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Mapping a Smarter Future with Technology

Amy Corriveau Associate, Business Technology Strategy Leader
The path to building a smarter utility starts with establishing clear goals and considering how technology can help get you there. Ask these four key questions to start building your technology roadmap.

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.

You shouldn’t have to work for your asset management systems; they should be working for you

Connecting Goals with Technology
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 illustrationFully 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 with improving and refining its asset management program.

The path to building a smarter utility starts with establishing clear goals and considering how technology can help get you there.
Amy Corriveau Associate, Business Technology Strategy Leader
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