Managing Your Infrastructure to Deliver High-Quality Services with Less Money

Jan. 1, 2010
Pressure: it’s a familiar term to every water and wastewater agency and today there is more of it than ever.

By Bob Benstead

Pressure: it’s a familiar term to every water and wastewater agency and today there is more of it than ever. In the wake of an economic crisis, citizens and city managers are demanding that costs be brought under control so services are not sacrificed — even when faced with reduced budgets. Obtaining an improved level of efficiency is a difficult task, but it’s not impossible.

Running a water and/or wastewater agency requires significant equipment, assets and energy. Taking a comprehensive approach to infrastructure management can help utilities reduce operating costs through the maintenance of efficient equipment. Taking infrastructure management a step further, utilities can greatly reduce energy consumption and related costs. Additionally, integration of infrastructure management with the utility’s existing GIS information can further infrastructure management line-maintenance activities and produce efficiencies.

Infrastructure management software is designed to organize information on assets and their conditions so public managers can quickly identify current problems, anticipate future problems and efficiently direct maintenance operations. Infrastructure management systems can consolidate asset information across multiple operations, reducing overall IT costs and centralizing maintenance decisions about critical infrastructure.

Asset management is not a new concept for any water or wastewater utility — all utilities have some level of maintenance programs in place to prevent equipment failures. Yet, many of these programs focus on tactical procedures to track and fix assets and do not provide much analysis of why assets fail or attempt to predict when they will. By assessing current procedures, determining what kind of asset management system is in place, and moving to a more strategic process that incorporates predictive practices, utilities can greatly improve their asset efficiency.

There are five stages to asset management maturity, starting from the very basic and completing with a comprehensive, enterprise-wide maintenance strategy.

Stage 1 – Operate: At this stage, the utility is reactive on all maintenance: when something is broken, it gets fixed. There are little to no preventative measures taken.

Stage 2 – Consolidate: Here, a utility recognizes that maintenance could be improved but is unable to properly fund this advancement. There is a continued focus on reactive procedures but some element of planning occurs, such as ensuring spare parts are in inventory and, when practical, equipment is rebuilt instead of replaced.

Stage 3 – Integrate: This is the stage when the financial aspect of maintenance is learned and becomes a part of the process. The ROI is better communicated to senior leaders to secure additional funding of more preventative measures such as routine inspections, lubrications, adjustments, and scheduled service to improve equipment mean time between failures (MTBF).

Stage 4 – Optimize: As the evolution continues, there is more enterprise participation and, as such, management support is mandatory. This also signifies a shift towards predictive maintenance where data is collected to understand when failure is likely to occur and the impact of the failure on operations. Significant improvements in MTBF are realized over the previous stages, and utilities are proactively managing risk.

Stage 5 – Innovate: The final stage includes maintenance as part of a total utility-wide system, combining prior techniques with operator involvement to free maintenance technicians to concentrate on repair data analysis and major maintenance activities.

By centralizing infrastructure management and GIS information, multiple departments can coordinate maintenance tasks. For example, a city’s water and wastewater division may have data for water pipes, pumps and valves, while the stormwater division may have the most accurate information on effluent infrastructure management and discharge points. By sharing GIS data and linking it with maintenance schedules, communities can avoid construction delays by digging only once to fix several problems at a time.

Some cities are beginning to combine information stored in infrastructure management software with GIS to consolidate asset location information and maintenance history. GIS maps identify asset locations while infrastructure management software records maintenance tasks, tracks historical activities and helps develop a strategic plan for preventative asset maintenance. The combination can also help allocate equipment and create efficient routes and order planning so technicians know where to go and what needs to be accomplished. This leads to increased worker productivity at a lower cost.

With comprehensive infrastructure management and GIS software systems in place, water utilities and the cities and counties they serve can attain a holistic view of their assets and minimize the financial and human capital impact on critical infrastructure.

Efficiency does not stop with good predictive maintenance practices and GIS integration. Running such critical and complex operations requires an infrastructure with many moving parts that consume a tremendous amount of energy. That energy is costly and underperforming assets are extremely inefficient, wasting huge sums of money.

Studies have shown that properly maintaining assets can reduce overall energy consumption by 20 percent. Because energy is such an expense, reducing energy by 20 percent is not only good for the environment, but good for the bottom line as well. Reducing energy consumption requires measurement, and a system that integrates energy management into asset management.

Incorporating energy management into asset management means that utilities must carefully monitor the energy usage of assets, implement a comprehensive preventive maintenance system, such as Infor EAM Asset Sustainability Edition, that takes into consideration energy usage, and factor energy consumption into any plans that include asset acquisition, allocation, or replacement. Such a system monitors each of a facility’s major assets, like water pumps, filtering systems, etc., and tracks performance against predetermined acceptable levels. If a piece of equipment falls below optimal performance, the system automatically generates a work order so that maintenance can fix the problem, reducing energy waste and costs.

Consider a single 100 HP motor running continuously at 95 percent efficiency over a five-year period. Assuming $.10/kwh, this motor will cost close to $350,000 in energy. If that motor is not properly maintained and requires only 5 percent more energy to run, it will cost the utility approximately $17,500 more to operate. Traditionally, the asset would have kept performing while its energy usage gradually increased, but by integrating asset and energy management, the utility can save thousands of dollars with only this one single motor.

Traditional asset management enables organizations to save time and money by optimizing maintenance resources, improving equipment and staff productivity, increasing inventory efficiency, and strengthening their ability to collect on warranty-related claims. However, infrastructure management for water and wastewater utilities is more complex because the service requires pressurized assets that deliver potable water to homes. Because of this, water- and wastewater-specific asset management should establish critical shutoffs, cross-reference service connections, meters, and backflows, and monitor periodic test results over the life of the asset — sometimes over generations.

Providing the same services for less money is a difficult task, but for water and wastewater utilities it is not impossible. Achieving greater efficiency can be done through comprehensive management of a utility’s vast assets. Outdated, reactive asset management does not provide agencies with the critical tools required to bring costs down. To accomplish that task, utilities need a robust infrastructure management solution that proactively addresses maintenance and integrates with other critical information sources like GIS and energy management. With such an enterprise-wide approach, citizens will continue to receive high-level water and wastewater services without breaking the city’s budget.

About the Author

Bob Benstead is Infor Public Sector’s vice president of strategic planning. With 15 years experience developing and marketing software to governmental entities, Benstead leads Infor Public Sector’s strategic client management, partner management and oversight of market/product direction.

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