The New Formula for Smart Communities

Esri ArcGIS

How the Web GIS-Centric Platform is Transforming Public Utility Asset Management

By Brian L. Haslam

Esri ArcGIS has become a mission-critical enterprise system for local government and water utilities’ core business processes. The distinction between the software application and the GIS is no longer relevant to an end user. They have become one. This is particularly true for ArcGIS utilized by local government organizations for public asset management.

Authoritative Asset Data for Local Government & Water Utilities

For more than 20 years, local government and water utilities have prioritized investing in geographic information systems with Esri ArcGIS becoming the de-facto system of choice. Initially, the goal for most organizations was to replace paper maps with digital maps. GIS had the added benefit of powerful spatial analytical tools to support decision making for planning, budgetary prioritization and emergency response. As ArcGIS became widely adopted and incorporated open system standards, particularly database interoperability, organizations started to see ArcGIS as much more than digital maps and the spatial analysis geodatabase became the most current and accurate inventory of an organization’s assets. ArcGIS as the authoritative asset base and system of record became a best practice. As the best practice spread, organizations desired to leverage the investment in ArcGIS for other critical processes.

Computer Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) were developed separately from GIS. The first systems were designed around proprietary database systems. At the core of the CMMS is an asset inventory. One of the primary goals of a CMMS and asset management is to track maintenance activities performed on individual assets. CMMS developed propriety data structures for cataloging asset data. During the mid-1990s, CMMS moved away from proprietary databases and adopted the open systems databases due to the influenced of open systems market forces which GIS also experienced. Meanwhile, maintaining proprietary data structures continued to be considered as trade secrets for cataloging asset data.


Asset management enables better decision making. The Power of GIS, “PoG,” exponentially increases utilities’ ability to visualize, analyze and explore the criticality of its assets through a Web GIS-centric platform with seamless ArcGIS functionality providing a powerful system of insights.

The Multiple Asset Database Challenge

It was not uncommon for many organizations to maintain multiple asset inventories — one in ArcGIS and one in their CMMS. Ironically, with the adoption of SQL Server or Oracle as the database for ArcGIS, and with CMMS having moved to SQL Server or Oracle, the multiple asset inventories for an organization were in the same database.

CMMS software vendors responded by designing integration and syncing methods. The goal was to update once and propagate the information from a central asset repository to the other asset databases. This seemingly simple idea was anything but simple. A point feature, like a hydrant or valve, can have a one-to-one match from asset database to asset database. A more complex data structure, such as a line used to represent a pipe or road, often did not have a one-to-one match because ArcGIS supports complex topologic structures and the CMMS has no such corollary. The same problem exists for polygon features and linear referencing features. The challenge for any interface or syncing approach becomes a data normalization problem. There are also internal challenges and confusion that can develop over which asset database is the master or primary asset inventory database. How this is then updated and maintained can then be undermined, causing data integrity issues.

The Genesis and Growth of GIS-Centric

Nearly all U.S. local governments and utilities are ArcGIS users. Of these, many also have and maintain a separate CMMS. Maintaining asset data in both systems is an inefficient, redundant and unnecessary allocation of resources. In 1996 — recognizing that for many local government and utility organizations, the Esri GIS software platform had become the authoritative asset data and system of record — Cityworks was designed and created as a maintenance and asset management system directly on the Esri GIS software platform. We called it the GIS-centric approach.

GIS-centric has become a recognized best practice. “The GIS-centric approach with a single asset repository is fundamental and critically important to the overall success of the system in meeting an organization’s goals,” says John Przybyla, GISP, Woolpert Inc. “Keeping an asset repository current, accurate, and complete is a huge challenge for many organizations, and the failure to do so is, in my experience, the primary cause of failure of a CMMS. Keeping two repositories updated and synchronized just makes that problem much harder — so much so that success is extremely rare.”

To assure the term GIS-centric did not become confused by “vendor-spin,” we defined it. The following points one through four are the original, defined characteristics. Points five and six have been added to encompass the modern Web GIS patterns.

GIS-Centric Characteristics Defined:

  1. No Redundancy
    GIS-centric software utilizes the ArcGIS geodatabase, and only the geodatabase, as the authoritative asset database for all assets dispersed or condensed (without variance), requiring no interface, no syncing, and no redundancy.
  2. Configurable
    GIS-centric software allows for maximum flexibility in designing the asset database for virtually any asset, dispersed or condensed. Design and create it in the geodatabase and a GIS-centric software is configurable to it and not the other way around.
  3. Non-Proprietary
    GIS-centric software builds on the geodatabase as an “open” and interoperable database, inherently spatial, with well-known and understood data structure elements. The asset data cataloged and maintained by an organization in the geodatabase are not owned by the software vendor. The organization fully owns their data and controls it.
  4. Updates & Access
    GIS-centric software relies solely on ArcGIS feature services and database connection methods to update and access the authoritative asset data to assure data integrity, quality assurances, and constraints are maintained. This is critical because ArcGIS is an enterprise system, and the ArcGIS database is used by many systems.
  5. Web Map
    GIS-centric software, including any applications provided, can access an ArcGIS web map without constraints. The applications are configurable to use the web map as is and do not require a vendor- specific web map.
  6. Single Sign-On
    GIS- centric software supports a single sign-on identity. An organization can choose AGOL or Portal for ArcGIS as their identity storehouse and the GIS-centric software and associated apps will support this with a single sign-on. GIS-centric is an approach defined and proven by Cityworks since 1996. Any system can adopt GIS-centric as a best practice for software design.

Fast Forward to Today

For local government and water utility organizations, ArcGIS is the most widely utilized and common platform for inventorying, viewing (map rendering being just one way to view) and analyzing asset data. It has become the de-facto authoritative data source because it is the most up-to-date asset inventory for an organization’s critical assets. This is particularly true for linear, dispersed assets. However, many organizations have also discovered the geodatabase is a superior tool for inventorying condensed assets or vertical assets such as treatment plants, buildings, and other facilities. With the modern ArcGIS and geodatabase tools, there is no longer a reason to have separate databases for dispersed and condensed assets. ArcGIS is the enterprise system of choice to inventory and manage the critical assets for public works, utilities, transportation, airports, land management, permit management, license management and more (collectively known as public asset management). ArcGIS is the authoritative asset data and system of record.

Web GIS-Centric Platform

Cityworks is the original and leading GIS-centric software system. We defined GIS-centric. For nearly 21 years, GIS-centric has become widely adopted and is proof of the value of the GIS-centric approach. Cityworks is, always has been, and always will be designed and created to fully leverage a local government or utility organization’s investment in Esri GIS. We have always believed the best practice for local governments and utilities is to acknowledge ArcGIS as the authoritative asset data and system of record to support mission-critical work processes. This view has always guided our design and creation of Cityworks. For many local government and utility organizations it has become a best practice to adopt ArcGIS as the authoritative asset data and system of record.

Cityworks and ArcGIS together provide a full and feature-rich Web GIS-centric platform for public asset management. GIS-centric resonates with organizations committed to ArcGIS as their authoritative asset data and system of record for their public assets. It is not uncommon for an organization to say, “We are GIS-centric.” GIS-centric is a proven best practice which extends to include the Web GIS- centric patterns that leverage an organization’s investment in Esri GIS even more. The Web GIS-centric platform is the new best practice for all asset management programs, smart communities and smart and effective utilities today and for the future.

Brian Haslam has been an innovative Geographic Information Systems (GIS) educator, pioneer and industry business leader for more than 25 years, working to transform the application of GIS technology. Over the past 20 years, and as the CEO and president of Azteca Systems LLC/Cityworks, Haslam has focused his time on the design, creation and marketing of Cityworks’ public asset management software suite, expanding the vision of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), designed to leverage local governments’ investment in GIS. Cityworks has been successfully adopted by more than 600 organizations throughout North America and has expanded internationally. His efforts continue to enhance asset management software products and sustainability best practices through web GIS-centric and smart community initiatives.

About Cityworks

Since 1995, Cityworks | Azteca Systems, LLC (formerly Azteca Systems, Inc.) has created and designed public asset management software for cities, counties, utilities and authorities (i.e. local government). Cityworks pioneered the GIS-centric paradigm and approach for public asset management to help organizations service and maintain the public infrastructure. Cityworks is a major software system used by organizations throughout North America and Internationally for managing utilities, public works, parks, planning and development, and airports. Cityworks is used by more than 40,000 public sector employees daily to service and maintain the vital public assets for communities with a combined population of more than 80 million.

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