Employee Involvement Pays Dividends During System Upgrade
Saint Paul Regional Water Services took a progressive approach to ease the pain of culture change in its selection and implementation of a new enterprise asset and work management system (EAM).
Saint Paul Regional Water Services took a progressive approach to ease the pain of culture change in its selection and implementation of a new enterprise asset and work management system (EAM). Heavy grassroots employee involvement, an incremental master plan, and a carefully phased implementation helped to mitigate resistance, overcome computer anxiety, and ease the transition to the new system.
As a result, the city’s water utility, public works department, and forestry division are benefiting from strong employee support, and a municipality that relied on disparate legacy systems is now able to do more, much better, with less.
Saint Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS) is the second largest water utility in the state of Minnesota. Its service area includes the City of Saint Paul and surrounding suburbs. The utility is entirely self-supporting, with all revenue obtained exclusively through provided water services. No taxes are used to support the utility, and as a government agency all rate increases need to be thoroughly justified to the Board of Water Commissioners.
Within these constraints, the utility must contain costs, minimize downtime, and provide optimum service to more than 400,000 customers. Its systems treat, pump, and distribute clean water across an area spanning 122 square miles.
SPRWS faced many of the same challenges as the Department of Public Works (PW) and the Parks Department’s Forestry Unit. PW manages sewerage, street lights, traffic signals, and related public utility assets. Forestry maintains all trees on city boulevards and in city parks. Together, SPRWS, PW, and Forestry manage a combined $4 billion worth of capital assets.
However, management of these assets was hindered by legacy, home-grown, and in some areas non-existent asset management systems. Redundancies in paperwork and reporting and a lack of visibility within and among the divisions further limited performance improvements.
In order to improve and modernize maintenance practices, better manage the infrastructure, and improve cost accounting, the SPRWS general manager commissioned the development of a strategic five year technology master plan.
One of the resultant priority initiatives was to implement an integrated EAM system. The objective was to consolidate all maintenance data into one software package, and to integrate the asset and work management processes with the city’s purchasing, finance, payroll, customer information and billing, SCADA, and eventually GIS and mobile computing solutions.
It made practical and economic sense to implement EAM across not only SPRWS, but with PW and Forestry as well, since all three care for the public infrastructure and have similar business needs.
Grassroots Employee Involvement
SPRWS foresaw resistance to employee buy-in of a new system. The utility’s distribution division had an existing legacy EAM system, but the change would be huge for their production division. Composed of the raw water supply and water treatment units, the production division had no automated or paper maintenance systems. Production division employees conducted reactive maintenance, annual cleanings, and other preventive maintenance tasks based on memory and past practice.
If the city didn’t effectively manage the change and ensure user buy-in, the EAM implementation costs could be wasted. Saint Paul recognized this challenge early on, and adopted a very progressive approach to the EAM initiative aimed at grassroots employee involvement that began at project inception. Following are some of their innovative change management strategies:
Request for Proposal:
During the master planning process, employees were polled on their information needs. This included where utility data came from, how it was used, where it was sent, and how it was stored. Fifteen different subject matter experts covering all functional areas within SPRWS each led a committee of employees.
Prior to the issue of the RFP, staff at all levels in the three organizations were assembled and told, “We need an EAM system, but we can’t do it without you. We need your help, your ideas, and insight from your experience in the trenches.” With the help of an outside consultant, the master planning teams met again to develop the functional requirements employees felt were needed in an EAM.
“This period of introspection helped us to learn about ourselves,” said Christine Meyer, Information Services Manager for the SPRWS Business Division.
Upon completion, the needs of each agency were included in the RFP. When the RFP responses were tallied, the Technical Action Committee (TAC), comprised of representatives from SPRWS, PW and Forestry, whittled the top ten vendors down to the final three.
A comprehensive demonstration of the final three EAM vendor offerings was provided to every potential user of the solution. The city rented an exhibit hall with three large rooms, one per solution, and conducted “EAM Demo Days.” In a festival-like atmosphere, more than 100 city and SPRWS employees rigorously reviewed and evaluated each product for functionality and ease of use.
Script-driven demos and general voting lasted for two business days. From SPRWS alone, 13 official voters collaborated with 45 staff participants in a well-choreographed process. Each product was rated based on each function being hard, acceptable, or easy for the vendor to demonstrate, and ranked based on weighted importance.
On the third day, the TAC invited certain high level city managers and other key decision-makers for the final vendor questioning and vote tabulation.
“Everyone was excited about the chance to have a voice in the final decision,” Meyer said. “Fortunately for us, the winner was clear. In nine out of 10 categories, SPL’s Enterprise Asset and Work Management stood above the rest.”
The SPL project was front page news in The Pipeline Express, a bi-weekly SPRWS employee newsletter delivered with each payroll check. An additional newsletter, The Link, was created and dedicated to the EAM implementation and is published monthly for SPRWS, PW, and Forestry employees. The newsletters help keep employees informed throughout all stages of the phased implementation.
Prior to any training on the EAM system, many employees had to learn computer fundamentals. Some had never used a keyboard or mouse, or knew how to access the Internet. These users were taught computer basics to overcome their anxiety before system training began.
A plan was developed to determine who needed training, and attendance was tracked to monitor progress. Training was intensive, spanned many weeks, and was conducted in small groups for the greatest benefit. Initial training classes combined participants with similar duties. Subsequent training combined participants from across SPRWS organizational boundaries, such as finance and distribution. This mixing of employees helped them to better understand each other’s role and how one person’s data impacts another’s performance. SPRWS continues to conduct refresher courses for those who find the transition difficult.
Employee time collection was a universal business process that had been particularly cumbersome and redundant. This made it the perfect candidate for the first go-live. Entering time was an easy way to learn and get used to the system, before other processes followed. Instead of paper timesheets, data would be entered directly into EAM and automatically interface with the payroll system, generating immediate efficiencies in payroll data entry. The financials system would finally be current and real-time information would be available thanks to the new, streamlined timekeeping process.
With the new system in place, an awards program was instituted. A monthly award highlighted an outstanding individual or group of EAM users who found an innovative way to use the new system. The winners were photographed and their stories were featured in The Link newsletter.
SPRWS shared their EAM experience at their own employee conference as well as at the Minnesota American Water Works Association conferences in 2004 and 2005. SPRWS continues to use every available opportunity and communication tool at their disposal to promote the positive and highly successful implementation.
Phased Implementation Process
Each EAM module that is brought online follows the same methodology as timekeeping. Each organization has its own go-live track, and within SPRWS, all asset, inventory, and work management processes have since gone live and EAM is integrated with supporting information systems.
SPRWS is currently in the process of expanding EAM data out to mobile laptops mounted in trucks, developing a GIS interface, and automating restoration cost calculations. Preventive maintenance will be implemented in time for the construction season. Fleet management, work planning and scheduling are next on the list.
The city’s overreaching goal is to generate maximum efficiencies from the EAM investment. In total, Saint Paul will have more than 300 users on the system once all of the divisions and business functions are live.