City of Laredo Modernizes Its Asset Management System

By Travis Michel

The City of Laredo, Texas, has an extensive water and wastewater infrastructure system comprising more than 2000 miles of pipelines, two water treatment plants, six wastewater treatment plants, 75 lift stations, 19 storage tanks and booster stations, and greater than 12,000 manholes.

Over the years, the city utilized a combination of SCADA, maintenance logs, spread sheets and paper ticketing forms to manage daily service requests and routine maintenance activities for tracking historical information, such as pipe breaks, valve maintenance, manhole cleaning, etc. With the work order information spread across various forms, e-mails, texts and conversations, this led to communication gaps between different workforce levels, inefficiencies in generating accurate reports, and difficulties in tracking labor and materials costs.

“If a work order status wasn’t updated and someone from the management needed to check the status, they had to go search for the person who had the information,” said Adrian Gause, CFM, administrative planner for the City of Laredo Utilities Department. “So, locating the information became quite cumbersome.”

In 2015, a new director, Riazul Mia, P.E., started with the city’s utilities department, after collaborating with the department for many years as a director in another city department. He saw the need to modernize its asset management program and centralize its work order system to better understand its equipment, labor and material costs, thereby, the cost of operation. One of the more efficient methods to develop a program is to invest in professional development curriculum, notes Gause. A few of the city’s employees enrolled in classes offered by the Buried Asset Management Institute – International (BAMI-I). Staff also attended the Water Asset Management Conference in Boston to learn about current practices and develop a peer city network.

Subsequently, in May 2016, the city hired Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN), a national planning, engineering and program management firm and NewEdge Services, LLC, an asset/work management consulting firm, to implement the city’s asset management program.

Phased Program

The overarching goals of the city’s asset management program included:

  • Consistent service request and work-order system
  • Asset management life cycle tracking
  • Consistent operations for required level of service
  • Effective communication and data sharing from labor level through to management and administration
  • Centralized cost reporting, planning and budgeting

Given the scale and complexity of its assets, the city decided to take a prioritized, phased approach to achieve these goals. The first phase involved developing a plan and selecting a software program to manage, track and analyze the city’s water, sewer and warehouse division assets. This included a comprehensive evaluation of the department’s data, information systems, procedures, reports, and methods of data capture. To gather this information, the project team met with key staff in each division, determined the methods used to manage workflows and assets, examined how field workers communicated with employees in the city’s offices, and assessed the processes used for tracking and distributing materials from the warehouse.

In addition, the project team met with other utilities such as the City of Sugar Land and San Antonio Water System to analyze how they managed their assets, setup their work order processes, and the software systems they used. After evaluating the information, LAN determined that Cityworks was the best choice for the utility’s asset management platform.

“The city had invested in collecting a robust set of GIS data over the years for their water and wastewater systems,” says Russell Ford, LAN’s senior associate. “Cityworks is a GIS-centric enterprise asset management system. It can handle many functions such as distribution of materials from the warehouse. It also connects with the city’s 311 system and can be scaled to multiple departments.”

“For us, combining our work order system with the GIS was a must,” adds Gause. “It was something we wanted to do for many years, and it wasn’t possible with our existing system. The fact that Cityworks was compatible and could be fully integrated with ArcGIS Server made it a good fit.”

The city took a prioritized, phased approach to organizing assets, which first involved the selection of Cityworks software to manage, track and analyze the water, sewer and warehouse division assets.

Program Implementation

After formalizing the plan and securing the Cityworks license, the project team moved into phase two – program implementation. This phase involved cleaning up the GIS data for the prioritized divisions, standardizing the workorder data, forms and reports, and preparing the Cityworks database using all the information. During this phase, the city’s environmental services department, which manages the stormwater program for the city, also decided to use Cityworks as its work order system, necessitating additional data evaluation and integration.

Following the database preparation for the water, sewer, stormwater and warehouse divisions, the project team setup a series of onsite meetings with the city staff to demonstrate the database. A series of sample work orders and service requests was tested to ensure the workflows were right and the Cityworks database was configured accordingly. At the same time, the project team evaluated and purchased the mobile hardware required for field deployment, added the necessary network security measures, and connected these devices to the Cityworks server.

This was followed by a week of onsite software training for all employees who would be using Cityworks. After the work order system went live in February 2019, NewEdge Services provided on-site support to answer employee questions and troubleshoot issues. After several months of using Cityworks as its daily asset management and work order platform, a refresher, follow-up training was provided to ensure that all employees were tracking and updating the asset information and work orders correctly to fully maximize the Cityworks investment.

Current and Future Phases

Phase 3, which is in progress, involves the city’s utilities billing division. The city and the project team are developing the scope of work necessary to bring this critical division into the Cityworks system. Staff estimates that this phase will require much more automation than previous phases.

“We need to setup an application programming interface that will link between the utility accounts and the new work order system,” said Gause.

Phase 3 is estimated to begin in late 2020 and will be completed by the end of 2021. Future phases include managing the utility’s vertical assets such as booster pump stations and elevated storage tanks. Discussions are also underway to implement Cityworks in other departments such as parks and recreation and traffic safety to effectively manage their assets.

Program Challenges

Implementing the new work order system created a few challenges. Moving to a work order system that required mobile devices was a bit of a technological culture shift for an organization that had utilized a spreadsheet/paper-based system for a long time. Surprisingly, staff buy-in, one typical challenge of changing an established work culture, was not that significant of an issue, says Gause.

“As we were developing our asset management program, we took a handful of staff on visits with peer cities to see what they were doing and the efficiencies gained with a good work order system,” said Gause. “The project team collaborated with our employees throughout the implementation process and followed up on initial training with refresher sessions. It took us a while, but our multi-level staff approach paid dividends. Our employees are excited to use this new system.”

The project involved collaboration with multiple departments within the city such as utilities, city manager’s office, purchasing and IT. At the beginning of the asset management program, the project team was working with dedicated IT staff in the city’s utilities department. Several months into the project, IT staff were relocated in efforts to centralize that resource, requiring an additional level of coordination for a successful implementation.

Other challenges that the city has faced included a shortage of mobile devices for field data collection, cyber-attacks that delayed the project, and additional IT staff to configure and troubleshoot the mobile device management (MDM) software used to protect the work order system.

Work Order Improvements

Despite these challenges, the City of Laredo has seen notable improvements in its work order efficiencies, Gause notes.

“I can generate reports on work order costs fairly quickly,” said Gause. “For example, I can review our annual costs from one fiscal year to another within 15 minutes and share a summary with others. Furthermore, communication from the field to the office and vice versa has improved. We wanted to break down the silos in various divisions and we have come a long way toward achieving that goal.”

Implementing the new work order system has also improved transparency internally and externally, says Ford.

“The city now has the capability to track time, materials and labor and know exactly how much repairs cost when work orders are initiated and completed,” said Ford. “It also provides taxpayers more information and transparency regarding these work activities.”

Gause says implementing the asset management program is an evolving process.

“You can work at or develop an asset management plan, but nothing exposes efficiency promoting needs in your organization like an asset management program implementation,” said Gause.

Travis Michel, P.E., is an associate and infrastructure manager at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN). LAN is a national planning, engineering and program management firm. The firm is a division of international architecture/engineering company LEO A DALY, employing nearly 800 professionals in 31 offices across the United States.

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