3D Visualization World Interview with Baseform Co-Founder
CyberCity3D + Baseform
(Baseform is a Portugal-based urban water infrastructure software company
which works with CyberCity 3D, Inc—a southern California 3D geospatial modeler
for the urban environment—to create CyberCity 3D + Baseform).
Aug 16, 2016 -- Baseform’s background is in urban water infrastructure analytics and systems modeling, on the one hand, and on streamlined, efficient web and 3D software development, on the other. Baseform deploys GIS technology, in the first instance to acquire the geo-referenced utility/ city data that describe the water infrastructures, their physical context, and timeline of operational events. The current client portfolio includes 15 metro areas in Europe, Israel and the Americas, and is growing fast and 3D and map visualization are used extensively. 3D Visualization World interviewed Sergio T Coelho is the CEO and a co-founder of Baseform to learn more about the company.
3DVW: Could you tell us a bit about how you became involved in work related to 3D and visualization? What caused your interest in this area, particularly in terms of water?
SC: Baseform’s background is in urban water infrastructure analytics and systems modeling, on the one hand, and on streamlined, efficient web and 3D software development, on the other. We set off with a vision to establish a cloud-based subscription software that democratizes the access to data and analysis results across the organization (utility, city departments) and its ecosystem. This called for an ability to express results by means other than traditionally cryptic spreadsheets or hard-to-read data-filled maps.
Our analyses and metrics strive to provide simple means to understand the city, its dwellers – at the buildings where they live and work – and the infrastructure that serves them. 3D is the most immediately readable medium for the built landscape, allowing even non-technical observers (such as many decision makers) to grasp the meaning of the analytics we produce, and through them read and assess the city, the people, the infrastructure, and their behaviors.
Failure probability in a water network zone
3DVW: Let’s begin at the beginning. Please describe what Baseform is and the products – services that the company provides.
SC: Baseform makes software for urban water infrastructures. Having begun full-blown commercial operations in 2015, our current client portfolio includes 15 metro areas in Europe, Israel, and the Americas, and is growing fast. Making better use of the data the utilities and cities already collect daily, we provide a SaaS-based software targeted at increasing the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of utilities and cities, their infrastructure and the service(s) it provides. This is done through cross-platform data source combination and best-in-class analytics for key processes, from everyday operations to engineering diagnosis to short- and long-term prioritization and planning.
Examples of efficiency processes where we provide measurable ROI are the management of water and energy losses in the water supply or the reduction of sewer overflows and infiltration/inflow in wastewater/stormwater management. Sustainability processes include a comprehensive, structured support to infrastructure asset management, an expertise fast becoming crucial in utility and city planning. In most urban areas around the world, the built infrastructure has accumulated untenable levels of deferred maintenance, with large fractions of their assets approaching the end of their service lives. The need to manage large CIP budgets to redress the issue is omnipresent, and we believe our software helps significantly in maximizing value from those expenditures.
In technology terms, Baseform is an online environment where a portfolio of process-focused apps (19 at present) are made available to a managed, unlimited universe of users inside the organization. 3D and map visualization are used throughout. Each app excels at a single utility process, such as identifying abnormal events in network telemetry, scouring asset condition/failure records against potential causal patterns, or analyzing the infrastructural value of the network. Rather than enduring the steep learning curve required by legacy technical software, utility staff can be quickly productive in the process(es) they know best. All apps share the same data space and can be further leveraged through association with one another.
The system is available from day one. It does not replace existing software in the organization; rather it strives to leverage their data and results – none of the migration dramas involved in switching enterprise software are present. Both real-time and slow-changing data sources are added as we move along (from e.g. live network telemetry to asset inventory, infrastructure shapefiles, billing or maintenance records, zoning, maps), with uploads automated whenever possible via simple schedulers installed at the original data’s location, though manual uploads are always available. Data is unlimited: the more sources, the better.
The software is provided alongside permanent IT, data and engineering supervision, automatic updates and periodic training. Quarterly expert-validated analytics reports are provided and individually discussed with the utility. The subscription is a flat (monthly, quarterly or yearly) flat fee, with no setup, consulting, licensing or other costs. Pricing is independent of the number of users or data volumes and depends primarily on the extension of monitored infrastructure.
CC3D + Baseform: Complete 3D water utility SAAS solution
3DVW: Is it correct to say that Baseform deploys geographic information system (GIS) technology? Does visualization through maps provide advantages?
SC: Baseform deploys GIS technology, in the first instance to acquire the geo-referenced utility/ city data that describe the water infrastructures, their physical context, and timeline of operational events. A good part of the analyses provided by Baseform apps depend on targeted geo-analyses on those data. Visualization through maps is central to the engineering language, and it is the best way to relate key metrics to the landscape that surrounds us.
Alert from SCADA water metering source
3DVW: Can you explain just how difficult it is for cities and communities to contend with all the data about water infrastructure that they have? How do your products help to reduce the confusion, pain and difficulty for making decisions?
SC: Utilities and city management contexts suffer from traditionally fragmented software solutions to their management processes, and are often caught in multiple enterprise software straight jackets. The software products available on the market – billing, inventory, SCADA/telemetry, maintenance – are good at their respective roles; but they scatter data, processes, and sources of information away from the key decisions; daily operation is an attention-sapper; operational decisions, planning efficiency and long-term corporate objectives have little chance of effectively aligning. There are often conflicting data repositories of the same physical objects (e.g., pipe network GIS, accounting inventories, and engineering models). “Integration” of those sources often means little more than a larger, bespoke straightjacket. Conversely, “business intelligence” promises greater latitude in data sources but often lacks a specific focus on actionable, decision-supporting results.
At Baseform we have deep domain knowledge of the science behind the specific metrics to support each crucial decision; we also know it is not irrelevant how the calculations are done, and with what data. So we try to make is easy to grab relevant data sources, but provide carefully selected, defendable, repeatable, technically correct analytics to support the right decisional processes. Our technology plays an important role in its lightweight, easily deployable nature and absence of data drama.
Being accessible from any platform with access to the web, from personal computers to tablets and smartphones irrespective of the operating system helps. We see it as an alignment environment, where the same data and results space is shareable by the largest possible number of users in the organization and with a tendency to align around visible, stated objectives and decisions.
An interesting angle is that we are not asking the utilities to generate more data or buy exotic sensors; rather, we propose to extract more value and information from the existing data. If there are data needs, say for example a deficit of asset failure records, it is easier to put a price on their usefulness or specify exactly what data needs to be collected, in view of a specific decisional need, once the system is under way.
3DVW: We understand that Baseform has been involved in many projects around the world. Could you share some of the details about 2-3 of these projects that highlight your participation?