Asset Management: Western Virginia Water Authority

Western Virginia Water Authority replaces a patchwork system with a comprehensive tool.

Western Virginia Water Authority (WVWA) of Roanoke provides water and sewer service in the city of Roanoke, Roanoke County and Franklin County. The authority serves over 180,000 customers through 60,000 metered connections.

WVWA possessed copious amounts of information about its infrastructure assets. But, the information was compartmentalized into various tools ranging from spreadsheets, to computerized maintenance management systems, to databases. The data within these resources had been entered manually over years of use. Some data were redundant, some were incomplete, and some were inaccurate.

The legacy approach gathered field asset data on paper forms. The paper forms were then entered into the assorted software programs. Often the most important piece of information ended up within the “comments” sections of both the paper form and the digital repository. On top of this, these solutions used a street address–based location system, which resulted in some work orders being assigned to incorrect assets.

Mindful of its responsibility to invest both capital and operating expenses as judiciously as possible, WVWA made a business decision to consolidate its existing asset and inspection data into a comprehensive solution. The focus would move from data import and management toward data analysis.

After careful review of several solutions, WVWA selected InfoNet from Innovyze. The authority found that InfoNet and its field version, InfoNet Mobile, answered most of its needs.

In moving existing data from other tools into InfoNet, WVWA carefully documented the origin of imported data. “It all comes down to the provenance of the data,” observes Jim O’Dowd, WVWA infrastructure asset manager. “As you start tracing back the origin of the data, you ask yourself, ‘Can I depend on this?’ You really need to go all the way back to the field report of what someone saw on the ground.”

Input from field operations proved critical to the success WVWA experienced with successful implementation of InfoNet Mobile. The implementation was “bottom up,” not “top down.” Field crews had a sense of ownership of the final product. Their input was invaluable in creating a better tool.

For InfoNet Mobile, WVWA chose a variety of regular and ruggedized laptops and tablets rather than smaller handheld devices. The consensus was these tools were easier to use by field staff. The staff preferred having a larger display and a regular keyboard.

The implementation phase gave WVWA a chance to rethink the entire scope of its business, from routine inspections to work order generation. “This forced us to look at our business processes. If a utility has been going along for 10, 15 years, doing things the same way, and someone asks ‘Why?’ and the answer is ‘Because we’ve always done it this way,’ it is clear that it’s time to take a fresh look at what you do, and why you do it,” observes O’Dowd. “It’s easy to waste time obtaining data you don’t use, but miss data that you actually need.

“Before we started using InfoNet, the data was all over the place in different data silos. We started extracting data, inputting it into InfoNet,” continues O’Dowd. “Once complete, we can click on a pipe and see everything that’s happened on that pipe. All the repairs, CCTV footage [and] blockage history can be viewed through InfoNet.”

InfoNet also helps WVWA make intelligent delineations between operational repairs and capital improvement projects (CIP). By viewing scheduled CIP work, staff can adapt repairs within the context of larger projects. Additionally, if staff see a chronic recurring problem, they can look to see if a permanent solution is on the schedule. If not, they can submit the repair as a future work order.

“Now we are starting to look at analysis. ‘How can we use this data?’” continues O’Dowd, “Repairs are now prioritized for the greatest benefit to operations. These decisions are informed and defensible. “

O’Dowd has some sage advice for any water authority looking to put asset management software tools into practice: “Involve internal stakeholders and influencers early on in the process. Some staff members had concerns about security, database integrity—all very important things. Make sure everyone understands the functionality, and educate those involved about the benefits of the solution. You need an internal champion, someone who can filter through possible solutions and manage the project from start to finish.”

Through asset management, WVWA has made an important step forward in managing its resources. Nearly a hundred staff members use InfoNet and InfoNet Mobile to lower costs, improve service levels and ensure environmental performance.