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Community 4.0: Improving Efficiency While Meeting Increased Demand

It’s no secret that many of the changes unfolding in our communities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in constrained resources—both in labor and revenue—for organizations across the globe.

U.S. county organizations alone saw a 20 percent reduction in its workforce in 2021—a $202 billion impact on the overall budget. On top of that, 82 percent of government officials believe their operations should be more technologically advanced.

The challenges faced by local government, utility, and transportation organizations should not be minimized. They pose a real obstacle to keeping our communities resilient, sustainable, and safe. However, the disruptive technologies and business processes available to us today offer a new strategy beyond simply doing more with less. Welcome to Community 4.0.

What Is Community 4.0?

Community 4.0 is one application of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). If you paid attention in history class, you’re probably familiar with the first three industrial revolutions: mechanization (late 1700s), mass production (early 1900s), and digitization (mid-1900s). 4IR further advances automation through the Internet of Things (IoT), massive data storage, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced analytics, and increased customer autonomy.

The key aspect of 4IR is not new technology itself but the disruption and innovation introduced by the technology. The breadth and diversity of 4IR disruptions across industries is breathtaking, and the characteristics of 4IR are finding a place in government, utility, and transportation agencies with enough staying power that a transformation is happening: Community 4.0.

How Did We Get Here?

Technology-driven disruption over the course of the past 40 years brought computerization to local government, utility, and transportation organizations. These disruptions largely supported the transformation from paper-based business processes to digital workflows.

For many organizations, this took the shape of a system of systems that seamlessly integrated critical business platforms with a GIS-centric work management solution and an authoritative geodatabase. Business processes that use systems of record data from GIS are presented to end users through the appropriate systems of engagement suited to office, field, mobile, or public access needs. The data, unsiloed and easily accessible, can then be visualized and understood in a system of insights.

While this system of systems transformation brought vast improvements in productivity and performance, many underlying business processes and rationale remained the same as before. Community 4.0 expands the system of systems model by incorporating a system of action: technology that automates data collection and decision-making to support more efficient, accurate, and meaningful action.

Community 4.0 creates more useful data—not only in amounts of orders of magnitude but at relatively inexpensive cost. Remote sensors, for example, can monitor and collect a wide variety of infrastructure data such as pipe network flow and quality; traffic counting and monitoring; waste bin capacity; soil moisture content for watering and irrigation; crowd capacity for public health requirements; and threshold monitoring of streams, rivers, storage tanks, and tides.

Automated data collection is only meaningful when the data can easily be consumed, interpreted, and analyzed to support accurate decision-making. Today, there are innumerable software solutions that analyze data through artificial intelligence or advanced analytics to identify trends not otherwise apparent through human observation alone.

Predicting Future Action

So, what does this mean for public asset management? Traditional asset management relies on proactive inspections and routine discovery of potential problems. Proactive maintenance reduces the potential for reactive maintenance by implementing inspection and repair programs on a cyclical basis—leading to a significant reduction in costs and disruptions.

While traditional proactive maintenance provides a routine examination of assets, it has limits. First of all, it requires people to individually inspect large quantities of assets that are in reasonable operational condition. While that may sound like a positive outcome, the activity requires an expense. Why waste time, effort, and money on functioning assets?

Inspection programs are often unable to track systematic issues that arise in networks such as water, wastewater, electric, and streets. Because traditional inspection programs focus on individual assets rather than the entire system, they are limited in their capacity to interpret trends and critical thresholds. A given asset may be physically fine and properly maintained, but whether or not it has reached critical capacity threshold is often unknown.

A Community 4.0 maintenance process places IoT devices within the system to monitor asset performance. These devices all have a few things in common: 1) they can communicate over the internet to the maintenance system, 2) they continuously collect and transmit key data that is used to identify issues that could be missed during traditional maintenance, and 3) they largely operate without human interaction.

One key element of the data logs created by these devices is critical thresholds, such as unexpected flow rates. Another key element is trends, which are often undetectable through physical inspection alone. For example, decreasing flow rates over a given time period may indicate a leak or other issue in the nearby system. While the IoT devices themselves do not necessarily perform any functions beyond data collection and transmission, the maintenance management system can be configured to monitor the data for critical thresholds and trends and create alarms, inspections, and reports to prompt human action as needed.

When you combine IoT sensor data with the power of GIS intelligence, you can perform more expansive asset monitoring, better prioritize repair activities, and enrich your analysis to support capital improvement planning.