Enterprise asset management system provides holistic solution for city public works

January 2011 » Web Exclusive » PROJECT CASE STUDY
Eric Hrnicek, P.E., GISP
Project
Enterprise asset management system, Topeka, Kan.

Participants
Topeka Department of Public Works
Woolpert

Product application
An enterprise asset management system based on Esri’s ArcGIS and Azteca’s Cityworks connects city’s six public works divisions.

When the Shunganunga Creek in Kansas overtopped its banks on May 7, 2007 — a 100-year flood event that forced 500 people to evacuate their homes — the city of Topeka Department of Public Works handled much of the cleanup, according to Mike Teply, then department director. On that day the Shunganunga, which runs from the southwest part of Topeka to the Kansas River northeast of the city, flooded businesses as well as residences. And although the Public Works Department incurred more than $90,000 in cleanup expenses, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursed the city just 40 percent of this amount, or $36,341, said Teply, now the department’s director of engineering and development.

“Back then we hadn’t implemented our enterprise asset management system in our Street Maintenance Section, so we were unable to provide the details FEMA required,” he said. “So we were reimbursed primarily for expenses incurred only by the wastewater and stormwater utilities.”

Nearly three years later, however — after a snowstorm pounded Topeka in late December 2009 and early January 2010 — things in Public Works were much different. During several weeks in January 2010, the department spent time and money fixing street damage, mostly potholes, caused by the snowstorm. But this time, nearly all divisions in the department were online with the city’s enterprise asset management system.

Teply’s staff used this system to track and compare pothole-repair expenses to those incurred at the same time in 2009. Because Public Works could document an incremental increase in costs, FEMA reimbursed the Street Maintenance Section $31,794 for expenses associated with the snowstorm damage.

“FEMA requires exact documentation and extensive details for labor, equipment, materials, and associated costs — information we now collect as we go along,” Teply said. “Since we now know our costs immediately, we can receive substantial reimbursement from FEMA for work we do as a result of a storm.”

Transportation Operations can review an expandable “Project Summary with Cost” report to learn costs for street-related projects at a glance. Users can drill down into specific work orders and subsequent equipment, material, and labor records, which add up to work order and then project costs. Since the city manages the costs and records associated with each storm as a project, expenses can be summarized easily, quickly, and accurately as needed for FEMA reimbursement requests.

Accurate tracking of projects, work orders, and costs is just one of many information-management improvements Teply attributes to Topeka’s enterprise asset management system, now implemented throughout the department’s six diverse divisions: Development Services, Engineering, Water, Water Pollution Control (sanitary and stormwater utility), Transportation Operations, and Facility Management. Today, more than 75 employees throughout Public Works use the system, based on ESRI’s ArcGIS technology and Azteca’s Cityworks for maintenance management, during day-to-day operations.

Cleanup in January 2010 from a significant snowstorm meant spending time and money fixing street damage, mostly potholes. However, the city used its enterprise asset management system to track and compare pothole-repair expenses to those incurred at the same time in 2009 — and received nearly $32,000 in reimbursement from FEMA for expenses associated with the snowstorm damage.

It’s a seismic shift compared with 2004, when the divisions were managing the city’s infrastructure using a potpourri of systems and software for asset inventory, maintenance, permitting, and code enforcement, including hundreds of Microsoft Access databases and Excel spreadsheets plus at least three computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) implemented at various levels.

One CMMS, for example, was being used as a historical database instead of a maintenance management system. Another CMMS was being used as a data repository rather than an active CMMS and was not tracking costs. In addition, these multiple datasets and multiple software packages required multiple levels of maintenance — and tens of thousands of dollars annually in software maintenance fees.

“We had no clear focus on where we were headed,” recalled Teply.

Each division had its own way of asset management, which typically involved collecting data from multiple sources, both electronic and paper, and from different places. To coordinate work orders, employees relied heavily on telephone calls, interoffice mail, faxes, and e-mails instead of automation. In some cases, work orders were recorded on paper first and entered into a system after the fact. “Since no one could view the same work order simultaneously, it was difficult to tell where something was in the process,” Teply said.

As a result, there was frustration. Staff members in one division, discouraged that their CMMS wasn’t producing the results they needed, routinely reentered data into Access and Excel. While staff members in some divisions complained about limitations with their CMMS, others chose to abandon their system altogether.

In almost every division, staff lacked sufficient training and support, according to Scott Cattran, vice president and director of Infrastructure at Woolpert, the firm the city selected in 2004 to develop the city’s information management master plan.

“There was progressive use of technology, but a lack of coordination among divisions,” Cattran said. “Integration of people, processes, data, and technology was needed to manage the city’s infrastructure holistically.”

Behind the effort to create an enterprise information management and decision-support system for Topeka were:
• Kyle Tjelmeland, the department’s GIS manager, who understood and communicated the long-term benefits of an enterprise system;
• Teply and division managers in Public Works; and
• city council, which ultimately was interested in creating a 311 citizen request management system.

However, some Public Works employees, based on their experiences with existing systems, were far from enthusiastic and a little bit hesitant about introducing yet another system to the city’s repertoire. Why would another system be any different? Why should they expect different results?

Seeing is believing
Woolpert began to answer those questions with its approach to Topeka’s information management master plan — a comprehensive, 106-page document that showed the way to streamline and integrate processes, data, and systems.

First, Woolpert worked closely with Public Works to discover and document — in plain language — the department’s work and workflows: What do you do, and how do you do it? How can we improve and streamline these processes?

Woolpert then identified the data and applications that supported these tasks, along with the department’s critical information systems: those that worked, those that required enhancement, and those not needed to support business functions.

Next, Woolpert worked with the city to answer this question: What do you want the enterprise system to do?

Topeka’s final information management master plan contained 19 recommendations that now are either complete or in process; one has been revised and one has been eliminated. Significant recommendations in the plan called for the following:
• moving to an enterprise GIS environment;
• eliminating five redundant work and asset management systems and implementing a new enterprise asset and maintenance management system to be used by all six divisions within Public Works;
• centralizing GIS operations and initiatives within Public Works — a significant change in organizational structure;
• integrating the enterprise asset and maintenance management system with the call center, which would become a one-stop shop for citizens’ requests for service and work orders;
• integrating with the city’s enterprise resource planning system;
• making improvements to and integrating with the utility billing system;
• merging and making improvements to the permitting and code-enforcement systems; and
• integrating with the document management system for records management.

Woolpert’s enterprise geodatabase design, based on Esri’s ArcGIS, encompassed data from all six divisions in Public Works plus existing GIS data migrated into the new model from legacy data formats. After consolidating all this data, Woolpert helped the city review and update the data, which is now the foundation for systems such as the enterprise asset management system.

Get started with an enterprise system
Develop a comprehensive information management master plan. Key elements in the city of Topeka’s comprehensive, 106-page plan include the following:
  • Existing conditions in each Public Works division, including data, applications in use, and existing concerns;
  • Needs assessment, including regulatory constraints, organizational constraints, data access and development, workflow in Public Works, and prioritized needs;
  • Information management strategies;
  • Analysis and 19 recommendations;
  • Implementation schedule, budget, and six project priorities; and
  • Appendix, including integrated information portal software requirements specification, maintenance management benchmarking requirements, and permitting and code-enforcement benchmarking requirements.

Three software vendors were given key requirements for the city’s new CMMS, along with sample datasets from the city, so vendors could develop demonstrations to prove how their systems might meet the city’s requirements. Vendors had to follow scenarios that matched the city’s work processes; the solution had to integrate with the GIS and use the city’s GIS and other data. Vendors were scored on their ability to meet each scenario.

In the final analysis, the city considered features and functions; costs (software, yearly maintenance, implementation, and training and data migration); cultural factors; and integration with other systems, such as 311 and permitting, in the future. Azteca’s Cityworks was selected for asset and maintenance management.

“Before people can be open to change, they should be able to clearly see the benefits,” Cattran noted. “We presented division heads and their staff with a demo of exactly what they could expect from these new systems. When they could see how each enterprise asset management system would work with their own data — as opposed to a canned demo — the possibilities were truly illuminated.”

A new way of doing business
It made sense to implement the asset and maintenance management system in the Water division first since it had the greatest need and would realize benefits the fastest, Cattran said. That’s because the division’s existing CMMS had been only partially implemented, so it was making do with Excel spreadsheets and an Access database for inventory data. Moreover, the Water division could not track work orders electronically.

“Implementing Cityworks brought about a dramatic change in the Water division by making it much more efficient,” Cattran said. “That gave all the other divisions more confidence in moving to an enterprise system.”

The enterprise GIS and asset management system are now integral for day-to-day operations within Public Works, and that’s the most significant benefit, Teply said. However, implementing a successful system required more than just choosing the right software package; it required staff to make some recommended changes in their work processes to improve the way they do business. Here’s how Public Works staff members are using — and realizing the benefits of — an enterprise system.

To ensure consistent asset management in all divisions within Public Works — The department uses the system not only to track costs during and after natural disasters such as floods and snowstorms, but also to track costs for routine work orders.

In the past, Teply might have been able to calculate the total number of water main breaks and the total cost of repairs for the year. Now the department can use the enterprise asset management system to track, record, and compare specific details associated with each water main break repaired — intersection, date, types of equipment and materials used, and labor hours per person — plus all costs. This helps the Water division identify trends, such as a series of breaks in adjacent areas or spikes in overtime.

A “Broken Main Response-Repair Times” report from the enterprise asset management system lists all broken water mains by date range. “Disrupt Time” and “Gallons Lost” translate to lost revenue and customer dissatisfaction. Trends based on break type and location might lead to decisions about water main replacements.

“By analyzing reports from the enterprise system, now we can see ways we can reduce costs or change some of our processes to use our workforce more efficiently,” he said.

The Water division, for example, also has used the system to track time, materials, and equipment costs for repairing accidental damage done to water mains by contractors working on excavation and construction projects. Tjelmeland said costs now recovered per incident average about $1,500.

Besides tracking costs, Public Works divisions now track and document work order details in the enterprise system, which is configured with all the step-by-step tasks associated with a particular work order for a particular asset.

Transportation Operations managers can use an “Intersection Workorder Summary with Cost” report to quickly determine and compare the cost of work orders performed per intersection over a certain time period.

Four reasons for success
Topeka’s implementation of an enterprise system succeeded because Woolpert and the city of Topeka:
  1. Addressed head on — in the information management master plan — the organizational and cultural challenges of getting multiple departments on the same system;
  2. Ensured buy-in by including major stakeholders from all six Public Works divisions and from the GIS group throughout the planning and implementation process;
  3. Conducted detailed business process engineering — based on recommendations in the information management master plan — to improve communication and tasks within and among Public Works divisions; and
  4. Customized the system to reflect how the city planned and managed preventive maintenance.

In the past, there was no central way of tracking information about work done on an asset, so divisions reacted to and solved problems as they came along. Now city crews, using laptops in the field, must complete certain tasks and record certain data in the system before closing out a work order. As a result, the city can run reports to determine which assets have chronic problems and may need rehabilitation or replacement.

Tjelmeland said the system also helps keep work orders from slipping through the cracks. “There’s much better tracking of work to be done,” he said. Since the system was implemented, he noted, response times for traffic-signal outages and pothole repairs have been reduced significantly.

The enterprise asset management system also has allowed the divisions to plan and schedule preventive maintenance automatically. “Previously, it was hit or miss,” admitted Teply, since staff used to rely primarily on homegrown databases or corporate memories for planning preventive maintenance tasks. “Now, the system lets us schedule which tasks need to be done and when, and lets us know if a task isn’t completed by a certain time so we can evaluate why — perhaps there was an emergency instead.”

In the past, for example, staff in the Water Pollution Control division used Excel to track sewer line segments and note the last cleaning dates; staff queried Excel for segments not cleaned during the previous two years and then manually wrote cleaning work orders. Now that cleaning timeframes for sewer line segments are set up in Cityworks, the system automatically determines which lines need to be cleaned next and automatically generates the cleaning work orders, thus saving time.

The Water Pollution Control division can use a “Gravity Main Work with Footage Summary” report to compare resources being used for preventive maintenance (proactive) versus corrective measures (reactive) and quality assurance/quality control. In general, taking care of corrective measures, which can happen at any time of the day or night, requires more resources than handling preventive measures, which can be scheduled during a normal workday and planned for efficiency.

To improve communication within and among divisions — Teply says staff members across the board in Public Works are more productive since they no longer spend time searching for and copying work orders, faxing or sending documents through interoffice mail, or wondering if colleagues have completed their part of a process. For example, the enterprise system has improved the process for new utility service applications.

“We don’t have to worry about where the documents are because we have it all right here,” Teply said. “So customers are getting new utility service faster and with very little, if any, chance of error.”

And whenever more than one division is involved in a project — such as a water main break that requires concrete work and street repairs — the enterprise system makes it easy to coordinate work among divisions, Teply said.

To improve customer service — The system also has improved customer service at the department’s call center, now staffed by employees who document service requests reported by citizens directly into the enterprise asset management system.

In the past, call takers answered calls and transferred callers to the appropriate Public Works division based on their service issue, such as strong odors, low water pressure, nonfunctioning traffic signals, and potholes. Call takers now log a service request directly into the system via a Web-based portal, following on-screen prompts to gather detailed information quickly from the caller — no matter whether the request pertains to water, sewers, streets, or any other public works issue.

Once a request is documented in the system, an employee in the appropriate division can review and prioritize the request, dispatch a crew for an emergency, or take another action. The benefits are twofold: consistent documentation for the department and faster, one-stop reporting for citizens.

Teply said he’s even used the system to respond to questions citizens have asked city council members about an ongoing public works project or issue. “If a citizen asks a city council member why his street has been torn up for three days, all we need is an address, and it’s easy for us to check the enterprise system and tell the council member right away what’s happening and why,” Teply said. “So it’s becoming a very beneficial customer service tool for us.”

To manage, maintain, and update a smaller application portfolio and reduce software maintenance costs — Since five redundant work and asset management systems were eliminated when the enterprise system was implemented, Topeka reduced its fees for software maintenance and upgrades by at least $35,000 annually and now spends less time tracking down software maintenance contracts.

To coordinate training and share expertise throughout the department since all divisions now use the same enterprise system — Teply said that since more than 75 employees are routine users of the enterprise asset management system, it’s easier to share technical expertise with one another. As a result, most divisions now have at least one employee who has taken a leadership role in providing supplementary training to coworkers — in addition to the centralized training and support provided by Tjelmeland’s GIS group — as more users join the system. “Since we operate fairly lean, this helps us take good advantage of the staff we have,” Teply said.

Building on the enterprise application
Teply is looking forward to several next steps in the short term: adding permitting and code-enforcement functionality and launching a Web-based portal to help citizens report service issues and guide contractors and developers through the permitting process.

“In the next three or four years, we expect to expand this enterprise system to other departments in the city, like Parks and Recreation, because other departments are seeing the value of consistency when it comes to asset management,” Teply said. “They have seen what we have done with the diverse operations in Public Works, so they recognize that it can work and benefit their departments — and not change things too much.”

Eric Hrnicek, P.E., GISP, senior system designer, infrastructure information management for Woolpert, helps clients design and build databases and integrated software solutions that result in streamlined information management, primarily in the water/wastewater industry.

 


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