Selecting a CMMS: Stepping Up Your Public Asset Management Game

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By Greg Baird


In Japan, there is a saying that there are many paths to the top of Mount Fugi. In the United States, we have the saying that all paths to water utility cost savings lead to infrastructure asset management.

A water utility strives to progress along a cost savings path moving from paper-based reactive work orders to a planned maintenance strategy using a computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) to gain an estimated 12 to 18 percent cost savings.

On this first transition to operational efficiency, asset management can only be performed with an accurate asset inventory. To effectively manage public assets, you need to know what they are and where they are located. Location-based assets are stored in an Esri ArcGIS geodatabase as a US water industry best practice. This key point is known as the “system of record” providing a legal and practical accounting of owned assets.

Asset management is a core business principle and practice that will support everything an organization does. Decision making requires data collection, data management and analysis. All municipalities and utilities are made up of assets, either linear or buried assets or vertical assets (treatment plants). For a water utility, these are the physical components of the system and can include: pipe, valves, tanks, pumps, wells, hydrants, treatment facilities and any other components that make up the system.

Many water and sewer utilities have seen a drastic increase in both maintenance costs and capital replacement needs as the condition of assets continue to decline. Many times, this asset deterioration is due to under-maintaining and not tracking the condition of an asset. All physical assets, except for land, degrade and lose value over time as the asset ages and deteriorates through use. Once the asset’s attributes and location are known, the condition of the asset can be added to the Esri ArcGIS geodatabase.

To effectively manage the complexity of public infrastructure and water assets, GIS must be at the heart of the data collection solution. Esri ArcGIS is the accepted GIS standard in the US for federal and local governments including water utilities. Esri GIS-centric technology serves as the system of record for risk-based assessments. Basic data identifiers, such as asset attributes, location, age, condition assessments and failure history provide valuable information for calculating asset risk of failure. An Esri GIS-centric CMMS which collects cost (equipment, labor, materials) in work orders assigned to individual assets and inspection asset condition data provides the foundation of making cost-effective decisions through life cycle cost analysis.
Some of the reasons to use a CMMS include:

  • Reduce the cost of work orders (preventive maintenance over reactive work).
  • Adjust maintenance strategies to extend the life of assets.
  • Leverage the existing workforce and justify staffing needs.

Selecting a CMMS

Selecting a CMMS as part of an overall asset management program by a public works department or water utility division should take into consideration the following common steps as part of the evaluation process. Conduct a survey of current practices including:

  • Business Processes
  • Work Order Process
  • Asset Tracking Process
  • Commissioning Process

Document what other systems the CMMS needs to integrate with like Esri ArcGIS, CCTV and other pipe condition inspection software, supervisory control and data acquisition systems, financial and electronic document management systems and other data analytics and asset management risk tools. In the US water industry, many of these additional systems already have a history of integration with the Esri ArcGIS platform.

The basic CMMS functionality includes an asset inventory, service requests and work orders, preventive maintenance tasks and schedules, inventory management and purchasing, condition and risk-criticality analysis, assessment and renewal planning, data analytics and KPI metrics, risk visualization, reporting and documentation.

Many of the technical requirements of a CMMS selection process can align the platform and software versions to ease the integration and data migration processes.

The CMMS software selection process includes the development of a short list of vendors which provide the assurance of product longevity, training resources, a known pool of references and an existing skilled workforce in the CMMS software. Many quick lookup comparisons on the internet are incomplete and fail to substantiate these critical elements of each product.

Maintenance and asset management managers understand that without the measurement of asset costs and operational and maintenance activities, an organization’s budget planning process will fail to report whether the allocated funding is sufficient. When there is no true measurement or analysis, there can be no control process and thus no continuous improvement. Without consistent and accurate projections, an organization will not be able to determine if they are financially sustainable. Furthermore, if the asset is poorly designed, constructed, installed or operated, the maintenance cost curve may not reflect the efforts of the operations and maintenance field crews. Benchmarking and improving record keeping and data accuracy is critical in order to develop a business improvement process to track and report performance goals to management and elected officials.

A CMMS is the core engine of asset data collection, storage, analysis and execution of operational and maintenance strategies and activities. An Esri ArcGIS centric CMMS shares the geodatabase as a single asset repository, leveraging it with an architecture web map platform to provide spatial geo-analytical insight into asset criticality proximity, risk mitigation, resilience planning, and multisector asset management analysis and coordination.

Additional Selection Considerations

A web GIS centric CMMS enables municipalities and utilities to manage public assets and community services seamlessly while being responsive to citizen inquires and concerns in a cost justified process. Esri GIS based asset management business processes and software applications and tools connecting field services for public works and utilities to decision makers and the public is at the core of emergency services and disaster recovery efforts building community resilience. Every process and tool used in asset management and maintenance management such as service requests, work orders, inspections, 311 systems, field device mobility, online maps, real-time data and financial cost reporting are engaged at a high speed, mission critical level during FEMA emergency management recovery efforts.

In the event of disaster – natural or man-made – the Esri GIS Web platform and GIS-centric CMMS will turn an asset management program into an efficient disaster preparedness and recovery program including all relevant FEMA cost tracking and reporting. True resiliency is embedded in a CMMS’s system of insight which produces operational and risk insights to better manage assets in cost effective manner. This insight which focuses on asset location and condition can help restore critical systems and services in the most cost effective and timely manner.

The Esri ArcGIS platform also provides the basis of integrating the Internet of things (IoT) to support the “smart” municipality or “smart” utility efforts to enhance and improve the quality of life of citizens.

“One water” themes and strategies call for an integrated approach of multi-sector infrastructure asset management for the built and natural water cycle components. An Esri ArcGIS platform using robust data analytics provides for the layering of water resources with watershed infrastructure and customer and environmental data for visualization and inter-dependent risk evaluation.

While the United States water industry may have had a late start in infrastructure asset management planning and technological best practices, the adoption and standardization of asset data on the Esri GIS platform will provide for an acceleration of water asset management and infrastructure renewal and replacement planning to achieve cost savings, water conservation, water quality management and water affordability.


Greg Baird is president of the Water Finance Research Foundation and a frequent contributor to WF&M. He specializes in long-term utility planning, infrastructure asset management and capital funding strategies for municipal utilities in the United States. He has served as a municipal finance officer in California with rate design and implementation experience and as the CFO of Colorado’s third-largest utility.

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