The Army National Guard is a distributed and complicated organization that has multiple divisions and units in each of the fifty states, three territories and the District of Columbia. However, while these agencies are overseen by a centralized federal organization – the National Guard Bureau, a joint activity of the Army and Air Force – they are in-part funded and controlled by their individual states.
The result of this distributed and disaggregated nature is a mélange of different standards, processes and systems that vary from state to state. And the nature of the National Guard itself – with members being called up or deployed when necessary – creates a revolving door where institutional knowledge and information is constantly walking out the door.
According to IMAGINiT, which has done work with multiple state National Guards, that revolving door and lack of universal systems and processes has caused chaos with facilities data across the individual states. The company recently released a case study detailing how they’ve worked to aggregate facilities data for multiple state National Guards and make it more accessible, and we wanted to learn more about why poor access and availability to this data was such a problem.
We recently sat down with Joe Hedrick, a manager for IMAGINiT’s Infrastructure Solutions team, to talk about the state of facilities data across the National Guard, why it was causing problems and what the company did to help them fix it. Here is what he had to say:
GovDesignHub: Prior to working with IMAGINiT, how would you classify or describe the facility data and information at some of the state National Guards that you worked with? How available was the data to those that needed it?
Joe Hedrick: Much of their facilities and project data was stored on a typical shared-server architecture. Within each state, the construction and facilities management organization or sub-department would have their own directories. And, while the data was somewhat available, nobody really knew how to find it. In each organization, there was one or two people capable of finding things, but everyone else basically had to hunt for it – often with varying levels of success.
This is a particularly challenging problem for state National Guards since they’re constantly rotating people. Their people are called in to deal with natural disasters, they get deployed overseas. And when that happens, their knowledge walks out the door with them.
And, unfortunately, there wasn’t a model that they could follow at the federal level, or an overarching system that they could take advantage of. The National Guard is dual-funded. Part of that funding comes from the federal government and some comes from the state. While there is an overarching bureau that provides direction, much of the charter of the National Guard is state supported. This creates a situation where each state’s National Guard winds up doing things differently.
These National Guards were effectively the “Wild, Wild West” of data storage.
GovDesignHub: What challenges does a lack of facilities information – or inaccessible facilities information create for an organization like a National Guard? What kinds of projects would this impact and what kind of impact would it create?
Joe Hedrick: A lot the work that these National Guard construction and facilities management organizations are doing include sustainment, restoration and modernization (SRM) projects. Much of what they do involves going into existing buildings and rehabbing or repairing it. That can include everything from eliminating lead paint to prepping a building for a new use.
To do rehab and repair work, you need to get a hold of the old plans. If those old plans aren’t available, you have to pay to get plans developed. So not having easy access to design and facilities information was ultimately making projects more expensive.
Then there’s the whole maintenance aspect. It’s important to know when work was done and when equipment was purchased for maintenance and warranty purposes. For example, if a furnace unit needs maintenance or repair, it might still be under warranty. But you don’t know if that expense will be covered by the manufacturer if you can’t find the warranty information and you don’t know when it was purchased. I’m willing to bet that many things were purchased or repaired at the expense of National Guards that were still under warranty.
GovDesignHub: What was IMAGINiT’s solution to the problem? How did the company work within state National Guards to make this data more accessible and available when needed?
Joe Hedrick: IMAGINiT organized all of that data in a place that made it easy for that team to find it. And we accomplished that by installing a product called Autodesk Vault Professional.
At its core, Vault is a data and document management and storage solution that can be hosted locally on a network or in the cloud. This was a good solution for them since many government organizations are reticent to move to the cloud.
Vault also integrates with other design solutions – including Autodesk Revit and Civil 3D – which were being used across the states that we worked with. The consultants – including the AEC firms that design things for these states – were working in Revit and Civil 3D and then sending those files back to them. Having those applications natively integrate with Vault makes those workflows and collaboration easier and more seamless.
But it wasn’t just about the technology. We also delivered services around the solution that involved project mapping to help figure out what they had and who had been involved along the way. The end result was a process that IMAGINiT put in place that helps to accommodate people rotating in and out. The process helps to get people up to speed faster and get people the information that they need so that – when their predecessor left – they didn’t lose their knowledge and information.
GovDesignHub: The company deployed laser scanning of some of the facilities owned by these state National Guards. Why was that necessary and what did it accomplish?
Joe Hedrick: Candidly, they did not have any really good, historical data. They didn’t have floorplans for many of their buildings – simple information like that. And it’s hard to retrofit or make changes to a building that you know nothing about.
For one state’s National Guard, we actually laser scanned 15 of their buildings and generated Revit models that they can now access and gather information from. They can now use those Revit models for renovations in the future, space planning and other processes.
GovDesignHub: Were there any lessons learned or unique challenges that IMAGINiT ran into along the way? How were they overcome?
Joe Hedrick: Probably the most challenging thing was asking them to describe their process. Every time we went back and shared what we heard, it had changed. People rotated in and out, and they had their own processes. Their description of their processes – and the processes in place – would keep changing.
Also, their IT is extremely secure and locked down. It was difficult to get IT privileges and access to necessary systems, which made it difficult to get the authority to implement the changes that we felt were necessary.
GovDesignHub: Why was this project considered a success? What was the outcome for the state National Guards that you worked with?
Joe Hedrick: There have been multiple ways in which making this data more available and accessible has helped these state National Guards.
The project has already helped to save these states money. For example, we were able to get one state’s National Guard a new roof at no cost because the date it was installed was readily available and it was still under warranty. But if that information wasn’t readily available, they probably would have paid that expense out of pocket.
Also, there is a lot more transparency now. The individuals in charge of construction and facilities at these National Guards now have the ability to run reports and see where every project is in its progress and lifecycle. In the past, it would take four or five hours of work to pull together the data that can be pulled into a report in less than ten seconds with Vault.
Since part of a National Guard’s federal funding is based on square footage, we’re also helping to ensure that their funding is more accurate by giving them the ability to more precisely measure and report the square footage of their facilities.
And most importantly, I can tell you that the project was a success because the users are using it and not fighting it. In the government – where new applications and processes are often fought or ignored – that’s a success in and of itself. In fact, the management teams that we’ve worked with are so happy with their increased access to data that they keep looking to expand the program and get it to do more.
To learn more about the work that IMAGINiT did for the National Guard, click HERE to download the case study.