Asset Management: Keeping City Operations Competitive

Facing privatization, Corpus Christi turns to asset management to control costs while improving customer service levels.

A textbook example of the benefits of enterprise asset management can be found in the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. There was a time when the majority of work orders generated and completed were reactive in nature. This approach solved critical problems and maintained acceptable customer service levels. But it was costly and inefficient, and most of all didn’t allow for analytics-driven decision making. Concurrently the city council was wrestling with privatizing water and wastewater operations. Just one city council member’s vote away from privatization, the water and wastewater departments faced an ultimatum—decrease costs while maintaining customer service or face privatization.

The water and wastewater department turned an objective and critical eye toward its work order system, which had evolved over time. It was a mix of hard-copy service requests, the city’s GIS and an Access database. Data were poorly integrated and impossible to analyze. If the utilities department was to meet the expectation of the city council, better tools were essential.

It’s one thing to identify the problem. But what about the solution? To answer this question, the city turned to business-management consultant EMA Inc. EMA assessed the city’s current work order system and analyzed several possible alternatives. After reviewing the options and recommendations from EMA, the city chose IBM’s Smarter Water and asset management software. EMA would help Corpus Christi during the implementation of IBM’s software across the public works and utilities departments.

As part of the IBM Smarter Water solution, IBM Maximo Asset Management software is part of the company’s Smarter Planet portfolio. To IBM, the answer to solving the challenge of water resource management starts with data. IBM’s view is data act as a real-world sensor within the utilities’ operations. The data tell a story, if you only know how to read and analyze it. Analyzing these data is a core competency of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative.

“The enormous amount of data the world generates today holds the key to building a smarter planet,” says Ron Wallace, product marketing manager for IBM Maximo. “Through IBM software, the city of Corpus Christi has the ability to mine data throughout its water infrastructure and gain valuable insight into its departments and systems to address points of weakness across pipes, hydrants and water ditches. Such visibility allows crews to provide better customer service throughout the city.”

To optimize the value of its software, IBM works with partners such as Esri, who provides GIS capabilities that are integrated with Maximo. GIS often contains static data on a given asset, such as materials and installation data. On the other hand, enterprise asset management contains the history of work done upon that asset. By displaying asset management repair history within the spatial visualization tool of a GIS product, the utility can make better decisions regarding repairs or replacement.

Interfacing with the city’s GIS provided a spatial perspective on work orders, thus preventing order duplication and allowing various contacts and departments to see existing scheduled work. Not only did work order generation become automated, but the city can see a history of repairs for that asset along with other public works department activities scheduled around a given asset.

“It is important to remember that implementing an asset management system is not a technology project, but a business operations project,” observes Steve Klepper, Corpus Christi administrative superintendent. “Customers don’t care what department they are calling. They care about having their problem resolved. We think of our customers as assets. It is about delivering good service, efficiently.”

The public works and utilities departments were expected to perform on four measures—improved customer service, financial management, process improvement and sustainability. To monitor this, the city created a visual dashboard, illustrating where the departments are performing to goal and where they fall short. This information is derived from IBM’s Smarter Water software. Users can customize the view based on time periods or department functions.  Through the application of asset management, Corpus Christi simultaneously defined and improved customer service levels while controlling operating costs.