting your assigned Project Manager or VUEWorks Support will always get you the most immediate assistance: Please email

DTS’ Mobile Asset Data Collection Fleet and Asset Inventories

November 10, 2017

DTS’ Mobile Asset Data Collection (MAC) vehicles are not just for pavement inventories and inspections. The DTS fleet is built with identical and redundant systems that collect an enormous amount of data in a single pass. In any given week, each DTS MAC vehicle collects an average of 1 TB of data. This data consists of:

  • High definition continuous pavement images
  • Forward and rear-facing high-resolution right-of-way digital imagery with sub-meter locational accuracy
  • Inertial measuring unit (IMU) with centimeter-level positioning of MAC vehicle during collection
  • Distance measuring instrument (DMI) used for system integration
  • GPS equipment consisting of two positional units and one differential unit for mapping level positioning of the vehicle, heading information, and positional tagging of images
  • Surface (road) profiler for precise pavement ride and rut measurements
  • On board servers for storing data, processing images and storing profiler, GPS, DMI and IMU data

While most projects are driven by a single goal, such as an updated network-level pavement inspection or the creation of a sign inventory, many DTS clients utilize the secondary benefits of all the additional data collected by the MAC vehicles. Since DTS drives all streets within the jurisdictional project boundaries, they are able to provide a “wheels-on-the-ground” verified update of the street centerline file.

Many times, the MAC field crews encounter barricaded roads, inaccessible gated communities, or streets that may exist in the GIS file but do not exist on the ground (such as platted but unbuilt subdivisions.) Emergency response crews, addressing departments, planners, and the local property appraiser can all benefit from this updated information. DTS has even had clients create 3-D models of their street centerline network based on the MAC vehicle GPS van track elevation data.
VUEPoint Screen
Additionally, many DTS clients set up an online web-based video logger viewer application based on the data collected by the MAC vehicles (as well as data from other collection platforms). VUEPoint® allows for multiple camera views, comparison of images from year to year, and a host of other features including:

  • Query routes, and see roadway and right-of-way images on a route
  • Play the video after selecting a starting point on a road
  • Ingests a variety of roadway video data from several different vendors
  • Customize the view to see different data points for each segment (add columns to the data grid)
  • Customize the view by selecting the number of camera images to display (from those available)
  • A choice of resolution images (thumbnail and higher resolution images, if available).
  • Optional pavement camera view display

VUEPoint® allows asset management personnel to take a virtual drive along the roadway without ever leaving the office. It saves time and money while providing a level of detailed information that is as good as if standing there in person. Moreover, the ability of the viewer to allow users to compare data across multiple years helps management personnel get a real-world perspective when elements of the data seem skewed. It allows them to see if there is a data anomaly or if the condition has really deteriorated as reflected in the data.

Finally, the DTS team also specializes in the creation of GIS asset inventories for our clients. By utilizing a combination of right-of-way imagery collected by the MAC vehicles, aerial imagery, and existing tables and databases, DTS can create a comprehensive GIS-based inventory of all assets located and maintained along any public right-of-way or jurisdictional boundary.

DTS creates new GIS data by extracting any assets captured within the right-of-way imagery collected by our MAC vehicles. A potential listing of assets includes but is not limited to: signs, fire hydrants, utility poles, sidewalks, curbs, manholes, guardrails, water valves, street lights, traffic signals, inlets, bus shelters, and pavement markings and stripings. After these assets are extracted from the imagery with sub-meter accuracy, all attributes requested by the client are assigned to the asset along with a geo-tagged image of the asset.

DTS also generates new GIS data by digitizing assets based off aerial imagery. Examples of this include building footprints, segmented street centerlines, city-maintained mowable acres, railroad lines, and city-owned properties.
Additionally, existing client-maintained databases can also be utilized to create GIS data.
Many databases contain some type of geographic attribute such as an address or parcel number. This data can be geocoded and mapped into the overall GIS asset inventory in order to retain historical records and institutional knowledge.
For more information about DTS’ Mobile Asset Data Collection services, please contact Daniel Behnke, PMP, AICP, GISP – Director of Asset Management Operations: or 407.375.3049.

Assisting Organizations in Enterprise Wide Asset Management

November 6, 2017

DTS CIO Top 25
“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy” This old-age saying by author Michael LeBoeuf aligns well with the business philosophy of Data Transfer Solutions (DTS), a Florida-based transportation solutions firm with focus in enterprise infrastructure asset management, transportation technologies, GIS and engineering.

Allen Ibaugh, AICP, GISP -CEO, Data Transfer Solutions elaborates, “We have developed processes and technology tools that ensure the success of our customers through better data, better designs, better decisions.”
Read the full article (PDF)  

Pavement Condition Ratings: Don’t stress the distress.

September 29, 2017

The backbone of any pavement management system is the measurement of the existing pavement conditions. In order to achieve a representative assessment of the current conditions, we need to quickly and efficiently gather information and process the observations into a value that can be used to rate the pavements for evaluation.

This also initiates development of performance curves used for prediction of future performance. We often receive questions regarding the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) values we provide from our field data collection. We believe it may be helpful to answer commonly asked questions about this scoring system. After all, PCI isn’t something to be ignored.

Potential outcome of extreme pavement distress, when PCI is ignored.

What is the Pavement Condition Index (PCI)?

As defined by ASTM-D6433-11, PCI is a parameter commonly used as a scaled measurement of the distresses observed on the pavement surface. A scale from 0 to 100, with the higher values indicating better conditions, represents the pavement’s current state. In order to interpret the PCI values obtained from field observations, we believe it is necessary to first understand how the values are calculated. The PCI score is based on a series of deduct curves representing various distress types with three severity levels for each distress (low, moderate, and high).

Values obtained from these deduct curves depend upon the density and severity of each distress. The variability of deduction values is based on the type of distress, largely by the differential of environmental aging versus structural distresses. The summation of these deducts is basically subtracted from the perfect score of 100, after corrections are made for the number of distress types. It is valuable to understand that not all distresses indicate similar failure or deterioration rates. Deductions for environmental aging distresses may be relatively small while deductions for structural distresses can be four to five times greater.

Pavement distress example imagery.

At what level is the PCI value really used within a pavement management system?

Pavement management can be divided into two operating levels, the network level and the project level. The network level deals with the key administrative decisions of the pavement system and the service level that should be maintained. The question of which street sections need work, how much money is needed, when treatment is scheduled, and which needs should be funded are a few of the elements involved in the network-level.

The PCI value is most often used within the network level to define network conditions and differentiate between management sections that should be chosen for maintenance. Once management sections are chosen for funding within a given year, the project level deals with technical management decisions for more detailed conditions and specific project conditions. Given that a particular section will receive funding for maintenance, the project-level will help find the best alternative treatment to apply.

Pavement project work.

Is the PCI value calculated from all of the distresses within the roadway?

Within each management section of roadway, one or more survey units are inspected and rated to represent the condition of the entire management section. The entire management section is rarely rated completely. Due to cost constraints of rating 100 percent of the roadway, not to mention the time involved, experience has determined that smaller survey areas provide sufficient information to represent the overall pavement condition.

This means that distresses within the roadway that do not occur in the survey area will not be rated, or other distresses may only exist in the survey area but not throughout the entire management section. However, our data collection provides images of all of the lanes driven and can be reviewed at a later time if questions arise concerning distresses outside of the rated survey sections.

PCI road survey results.

Do the surveys cover all of the lanes

The lanes driven during a collection period are chosen to represent the overall condition of the roadway, but may not include all lanes. For example, on a two-lane road, both directions are driven and collected, while on a four-lane roadway, just the outside lanes of each direction are typically driven. For a six-lane roadway, typically the outside and inside lane of each direction are driven.

We generally find that distresses outside of the survey areas are isolated and maintained as such; therefore, it is not imperative that the survey is inclusive of all of the distresses in a management section. Surveying more pavement in a management section, will likely not significantly change the general assessment or decisions made for a particular roadway.

What does PCI really represent?

Scores represent the general conditions, but may not document all distresses that should be repaired within a management section. The percentages of distress observed in the survey area are extrapolated over the entire section to determine maintenance budgets. Detailed project level analysis is required once a particular management section is selected for treatment.

Is the distress evaluation and PCI calculation automated

DTS provides data collection with Mobile Asset Collection (MAC) vehicles, resulting in images of all assets within the right-of-way. The imagery provides GIS information for all assets along with measurable images of the pavement distresses. This portion of the collection is mainly automated as a collection process. However, each pavement distress is identified, evaluated, and measured by engineering technicians viewing these images. These professionals are trained to provide consistency in the rating, yet an amount of subjectivity remains in the process. Each person will view distresses slightly differently, but the descriptions provided in ASTM-D6433-11 help provide uniformity to the process. Having the raters perform their observations in a controlled environment, versus working in the field along busy roadways, reduces the variances within the process.

Two of Data Transfer Solutions, LLC’s state-of-the-art Mobile Asset Collection (MAC) vans.

We hope this discussion has provided some clarity to the pavement evaluation process and answers questions you may have had. If you have additional questions or would like to engage in more detailed discussions, our engineers are available to visit with you and review your data to provide a better understanding of what pavement data collection can tell you.

For more information on how you can obtain your PCI ratings through expert data collection, contact Scot Gordon, PE – Vice President of Asset Management Services: