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Return to: 1999 Feature Stories

CLIENT: LORICK ASSOCIATES CONSULTING, INC.

Nov. 29, 1999: Water Online

KEY TO SUCCESSFUL MAINTENANCE SYSTEMS IS THE METHODOLOGY

Automation and software are not magic cure-alls for a successful application of a maintenance management system (MMS). Implemented properly, a MMS can accomplish the goals and objectives of controlling, planning, directing and organizing an effective maintenance operations program and help agencies improve maintenance operations. In fact, following the capital outlay for additional computer equipment that often accompanies setting up a new maintenance management system, less efficient operations may actually occur, due to redundant data collection, unnecessary processing of information, and unenthused staff.

Some agencies have avoided these pitfalls, and garnered considerable success including documented savings up to $1 million annually. What have they done to achieve it?

This article examines some of the practical aspects of implementation from the points of view of three different government agencies that were successful. While the sizes and settings of each agency varied considerably - the first a suburban road department in a subtropical area, the second an urban flood control and road maintenance operation, and the third a high desert public works department - similar threads run through their successful approaches.

THREE AGENCIES' EXPERIENCES

Three senior public agency officials in California, Florida and Nevada addressed these and other important issues. Each provided valuable advice based on their experience in implementing a MMS process.

Rick Ruiz is Deputy Director of Public Works for Alameda County, CA. The County is one of the most populous in the state. Major municipalities include the Cities of Oakland, Berkeley and Hayward. Alameda County's system tracks both reactive and proactive road, traffic, flood control and bridges maintenance work. The system is now using the data for a complete benchmarking effort to improve maintenance operations.

Craig McConnell, P.E., is Public Works Director for Charlotte County, FL. Charlotte County, with over 2,080 road miles to maintain and a population of 130,000, is located in southwest Florida, about 100 miles south of Tampa. The system implemented in the County freed up $750,000 annually, and more work is being done with fewer maintenance employees. He utilized these savings to initiate long deferred road and drainage infrastructure rehabilitation.

Steve Varela is Director of Public Works/City Engineer for the City of Reno, NV. Reno, pop. 162,000, is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the western United States. Along with the City of Sparks, Reno is an urban area of more than 300,000, situated at the foot of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Varela's implementation of a system for roads, sewers, buildings, traffic and environmental control resulted in efficiency improvements of about 10 percent. One of the impacts was deprivatizing, or taking back sewer cleaning.

LESSONS LEARNED

All three public works officials stated that before automating any maintenance functions and/or purchasing any software and hardware, public agencies must clearly determine exactly what they want to accomplish and secondly, establish a structured 'game plan' to get there. It's crucial to map the maintenance system that may already be in place, and then analyze the existing processes for accomplishing maintenance tasks.

At the outset, one of the biggest challenges public agencies face in implementing a MMS comes from internal and/or external resistance and skepticism.

"If there are parts of an MMS already in place, the internal comment might be, 'we've already got this-why do we need a new one?'" McConnell said. "There could be a similar external comment, often associated with the 'cost' of a new system.

McConnell added that "it took a year to gain approval to proceed with our project in Charlotte County and to convince those in the decision making process that it was a necessary investment and the most effective means of reforming road and drainage maintenance management. We also needed to demonstrate how the investment would recoup recurring future benefits in terms of cost efficiency and quality service."

The City of Reno faced other challenges. Varela said the biggest hurdle was getting employees to 'buy in' and understand the benefits - that an MMS wasn't a threat or just a simple tracking tool, but a comprehensive program that has now helped the City improve efficiency and competitiveness.

"Maintenance accounts for a major portion of the $12 million spent in Reno on infrastructure each year," Varela said. "These dollars are now better spent by using automated systems to help the right people, materials and equipment on the right job at the right time following the right methods."

Varela said that before any equipment was purchased, a thorough analysis was conducted to understand all maintenance processes. The City was then able to determine their automation and software requirements based on these findings. The City was using an old computer system, for instance, that would tell employees what sewer lines were scheduled for maintenance based on a 24-month service schedule. The system would immediately produce a list of sewer lines to service but it didn't tell them how or when to do the work.

"We figured out how to first resolve the problem, then purchased the necessary equipment to automate these functions. We now start from one upstream end of the sewer system and work our way down which reduces set up time," Varela said. "By initially focusing on the process, we were able to accurately assess our equipment needs and ultimately implement better scheduling methods while improving the way we organize our work."

The public works officials added that re-engineering the processes that need improving are also paramount to having an effective MMS. It's important to first spend time determining the most effective balance of in-house capabilities and manpower availability, versus external support and process facilitation.

Alameda County's Rick Ruiz, for example, said that 'benchmarking' his department's top 10 activities such as street sweeping, tree trimming and a double-chip seal program will be invaluable in determining what processes to target and improve. The County's MMS provides the basis for their benchmarking process that will help the County assess performance and measure progress and establish standards and goals.

Once the public agency has evaluated the maintenance management processes and set in place a methodology for re-engineering those areas in need of improvement, then automation needs can be determined.

McConnell said public agencies must look at the MMS system outputs, what attributes they have, and how they are to be used. They should assess the scale of the public agency's operations for the purpose of evaluating the needed information, work accomplishment, reporting and determining how complex the automated system should be.

"There must be improved performance of work visible to the community, whether it's doing work which was not done before, or doing it more effectively and efficiently," he said. "Elected officials and their top government managers want to see demonstrated performance."

McConnell added that "the public agency should also obtain the services of an independent technical evaluator or facilitator - not someone with just an expertise in cost accounting, but experts who really know how to assess a road and drainage maintenance system and can look at how it relates to the institutional structure."

McConnell said that access to the MMS should be available to everyone since it's public information.

"The access interfaces are important and there should be 'user-friendly' reports and data, from which they are compiled," he said. "The needs, look and content of the reports have to be carefully considered as to use, and designed accordingly. In the next phase of Charlotte County's system development, map location and work scheduling information is to be made available to the public via the Internet."

Lastly, once new MMS software is utilized, it should be as transparent as possible relative to associated software applications, e.g., it should be able to interface with widely used programs and be upgradeable if necessary.

KEYS FOR SUCCESS

There are a number of basic elements necessary to implement a system that will assist, rather than hinder an agency in providing services to effectively meet customers' needs. An extensive nationwide survey conducted by our firm highlighted some of these:

  • Established goals for the system. Successful agencies understood the intent of the system and knew what it would be doing. The system goals were a subset of the goals for the department. If the intent is to improve response time, then response time must be a goal. For example, one maintenance agency surveyed wanted to improve their budget work tracking process, yet software purchased by their team from engineering and MIS was an asset management and work order system, which had no ability to budget or track against a budget.
  • Commitment of management and supervisors. The desire to have a systems approach and to improve the operations must be agreed and "bought in" at the highest level. The system 'champion' should be a senior management staff - Director of Public Works, City Engineer or maintenance manager. In addition, this proponent must have the support of the elected leaders in this process. Without a high level of commitment, key changes will be difficult to make. The three mentioned agencies all had a senior manager driving the process.
  • Involvement of maintenance staff and supervisors. The people that will actually be changing their way of doing business must be made a part of the process. Many ideas and basic improvements can be obtained by including those closest to the work. In Reno, all maintenance supervisors and workers were involved and received training over a nine-month timeframe.
  • Reengineering, not overlaying the existing process. Many unsuccessful systems simply add a new system on top of the existing manual and automate ways of conducting business. New systems should seek to streamline, improve and reengineer various planning, tracking and scheduling tools using the latest technology. Often, other data that has been collected can be combined with MMS data requirements; for example, eight existing databases were combined into one for Charlotte County, thus reducing data collection.
  • Establishment of a continuous improvement process. Many systems being used today are standard setups that do not change and then became unusable because they are not adjusting to the changing conditions that affect all public agencies. An orderly mechanism to update and reevaluate system and processes and work being managed must be part of the implementation. The system must change just as technology, customer demands, and the environment change.
  • Well-defined methodologies to collect, store, summarize and distribute information. If government employees are to use the MMS then the information collected must be readily available. A streamlined way to prepare a plan that can provide specific performance measures, generate schedules, track requests for service, record and summarize effort and expenditures and compile and analyze data is required. The information must be stored in a retrievable database and statistics compiled. Then, the data is readily available for all decision-makers to use and act on. Finally, guidance should be established on the interpretation and use of the information.
  • Implementing a complete system to manage maintenance. An asset management system that contains all work inventory features such as pipes, sizes etc., is necessary. In addition, the ability to produce work orders based on requests and/or repetitive work is also important.

More fundamentally, however, annual work programs consisting of specific activities that roll up a budget are needed. The work programs and associated activities enable determination of the resources that will be needed to deliver the services. Further, the ability to track cost, productivity, unit cost and resources expended versus a plan is critical for improvement. An agency must have both asset and work management tools in its MMS to be truly effective.

These three agencies applied these concepts and their systems work! The systems enable determination of true costs, unit costs, productivity, service responsiveness, and accomplishments relative to defined goals.

SUMMARY

The implementation of a system is like training for a first time marathon. You have to know where you are going. The time to get to that point varies, but in the case of a maintenance management system need not be more than two years to realize a dramatic impact. You must learn from your efforts and keep working to move in the most efficient way possible. There is no quick fix (software) - just hard work that is going to help your staff work smarter and perform work with a better quality in an effective and efficient way. Receiving help or coaching from those who have done it before can shorten the learning curve, yet you must realize that you are the one who is running the race. For an MMS to work, the agency must continually update it to meet an ever-changing environment.

Implementing a MMS and determining the associated hardware and software requirements is a daunting task. You must first understand and clearly outline what you want the MMS to accomplish. You must decide how this approach is going to be done to better manage your operation. Then once you have defined these needs and have a clear blueprint for planning and evaluating maintenance operations, you can select the tool that will get you there. The use of systems that have not only an asset management and work order module, but also includes a complete work management planing and tracking module is an absolute necessary tool for a successful approach.

A new and improved MMS with the features you need can provide your public agency with the critical maintenance management tools that not only track, analyze and streamline departmental performance, but also more importantly, improve service to the community.

Processes that are discussed in the various management journals such as activity based costing; benchmarking, and continuous improvement can then be readily applied to help improve your operations. Then, and only then, you know where you are, and can make the best choices for your agency. Other local governments have implemented successful management systems. You can too!

Return to: 1999 Feature Stories