• Amy Corriveau in CDM Smith’s Business Technology center in Boston.

file under: Program Management, United States, Government, Federal Government, North America, Water

Mapping a Smarter Future with Technology

Forward-looking utilities are aiming to build smarter infrastructure: leveraging data, software and technology to improve operations, maintenance, efficiency and succession planning. With computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) options abounding, it is easy to get lost in the maze of competing software packages. Instead of debating the merits of one piece of technology over another, it is far more important for utilities to consider how they want their asset management systems to work in the years to come and map a path toward a successful future.

Connecting Goals with Technology
You shouldn’t have to work for your asset management systems; they should be working for you. 

The path to building a smarter utility starts with establishing clear goals and considering how technology can help get you there. Whether you are looking at CMMS upgrades as part of a long-term, proactive strategic vision, or in response to an urgent need predicated by a consent decree or some other regulatory or unexpected action, you must decide what you want your systems to be like and what you want them to do. There are some key questions that can guide your path to help you craft this technology roadmap.

How do you envision making data work for you? Begin the process of building a smarter utility through workshops where key stakeholders can convey what they think is working and what they hope technology can augment or improve. Note the types of data your team wishes they had access to. You can also ask your team what aspects of the process should be automated, and what should be kept hands-on.

CMMS Before and AfterFully integrating key systems with a CMMS (yellow box) enables owners to better monitor, manage, and invest in future assets through data-driven decisions.

How can technology help capture your people’s expertise? Many utilities are facing a “brain drain” as a generation of highly experienced workers nears retirement. Their know-how is built on decades in the field, and the loss of their experience would be nearly incalculable. This is where CMMS systems can be a major asset. Capturing information about the asset, its condition, and overall performance and reliability can now be centralized and distributed in the field in real-time – and knowing the direction and number of turns to isolate a valve or simply the last time that valve was exercised, can make a huge impact especially during an emergency event. It also allows your next generation of workers to draw and build upon the knowledge of those who came before. And, putting technology in the hands of that next generation in the form of tablets and smartphone apps will meet their expectations of a forward-looking workplace.

Can compliance be accelerated through technology? Thinking long-term about how to better optimize assets and investments, before compliance issues become a concern, provides a chance to make improvements on your own terms. Many state programs and grants are available to help you implement asset management programs and CMMS upgrades. Outlining current, future and potential compliance goals and linking assessment and measurement through technology can keep you ahead of the curve.

Are current assets being used to their best ability? Many utilities have some systems in place already, such as a geographic information system (GIS), or even a CMMS, but often, these systems are not being used to the fullest potential. By conducting an assessment of what is missing, identifying where improvements can be made, and learning how to connect each system to get valuable data back you can realize and demonstrate substantial improvements in efficiency and compliance.

Defining collective priorities and goals, and ultimately building that information into a 5-year roadmap for effective CMMS implementation can set your utility on the path to success. Ultimately, you should not have to work for your asset management systems; they should be working for you. Technology is only one component of a successful utility, but when used effectively, it becomes an integral and powerful asset unto itself.

Amy Corriveau is an associate and strategy leader within CDM Smith’s Business Technology group, leading the Project Planning, Delivery and Portfolio Optimization team. Prior to this role, Amy worked for more than 18 years with water, wastewater and electric utility clients in implementing and optimizing information management systems. During her work with the Clean Water 2020 Program Management project in Columbia, SC, she applied many of the concepts and fundamentals of technology planning to assist the City of Columbia improve and refine its asset management program.