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Applying geographic information systems for asset management of port facilities

An evolving tool for the port professional

We began a discussion of the use of Geographic Information Technology (GIT) tools by Port Engineering and Operations professionals in the Twenty Sixth Edition of Port Technology International. Subsequently, in early 2007, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published our study entitled Application of Geographic Information Technologies in Port Facilities and Operations Management, edited by Neal T. Wright and Jaewan Yoon. In this article, we explore the use of this  technology to mitigate the challenges of instituting a comprehensive Asset Management

The evolving challenge of port asset management

A number of factors have emerged to drive the recent emphasis on instituting formal processes for asset management of port facilities. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement 34 prescribes a financial reporting model with requirements for the inventory and valuation of public assets by state and local governments. A number of these governmental bodies have followed with policies, directives or legislation intended to mandate a comprehensive inventory and review of the facilities in their charge.

Ports will find these requirements a challenge, given their wide variety of facilities, the complexity of the inventory process and the potentially time consuming effort needed to accomplish this task. Port leadership is under constant pressure to limit the size of staffs and reduce non-essential overhead expenses. In a resource
constrained environment, ports will be stretched to meet the GASB 34 requirements. Ports must also prioritise in allocating limited funding among capital investment in new construction, ongoing maintenance of current assets, and compliance with increasingly stringent environmental standards. 

Fortunately, much of the information on port facilities is spatial in nature, meaning the asset data can be tied to a specific location in space. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) provide an organising framework for this data, making it comprehensible and actionable for decisions by managers at multiple levels. GIS systems have continued to evolve since the beginning of our study, with software becoming more widely available, and more user-friendly and interoperable. Hardware costs continue to drop while capabilities increase and storage media becomes less costly. The widespread popularity of Google Earth also attests to the growing familiarity of the public with GIS technology.

As GIS technologies mature, a number of associated applications such as Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) can further leverage the value of GIS-based data structures. A number of efficiencies can be driven throughout the full range of Operations and Maintenance activities, yielding documented savings and fostering regular updates of the entireinformation framework. Better information enables better investment and marketing decisions by a port’s leadership.

Neal T. Wright, P.E., PMP, GIS Task Subcommittee,Ports and Harbors Committee of COPRI, Virginia, USA