Working Smarter

Like many other cities throughout North America, Corpus Christi, Texas, is in the midst of improving the way it manages its departments citywide, including its sewer and water systems. As part of an ongoing process, the City has implemented a new software platform to integrate the various city departments and improve efficiency across and within each sector.

Corpus Christi is home to approximately 280,000 residents, making it the largest city on the Texas coast. It operates more than 1,200 miles of sewer collection lines, 99 lift stations and six wastewater treatment plants. On the drinking water side, it manages more than 1,600 miles of pipeline serving a half million people in the greater metropolitan area.

About 10 years ago, the city was approached by private companies about the prospects of contracting out sewer and water operation and maintenance operations. Eventually, the City decided against contracting out those services, but it did cause the City to re-examine the way it does business.

?The private companies showed how they could save millions of dollars if they operated our water, wastewater and storm water utilities,? said Steve Klepper, administrative superintendent for the City of Corpus Christi. ?As a result of that, we started thinking ?If they can operate our systems so much more efficiently, why can?t we??

?It caused us to undergo a competitive assessment,? he added. ?What we realized was that we didn?t have a computerized work order or asset management systems. We had a few Excel spreadsheets and Access databases, but there was no inventory of assets and no systematic maintenance.?

Forging Ahead

With newly found direction and ambition to improve the system, Corpus Christi partnered with consultant EMA Inc. in implementing an upgraded system. Starting with the water and wastewater treatment plants and expanding from there, Corpus Christi implemented IBM Maximo software. The City was fortunate to have a well-populated GIS, which syncs with the Maximo software.

?Now we have all the city public works and utilities departments, including parks and our airport, using Maximo as an enterprise-wide work order and asset management program,? Klepper said.

?Corpus Christi is setting the bar for how municipalities can use technology to gain intelligence into their departments and systems to operate more efficiently and provide residents with a better place to live,? said Guru Banavar, IBM CTO for Smarter Cities. ?Working with IBM, Corpus Christi city managers are operating smarter and managing their work and crews better.?

One of the most beneficial aspects of the program initially, he added, has been the establishment of a one-call center for complaints or service requests that covers all city departments from streets to sewers. Using the software, the call center can speed responses to issues more efficiently and better optimize city resources. For the fiscal year of 2009, the call center generated more than 45,000 electronic work-order requests from across the city.

When residents call with complaints or service requests, the City creates a work order connected to the address associated with the account. The software provides the city with a bird?s-eye view of existing maintenance requests using ESRI mapping software. This allows the call center manager to see all existing problems ? coded in color by urgency ? and determine scenarios such as entire service area being affected or the existing location of assigned field workers in order to make management decisions.

Previously, citizen calls were routed to the appropriate department and recorded on index cards before being entered into a spreadsheet. Given the manual nature of this process, staff could not accurately track how long it took to respond to and fix problems. The staff had no way to view the work history for each site, making it difficult to identify recurring problems. Although the City had already established a GIS, work orders were not interfaced with this system. As a result, departments couldn?t spatially analyze work requests to determine whether a customer request represented a site-specific problem or an area-wide issue that would require more extensive support.

?One of the major benefits is just being to identify what your service levels are,? Klepper said. ?With the software, you are able to track how long it takes you to respond because the workers orders are time-stamped. We have been able to achieve a much better response rate for critical work orders.?

Fluid Solutions

For the water and drinking water departments, the system helps ensure safe, clean water to the community while conserving city resources by providing faster and more efficient maintenance. Urgent requests for critical water work orders that can impact residents, such as pipe main breaks or water quality problems, are received as e-mails on the smartphones of designated department first responders. Field crews get real-time work order updates and directly update the work order status on their phones without having to go through a dispatcher. This increases the time crews can work in the field maintaining the city?s assets rather than in the office submitting paperwork.

The software provides analysis into overall water and wastewater projects to guide water main replacement and capital improvement strategies in order to continuously improve the reliability of the water systems.? For example, during one period in the past, the wastewater staff found that nearly 33 percent of the department?s effort was spent resolving problems at just 1.4 percent of customer sites. With this information, the City developed and implemented a repair plan that resolved these ongoing issues and ultimately reduced costs.
Analyzing data behind the City?s 3,843 water main breaks during a three-year period revealed that smaller diameter mains represented a disproportionate share. The 4-inch mains comprised 3 percent of the total water distribution system but more than 15 percent of all breaks.? While the department continues to analyze factors such as pipe materials and age, replacing the 4-inch mains with larger diameter pipes may be a cost-effective tactic.

?Having the system allows us to analyze the data and develop repair strategies to resolve problems systematically rather than continuing to back to the same locations again and again to make repairs,? Klepper said.

While Corpus Christi has seen the benefits of its management software, there are even more possibilities for improvement in the future. ?We are focusing on gearing up for better use of the system for asset management in examining the risk and consequences of failure. Not just from a theoretical standpoint, but as a guide for capital replacement decisions and planning.

?There are so many capabilities when you are able to leverage information available. We are still learning what we can do and continuing to grow into it.?

Jim Rush is editor of UIM.

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