Seamless workflows reduce information gaps and safety risks.
Bridge and maintenance operations represent an enormous part of the asset value of transportation agencies. Inspecting, maintaining, and managing bridges is crucial to public safety and regulatory compliance. These combined tasks require the efforts of multiple teams as well as a tremendous amount of time and money.
Yet more often than not, time and money are wasted when communication breaks down between the “bridge side” and the “maintenance side” of operations. This disconnect can cause inconsistent data across teams, delayed bridge repairs, loss of operational efficiency, loss of bridge service life and network performance, and—most importantly—higher public safety risks.
There is a better way. Easy, automated access to information between bridge and maintenance operations is not only possible but readily available through integrated solutions and workflows. We’ll show you how that works. But first, let’s take a look at a typical fieldwork scenario.
Siloed Systems Block Information Flow
It’s a familiar situation at many agencies around the world. Inspectors go out to assess bridge condition, identify problems, and then recommend any needed maintenance or repair work. After that, the maintenance team, which may be in a different business area, decides which work will be done and performs the work.
Unless communications and workflows are integrated across teams, the inspectors and bridge staff may not be aware of what maintenance work has been done on a bridge until the next inspection up to 2 years later. Two years is a long time for the bridge team to go without this information, because accurate knowledge about bridge conditions and work history is important for effective planning, budgeting, and bridge network management—including addressing compliance and safety concerns.
Communication gaps occur because, at most agencies, the inspection team’s main data source and the maintenance team’s data source are traditionally in different places. The inspection team’s source of information is the bridge database of inventory and condition data. Meanwhile, the maintenance team uses an inventory of all asset types along with a catalog of work requests and work orders for the whole asset portfolio.
More often than not, an agency’s organizational and IT structure keeps these systems separate, without a shared database or a free flow of asset-specific communication between the relevant teams.
Separate Workflows Cause Knowledge Gaps
Let’s dive deeper into why these communication gaps occur and how to overcome them.
Bridge inspectors are focused on performing accurate and on-time inspections, then moving on to other bridge inspections to meet their compliance goals. Maintenance crews are concerned with completing assigned work orders on various asset types and moving on to other work. A natural disconnect occurs in information because the two business areas are focused on different priorities. But they also support one another’s operations, so a certain amount of data sharing between them needs to take place routinely. Efficient communication should not require extra steps in the process.
For many agencies, communication delays can impact the bridge network forecasting and analysis performed by the bridge management team. Without current information on bridge conditions, bridge managers might recommend work that the maintenance crews have already completed. Not only could this lead to unnecessary effort by the maintenance crew (to resolve the communication discrepancy or, worse, perform duplicate fieldwork), but lack of accurate knowledge could lead to bridge managers allocating precious dollars to the wrong projects.
When asset databases share a common platform, data sharing can be seamless and efficient, helping to eliminate many of the problems caused by information gaps and delays.
Connecting Workflows & Information Across Roles
An integrated solution benefits everyone that uses the data on a daily basis. The bridge inspection staff, including the field inspectors and report reviewers, have the benefit of seeing the most current information about the maintenance work being done on bridges. At the same time, the maintenance supervisors and work crews can view information on what the bridge teams are doing. This real-time information access improves communication between departments and streamlines workflows.
Streamlining Workflows with Integrated Solutions
An example of an integrated solution that facilitates efficient data sharing and streamlines cross-team workflows is the combination of AgileAssets® Structures Inspector™ and AgileAssets® Maintenance Manager™ applications. On their own, each application helps improve specific tasks and processes from start to finish. Together, the applications create seamless communication that supports better collaboration across teams.
AgileAssets® Structures Inspector™
AgileAssets® Structures Inspector™ is a solution that helps you improve bridge and structures inventory and inspections using a framework that guides inspections—from scheduling and data collection to reviews and reports. The solution has two main components: 1) a web application that lets inspection managers assign, schedule, track, and report on bridge inspections, including submitting the annual National Bridge Inventory (NBI) and National Bridge Elements (NBE) reports, and 2) a companion tablet application that field inspectors use to capture bridge inventory and condition information.
When these two Structures Inspector™ components are used as a pair, you get the benefit of improving the efficiency and accuracy of your inspection program and ensuring compliance through on-time inspections and compliance reporting.
AgileAssets® Maintenance Manager™
Maintenance Manager™ is a web-based maintenance management system that gives you program visibility across activities and assets, so you can ensure the right treatment for the right asset at the right time. Similar to Structures Inspector™, Maintenance Manager™ has a main web application and a companion field tablet application called Work Manager™. When used together, these two maintenance applications help you efficiently manage your maintenance operations at the office and in the field.
With Maintenance Manager™, you can streamline complex maintenance projects, help work crews get their work done without the data getting messy, and improve overall productivity.
Seamless Workflows Across Teams
When an agency uses Structures Inspector™ and Maintenance Manager™ as an integrated solution, information flows seamlessly between the structures and maintenance teams because they have an integrated workflow. Let’s look at how this works.
After construction on a bridge is complete, the bridge enters the inspection cycle, with inspections usually taking place every 2 years. Over time, the bridge will need maintenance work. The structures team generates the work request, which the maintenance team turns into a work order. The maintenance crew completes the work order and updates the work data on the maintenance side. With the integrated solution, that work status also gets updated on the bridge side.
The diagram shows how information flows from one functional area to the other, enabling all relevant team members to be informed in a timely and efficient way.
Benefits of an Integrated Solution
An organization can achieve significant benefits from integrating bridge inspection and maintenance processes (and the applications that support them). For example, consolidating asset and work data on one platform not only helps improve data quality, but also streamlines data sharing between teams. Bridge management teams can stay consistently up to date on bridge condition and work history so they can better plan, analyze, and budget for projects to improve the bridge network.
The integrated applications also help save time on various tasks throughout the workflow. For example, using the Structures Inspector™ mobile application, agencies can reduce inspection times by about 30%, which also saves money on labor and frees up inspectors to focus on tasks that create higher value for the organization.
Likewise, the maintenance team also benefits from time and cost savings when working with integrated solutions and streamlined processes. One agency saves 7,500 labor hours and $600,000 annually in materials costs for snow removal alone by using Maintenance Manager™ to improve maintenance operations. The cost savings are much greater when applied to the full range of assets that the maintenance operations team handles.
The communication gaps that typically occur between the bridge and maintenance teams at most agencies are generally the result of each team’s data sources being stored in different places. Using integrated solutions and workflows is an effective way to streamline outdated processes, share data more quickly and easily, and improve productivity and outcomes. Having automated access to shared information between bridge asset management and maintenance operations benefits everyone who relies on that data to perform their daily tasks. Ultimately, integrating structures inspection and maintenance activities in this way helps the agency meet compliance standards more efficiently and improve overall bridge network performance.
About the Authors
Scott Choate, PE, has more than 15 years of experience in government service. For 13 years, he served at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, advancing the agency’s pavement and bridge management programs.
Priya Menon has 15 years of experience in software engineering, quality assurance, and product management. She worked for 11 years at eBay, where she led the product teams in creating innovative solutions.