By Angela Godwin, Chief Editor- WaterWorld
It’s going to take a lot of money — perhaps trillions by some accounts — to repair and replace our aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. In the meantime, utilities are tasked with deciding which assets need the most immediate attention so that they can effectively manage costs.
Figure 1: Comparative Review: Summary Results
Naturally an unexpected water main break is always going to demand precedence, but emergencies like that are going to happen from time to time. The trick is being able to understand where each asset is in its lifecycle so that deliberate, predictive maintenance (or replacement) can become part of a utility’s overall capital investment plan.
In recent years, a number of software products have come into the water and wastewater market, each with its own set of features and benefits designed to help utilities make smart, informed decisions with regard to managing assets. But sifting through to find the one that meets a utility’s specific needs can be daunting.
To help utilities navigate the many options available to them, the Water Finance Research Foundation (WFRF) conducted a comparative study of 14 popular asset management software systems.
“This is something that I’ve seen utilities struggling with,” said Greg Baird, president of WFRF and a lead author on the study. “There was a huge amount of confusion in the marketplace with many of these systems starting to look and sound the same.”
The study — not designed to promote any one system over another — is intended to compare systems across a uniform set of criteria. “I wanted to be able to evaluate these systems and understand what the overall pros and cons are and how they differentiate themselves from one another,” said Baird.
“In the municipal world,” he said, “everybody has been trained on some sort of work management system and that’s how a lot of these different software systems started out.”
Baird said each of the systems WFRF evaluated is indeed a very good work order management system.
“The work order management component is the piece that’s been developed the best by everybody,” he said. “You see less differentiation here.” He noted that most have added the inventory component; some of the larger, more robust systems have added licensing and permits. “If you’re just a basic water utility, you’re probably not too worried about licensing and permitting,” he said. “But if you’re a public works department tied into the rest of the city and you’re also managing the water/wastewater system, now you have the ability to be able to approach it from a citywide basis.”
“But an asset management system goes beyond just work order management because now you want to get into predictive analytics,” he explained. “And it’s not simply going to be age-based; now you want to add the components of condition assessment.”
The WFRF analysis looked at four key functional categories: company services, asset management, work orders, and GIS. Within each of those categories, several comparative criteria subcategories were identified (see Table 1).
Table 1: Comparative Review: Major Functional Areas
When considering any one of these vendors, Baird recommended researching the stability of the different companies. “What’s the propensity of someone larger buying them out? If that happens, you could be forced to go down a certain migration path and be stuck with having 12 to 18 percent maintenance fees for a very long time because the cost to leave that and buy something else is too great.” It’s an important detail, considering that these systems can easily cost into the millions of dollars after full implementation.
Another important consideration is the product’s integration with GIS. “The major point of difference between these different software programs,” he said, “was how they integrated with Esri GIS.” And with Esri GIS having such a large share of the GIS market, choosing a system that integrates seamlessly with it is key.
Understandably, each utility will have different needs and, consequently, acceptable price points. Baird hopes that with the information provided by the WFRF analysis, they will also have “good comparative data for seeing how these programs stack up to one another.”
To access the “Municipal Maintenance and Infrastructure Asset Management Systems” comparative review, please visit www.waterfinancerf.org/am-sofware-feedback.