Leveraging Asset Management Best Practices for a World-Class Water Utility
By Vennard Wright, Chief Information Officer, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission
Vennard Wright, Chief Information Officer, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is a 100 year old public water utility that has never seen a drinking water violation in its long, storied history. As CIO, I face daily technical challenges across many areas, to help keep that legacy intact. One of the most pressing challenges is modernizing our automated approach for tracking linear and vertical assets that support a water delivery system which covers almost 1,000 square miles.
Maintaining our assets and infrastructure is an ongoing task, so it is imperative that our utility services team always has real-time access to critical information on the condition and performance of capital assets which also supports the timing of necessary investments by providing us with the latest information our teams need to develop plans to maintain, repair, and replace assets.
"We use asset management best practices to pursue and achieve sustainable infrastructure in support of our service delivery"
Asset management is defined as the practice of managing infrastructure capital assets to minimize the total cost of owning and operating these assets, while delivering the desired service levels. At WSSC, we use asset management best practices to pursue and achieve sustainable infrastructure in support of our service delivery. Our documented asset management strategy is in support of both our linear assets, which includes our below-ground pipes and our vertical assets which encompasses pumps, reservoirs, wells, and related treatment facilities that are primarily above ground.
This helps us make sure that planned maintenance can be conducted and capital assets such as pumps, motors and pipes can be repaired, replaced, or upgraded on time and that there is enough money in our operating budget to cover those costs.
To achieve that objective, we have developed an enterprise asset management (EAM) program, comprised of multiple departments, which is responsible for performing detailed asset inventories, operation and maintenance tasks, and long-range financial planning. This helps to ensure that our system remains in good working order, regardless of the age of its components or the availability of additional capital funds. We accomplish this by furnishing data on asset attributes, such as the age and condition of pipes which is used to initiate a process designed to make decisions about the criticality of maintenance and replacement.
This process begins when an asset owner, asset strategy manager, or other personnel provides basic information, such as a business case, which is necessary for the identified need to be validated. Once that information is reviewed, an internal committee can either review or deny the request. In the case of emergencies or immediate needs, exceptions are made to the prescribed process.
To support these decisions, we use common technologies such as geographical information system (GIS) and work asset management (WAM) for increasing transparency to our customers, assisting in data collection, and coordinating maintenance activities.
At WSSC, we have implemented multiple GIS applications to display map-based views that cover a multitude of use cases such as spatial updates of work being performed in unique neighborhoods and map-based views of service requests by street which is made possible by rendering geo-coded reports from our asset management databases. In addition, our utility service and production departments use GIS to analyze interconnectivity, proximity, and other complex spatial relationships that would otherwise prove difficult with more traditional non-location-aware database systems.
We have implemented a WAM system in support of our EAM program to replace manual, paper-based processes which enabled us to remove the costly intermediary periods between persistent issues being noticed and issues being logged. In addition, WAM empowers instant confirmation by field technicians, who can then either be deployed to repair faulty pipes or to inspect other assets. By leveraging WAM, we are more effectively able to manage our ongoing construction, maintenance, repair and inspection activities while providing visibility into current pipe condition which helps us to log the historical data which will help us to predict the assets that are most likely to fail.
The technical aspects of development and maintenance of GIS and WAM are supported by the internal IT organization while planning and feature enhancement efforts are coordinated and led by the business, to ensure complete alignment with strategic priorities such as improving infrastructure, enhancing customer engagement and achieving business process excellence.
Our company mission is to provide safe and reliable water, while returning clean water to the environment which is made possible by paying close attention to best practices such as asset management and streamlined business processes that are repeatedly examined and improved over time as necessary.
Enterprise asset management is a scalable approach that can be used by water utilities of any size. Whether running a small drinking water system only serving a few dozen customers or a drinking water and wastewater system serving counties with millions of residents, asset management means putting in place a long-term plan to sustain these systems and the delivery of life’s most precious resource, which we are collectively entrusted with providing.