Filling the Gaps in Asset Management: Q&A

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Zach
Zach

Tacoma Zach: One of the things that needs to be addressed is how we give utilities a roadmap to merge the strategic and tactical together. One of the frustrations I have is that the term “asset management” is broadly, loosely, and often incorrectly used. I think bringing the strategic and tactical together to help give utilities an actual return on investment is what is needed. This can be done by focusing on the key elements of achieving asset management: make risk-based decisions; get maximum value from your assets; and ensure there is alignment between the strategic goals of the organization and the folks in the field doing the work.

Clow
Clow

John Clow: It’s also about defining what “asset management” means to an organization. Sometimes organizations think because they purchased a CMMS or an EAM solution, that they’re doing asset management. That’s not necessarily the case. Then when they do deploy solutions, they still tend to struggle with using the information for decision making. Throughout my career I always saw utilities purchase software solutions, and they end up not changing anything about the way they conduct operations. Or, they use it to identify a problem but aren’t sure about the next course of action. A big need is around education around how utilities should be looking at their asset portfolio.

Clow: CMMS is really an introduction for the utility to a computerized system. It helps a utility digitize what’s happening in the field in an effort to maintain assets, as well as create a record of information about materials used and associated costs across different jobs. It’s a system that can gather and capture information about the activities the utility is performing. EAM is basically an extension of CMMS that may integrate systems from other departments within the organization beyond just maintenance and operations.

Zach: Utilities need to make capital plans, so they need to spend money and they have limited resources to begin with. One of the values of asset management is to tie those things together. If you’re looking at asset performance management, you need to understand what’s happening with your assets, know when they’re about to break and why they’re about to break. You also need to know where they are at risk so they can properly target those limited resources.

A lot of utilities also make capital plans with incomplete data. Traditional capital planning is often void of an accurate risk assessment that tells organizations where they should also consider making capital investment for employee safety, regulatory compliance, etc. – things beyond repairing water lines and operational factors.

Another thing we see frequently is a city that will be evaluating a solution, and the decision is made by another department outside of the water department. We’ve seen cases where the water utility has been sidelined on that decision and the city ends up with a “public works solution” that is only focused on asset tracking and not managing performance so that your level of service is secured.

Zach: From an asset owner perspective, understanding what is happening with a particular asset before it fails is essential to prevent a regulatory trigger. It’s very important to know if assets are degrading before they degrade.

Regulations are also changing a lot. We also believe it’s important to contextualize or to make forms available for field personnel that are updated with current regulatory requirements. This way, field crews can capture the required amount of information about a job, such as a leak repair, in a customizable format that suits the regulatory requirements.

For a lead service line replacement program, for example, if a utility has materials and they track information about those materials or assets, they need to be able to see where their challenges are so they can manage a targeted and efficient program. Being able to render GIS on the fly, and putting the power of information display and information understanding into the hands of the average user can be very beneficial.

Zach: It’s important to find a solution that can address the needs across your whole utility. What’s good enough for your network assets may not be effective for managing for complex treatment plant assets. You need to look at the entirety of your needs, and identify the most complex needs, and make sure your application can address that. The heaviest lift should be driving the solution.

Another thing is that utility systems are not really getting solutions that deliver on what their corporate objectives are. They need to be careful about listening to sales talk. Various solutions are really good with what they are intended to do. If utilities have both vertical and horizontal assets, they should recognize that a GIS solution is not going to work in vertical. A vertical solution is not going to work well in GIS. You need something that does both. They need to consider their technical requirements and whether they are going to support their asset management goals.

Clow: Knowing what your corporate objectives are and what you are trying to achieve in the asset management realm is critical. Once you understand what your primary needs are, then you can look at what type of solution you need.

Understanding the cost of ownership of solutions is also important. What does it really take to maintain a software solution, not just from a license or implementation perspective, but what does the internal effort cost to maintain these solutions? A lot of providers are offering cloud-based solutions or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, but from the utility standpoint, the internal resources are still needed to support these solutions.

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