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INTERNAL MANAGEMENT OF EXTERNAL DATA CONVERSION

Rod McNall

UNITRA CORPORATION

ABSTRACT

In the planning of many AM/FM projects, insufficient attention is given to the administrative functions involved in internal management of external data conversion activities. This is the major cause of problems in data conversion. This presentation will outline the six critical administrative functions of implementation, from source record analysis through loading of specification compliant data sets. The importance of these functions increases exponentially with the size of the project and the aggressiveness of the project schedule. A model to manage these critical activities, based on an actual case study, will be described in detail.

A CRITICAL ROLE

Finally, the pilot is over, bugs have been spotted and eliminated, and the full-scale project is about to get started. When the decision is made to have the data base created by outside vendors, it is called conversion but it is in reality the implementation of the project. This phase is the most costly and project schedule adherence is primarily dependent on smooth performance by the conversion vendor.

Because conversion is a technical production operation, an analogy to a manufacturing process is appropriate:

  • Planning prescribes the output of the finished product at a certain rate.
  • Shipment of raw material must be carefully planned to arrive at the required time and place.
  • The process needs to be monitored throughout, and the products checked for quality at the end of the production line.

The same elements need be present for data conversion to deliver the correct product, on time, and at the agreed cost.

The conversion vendor's performance is as dependent on the client's actions as it is on its own capabilities. Conversion vendor costs are directly related to the establishment of a smooth, continuous flow of work through the various stages of their operation, and elimination of quality problems or causes of non-conformance. Conversion is very labor intensive and is customized for each project. People are trained to the requirements of the specification and usually stay with the project throughout its term. Consequently, the costs are relatively fixed for these vendors, regardless of the rate of production. For vendors to maintain the delivery schedule and to carefully manage their people resources (costs), clear specifications are required, prompt answers to problems must be given, and a steady flow of source documents (raw material) must be maintained.

CONVERSION OPERATIONS MANAGEMENT

There are several functions that are required for the effective management of the conversion process. It is the pacing factor in the system implementation with other elements such as training, internal public relations, and hardware and software installations geared to the delivery of the data base product.

The functions described apply to all AM/FM/GIS projects, regardless of size or scope. Size and schedule may dictate the use of more than one conversion vendor, but the functions will be the same for all. The client can perform these functions internally but in many cases, especially with large-scale projects, manpower will not be available for what will be temporary positions and these duties can be performed by an outside agency. In any case, they will need to be done. How well they are done will greatly impact the success of the entire project.

There are six main elements in managing the conversion process. They are:

Specification Management

Production Control

Source Collection Teams

Data Logistics

Problem Solution (the "Help Desk")

Quality Assurance

If conversion operation is to be managed by internal staff, this group should be established as part of the Project Team, with individuals named and assigned to the functions for the life of the project. If contracted, it should be assured that these functions are included and that adequate staffing with the necessary experience is included.

PREPARATION

Whether internal staff performs these tasks or they are contracted, several basic preparations are necessary, well in advance of the start of the conversion process.

Finalize vendor selection.

Finalize the conversion specification.

Establish delivery schedule based on the vendor build-up rate and overall capacity.

If more than one vendor is involved, determine proportion of work to each. (Note: this can be influenced by the commitment to schedule made by the vendors.)

SPECIFICATION MANAGEMENT

The primary function of this element is to ensure that conversion is performed to the appropriate specification for the current system design and according to any regional source records variations. Activities include:

Conduct initial records center audits to determine conformance or deviation from "standard" records batch contents.

Assigns Specification Versions and Instructions on variances to each batch according to any specific regional characteristics.

Analyze recommended system program changes for the effect on the operation of the system and/or the effect on conversion schedule or cost. Make recommendations to Project Management.

Monitor any Quality assurance problems for potential changes to specifications or system requirements.

It should be obvious that a clear and precise definition of what is to be delivered in the database is a requirement of any data conversion operation. Everything follows from this precise listing of what is to be produced. As in a manufactured product, content and dimensions specifications are what describe the finished product.

In large utilities, source records are not always consistent in format or content. In these cases, different versions of the conversion specifications may be required to clearly establish the use of the source data that is required to populate the target data base. The responsibility of Specification Management is to establish and provide precise and clear instructions through specification versions describing exactly what is required of the conversion vendors.

In extreme cases, some of the data required for the functionality of the system is simply not available in some areas of the client's region. In these cases the Specifications Management group will bring these issues to Project Management for resolution. Compromises in the functionality of the system, field surveys to determine the missing data, provisions for omitting those data elements or exclusions for part of the system in those areas may be required.

This group will resolve differences between the conversion specification and the source records in these ways:

Audit of records by Region

When it is suspected that source record formats might be different in various regions of the company, it will be necessary to do a pre-conversion audit. Based on the original specification upon which the system was designed and the "standard" source record formats used in the pilot, suspect areas will be visited and the records compared to the "standard".

Results of the Audit

If all data required is available but perhaps from different documents, Instructions to the vendors must be modified to advise and authorize capture of the information from different formats. If data is missing however, Project Management must determine the action to be taken before conversion of that area can begin. In many cases this will require a separate specification version number to apply to the source records of the associated areas.

It is important to get specification difference issues resolved and documented before any records are supplied to the vendors.

PRODUCTION CONTROL

Production Control is responsible for the overall direction of scheduling conversion operations to conform to basic directions from Project Management.

Assign work to the conversion vendor(s) per instructions from Project Management.

Obtain delivery commitments from the conversion vendors and, with advice and approval of Project Management, confirm or alter the master schedule of the vendor(s). (The objectives are to maintain the required delivery schedule and to minimize the time between records "freeze" and receipt of the converted data.)

Arrange for the Source Collection group to follow the priority sequences directed by Project Management.

Maintain the program chosen for tracking the conversion process.

Record conversion vendor adherence to schedule and monitor conversion vendor capacity for possible schedule adjustments.

Prepare period reports to Project Management on project progress and vendor performance with regard to the schedule and quality adherence.

SOURCE COLLECTION TEAM(S)

In those instances where the client has sufficient manpower resources in the record centers and they can be depended upon to strictly adhere to the implementation/conversion schedule, no outside help may be needed for gathering the source records.

In many cases however, restructuring and existing workloads may not provide the resources to properly collect source records. It is then necessary to designate special team(s) to do this task. The composition of a team, the number of teams required, and the total area to be covered will be dependent on the size of the area and the schedule requirements.

The functions listed below apply to whomever is assigned this task.

Visit the record centers in accordance with the schedule given by Production Control to gather the required source documents.

Advise the Data Logistics section if outside sources of some of the data, for example, land base records, are required, the details for each batch.

Record each document in the batch serially, copy, include any list of outside records that are required, and forward to the Data Logistics section.

(Note: a preliminary review should be made to ensure that the proper equipment for copying is available for use by the team. If not, it may be necessary to equip them with whatever is required.)

DATA LOGISTICS

Data Logistics is responsible for the movement of source record copies to the conversion vendor and receipt of their deliverables.

Arrange for the procurement of outside records, as required, in time for inclusion with the appropriate batch of source records.

Receive batches of source records from the Source Collection Team, audit for correctness and record that as a milestone in the project tracking system. Combine with any outside records that are required.

Verify that the Specification Version and any special instructions are identified to that batch.

Dispatch to the conversion vendor in accordance with the schedule (and allocation if multiple vendors).

Receive incoming deliverables from the conversion vendor(s), verify that they are complete, record as a milestone in the tracking system and pass to the Quality Assurance section.

VENDOR SUPPORT ("HELP" DESK)

During the actual processing of the source records, the conversion vendor will have questions. In spite of the records audit done initially, in a mass of records, some anomalies will always occur. These will range from simply data elements that are missing to discoveries which could require substantial system programming changes. This section is the single point of contact for all questions from the conversion vendor.

Receive and resolve instances of missing data.

Receive and get resolutions for all conversion exceptions which are requests to deviate from the given specification.

Receive and refer to Specification Management all vendor requests which would involve system programming alterations.

Maintain a data base of all queries and their resolutions to enable quick response and preclude repetitive research for common questions.

Conduct continuous analysis of problems to detect trends which will indicate the potential need for system or specification adjustments in case widespread or universal exceptions emerge during large scale conversion.

Visit the conversion vendor to establish an understanding and familiarity with the vendor's systems and methods and to establish rapport with their counterparts.

Establish and operate a control system to ensure that all queries are answered completely and promptly. The goal should be to reply within 48 hours.

QUALITY ASSURANCE

This function is charged with the responsibility to measure the accuracy and completeness of the conversion vendor's deliverables based on the applicable conversion specification and any exceptions that have been authorized.

Perform mechanized validation checking to the extent that it is possible with special Quality Assurance software.

Sample and visually check the data in accordance with the quality specifications acceptance criteria.

Return for rework or resolve on site any discrepancies which fall below the specification requirements acceptance criteria.

Record and report the Quality Assurance results.

Maintain Quality Assurance results history of the conversion vendor(s).

Certify acceptance of each batch for installation into the system. Record as a milestone event in the tracking system.

SUMMARY

The functions described here are part of any conversion work, regardless of the size of the project. The target database must be defined, the schedule must fit with the other events which will happen during project implementation, someone must carefully gather all the appropriate source documents, control over the transfer of the records to the conversion locations and receipt of the product is necessary, knowledgeable advice and answers must be given when problems arise and, finally, the product data base must be tested to the specification. Always check that these elements are included in the project planning.


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