Chief Editor, WaterWorld
As water and wastewater utilities continue to struggle with aging infrastructure and limited funding, increasing emphasis is being placed on efficiency. “We’re seeing agencies pressed to do more with less,” said James Strayer, director of planning and asset management for Black & Veatch, during our interview at WEFTEC.17. “Board members, council members, and the public want to make sure that resources are being used appropriately and are being invested the way businesses should operate.”
This, he noted, is driving the growing focus on asset management in the water and wastewater sector. While many utilities have been able to develop robust and successful asset management programs over the past decade, many others — perhaps the majority — have yet to start down that path. With so many assets spread out over a wide area — many of which are buried — it’s understandably overwhelming to entertain the thought of cataloging them.
Strayer’s advice: Don’t be intimidated. “There are a lot of great places to start where it doesn’t have to be a big expensive effort,” he said. “There are some pieces that you can take on right now and there are a lot of really good lessons learned about all those different components.”
He boiled it down to four main focus areas: asset inventories, condition assessment, computer maintenance management systems (CMMS), and a really simple ISO gap assessment.
When it comes to asset inventories, “you really need to know what you have,” he said. “But I think the lessons learned are really about quality over quantity.” You don’t have to do tons of it, he explained. “Figure out which assets are important in your organization and focus on those…because that’s how you’re going to move the needle organizationally.”
Condition assessment is a more practical endeavor. “Get out in the field and look at some of your assets.” You’ll find some things are in a better condition that you thought; others, a little worse. “Then you can take action on it,” he said. He noted that there is some prioritization work you can do to look at risk, consequence of failure, and likelihood of failure. “It helps help you look at a few of your assets to start with that are really the riskiest.”
CMMS systems have been adopted by many water and wastewater agencies in order to improve operations, but “a lot of these were put in with a software mentality,” said Strayer. “The lesson being learned here is they’re not just plug-and-play. You don’t just put them in and then hope for the best.” He said that many of his clients — even ones just starting out with CMMS systems — are looking to improve these systems to better leverage the benefits.
The fourth and final focus area is ISO certification. The prospect of undertaking full certification can be a little frightening, said Strayer, “but you can do a really simple gap assessment to start out on the pathway to ISO without having to go full certification.”
Strayer reiterated that utilities don’t have to tackle everything at once to get the ball rolling with asset management. “You can pick off any one of those four we just talked about. It’s a good place for a new agency to start.” WW