Every Innovation Starts With A Conversation

How Leading DOTs are Working Toward Functional Data Libraries 

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Agencies that are digitizing their construction process can generate an overwhelming amount of data.  

“We can get a lot of data and very overwhelmed,” said WSP’s Senior Vice President and Managing Director Jag Mallela, during the second day of FHWA’s “Fast Forward Your Digital Roadmap” two-day virtual conference. Mallela was moderating a panel on data governance, featuring leaders from three states.  

He added, “we can be data rich, but knowledge and insight poor.” 

But what data points are really important for agencies to track? And what’s the best way to organize it? Panelists all said they were working towards answers to those questions. However, defining and refining the solutions to those questions is a long-term process, but one that offers potentially enormous rewards.  

Trisha Stefanski, with the Minnesota DOT, said her agency has been working to resolve data governance issues since 2016. She said her agency began with a spreadsheet that included 78 asset classes. Then, MnDOT hosted stakeholder meetings to determine who owns the asset classes, who’s responsible for populating them and which assets will be prioritized. Finally, after testing the system, the agency reviewed which asset classes its district offices were using and reduced the total number.  

“Who is the steward of the data? What is our retention policy?” Those are the kinds of questions that needed to be resolved, said Stefanski, MnDOT’s Asset Management Program Office Director. “We know what the cost is to get the data and we know there’s value in it.” 

Panelist George Lukes, from the Utah DOT, said the agency has used LiDAR to survey and geolocate its entire above ground assets. But extracting the useful data is a long-term project. 

“It’s not something that happens overnight,” the Utah State Standards and Design Engineer told attendees. “You just have to start somewhere. What are your most valuable assets?” 

He also encouraged others to copy and paste successful models from other states.  

Mallela agreed that it was a long journey. He added that agencies can begin with scoping the types of data they already have and thinking through user needs.  

“What’s the essential data?” said R. David Unkefer, Construction Manager and Project Engineer at FHWA. “The data you ask for in construction may not be useful until maintenance and they have to know it’s valuable.”