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How to Create Your First Water Utility Asset Management Plan

Kurt West
Apr 27, 2020 3:00:00 PM

Renewing and replacing the nation's public water infrastructure is an ongoing task for utilities. Water utility asset management plans make those tasks much easier.

Whether you are running a small drinking water system or a large drinking water and wastewater utility system in a large city, water utility asset management is a scalable approach that can be used by utility systems of any size -- it all depends on your plan.

The purpose of an asset management plan is to sustain the systems and services you provide. Needs for asset management plans include aging infrastructure, managing stakeholder expectations, data management and reporting, funding, risk management, and more.

Essentially, asset management is about change management and managing your organization’s infrastructure. In fact, the ISO 55000 series describes asset management plans as roadmaps for achieving value from physical assets by optimizing cost, risk and performance across the asset lifecycle. Whether you’re following the U.S. EPA 10-step process or the newly adopted ISO 55000 series, outlining and developing a long-term plan for assets will allow you to efficiently meet industry standards.

Create a strategic water utility asset management plan in order to maximize the value of your capital and streamline your operations and maintenance for a long-lasting utility.

Water Utility Asset Management Plans

Water utility asset management plans make for an effective asset management system. By outlining a long-term strategy, you can properly operate and effectively manage assets over time.

With a wide range of assets (both fixed and liquid), it is important for a business to be able to manage all of its assets and use them in order to get the maximum possible returns. Keeping track of assets is an important task that can save companies money and time. As long as you know the condition of assets, their levels of service, and planned maintenance, you should be on the right track. Learn about 10 water asset management practices that hurt productivity here

Strategic Asset Management Plans (SAMPs)

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) suggests Strategic Asset Management Plans (SAMPs) for asset management. They describe it as “a documentation of the role of the asset management system in supporting achievement of the asset management objectives.”

Your SAMP is essentially a roadmap for implementing your new policies. It should include any and all documented information that specifies how you are going to handle your assets. For example, how your business objectives translate into asset management, your approach for developing an asset management plan, and the role the utility asset management plan plays in working towards your objectives.

Here are some of the foundational elements of a strategic asset management system that the AWWA suggests:

  • Assessing risk
  • Engaging stakeholders
  • Establishing roles and responsibilities
  • Designing competency requirements
  • Developing performance management
  • Creating O&M strategies for managing
  • Asset over their life cycles
  • Managing data and documentation
  • Corrective action and risk mitigation
  • Ensuring continuous improvement

This is just a simplified list of the elements your strategic asset management should include so you can efficiently implement your utility plan. 

5 benefits of water utility asset management plans

Water utility asset management plans offer many key benefits:

1. Reduces downtime with efficient asset tracking

Created for efficiency, utility asset management plans allow everyone in the organization to understand the capabilities of its assets and how they are maintained. This includes performing an asset inventory so you can get a clear definition of the service levels and the ability to measure and monitor the life cycle of assets to ensure they are being used effectively.

Data from utility asset management software solution can also ensure proper tracking, which will lead to better returns, improved reliability, and regular compliance.

2. Promotes collaboration on assets

SAMPs require working across other business departments, locations and facilities for effective asset management across the organization. Not only that, but assets like vehicles, tools, equipment, processes, and workers can be managed efficiently from one central location using utility asset management software.

3. Reduces asset maintenance costs

Like any tool or equipment, assets require maintenance, and maintenance expenses can get costly and cut into company profits. Properly managing your assets will result in reduced costs. Ultimately, your utility asset management plan should outline when and how often to perform maintenance on certain assets to ensure you are not overspending.

4. Manages knowledge transfer in an aging workforce

Preserving knowledge for the long-term is important in any organization, but even more so for utilities. Utility asset management was designed to reduce stress and uncertainty at work by providing the tools, structures and plans to give users safeguards to achieve goals and provide measurable results.

5. Improves accountability and planning

From ensuring that your staff is aware of their specific duties and responsibilities, to real-time insight into progress and completion, when you have a user-friendly and company-wide supported utility asset management plan, assigning tasks, checking on status and completing assignments becomes a lot more efficient.

Utility asset management also promotes long-term planning by mapping out the next 5 to 10 years and goals your organization wants to achieve. With a utility asset management plan in place, you can identify the resources you currently have, the resources you need, and most importantly, how to cut back on the inessential tasks, tools or other resources that aren’t promoting your long-term strategy.

Free Water Asset Management Plan Guide

What to consider

Before creating an efficient water utility asset management plan, there are four things you need to consider.

1. Assessing your current practices

All utilities have some level of procedures and practices in place that guide the functionality of the utility. Your current asset management practices may include computerized maintenance, capital planning and SOP’s for operations and maintenance. Assessing your current practices involves taking a holistic view of the utilities’ existing systems and procedures in order to define its strengths and weaknesses. These results can then be compared to the goals set in the asset management strategy and define the utility’s “gap” for opportunities.

2. Inventorying your assets

Another key step towards properly managing assets is to determine what assets are owned by the utility and the condition that they are in. Your asset inventory should be completed on an asset-by-asset basis and include things like when the asset was acquired, the size/capacity, construction materials, location, installation date, physical condition, remaining useful life, levels of service, maintenance, refurbishment and replacement costs. This will give you an overarching view of each asset’s life cycle.

3. Managing asset risks

Utility asset management plans should encompass a risk management plan. After completing an asset inventory, you should be able to identify any risks to your assets and can come up with a solution on how to avoid them. To calculate the risk value, take the likelihood of failure multiplied by the consequence of failure.

4. Recovering your assets

How will you recover your assets once they are scrapped, sold, and completely removed from all records and books of the business? An asset recovery plan is crucial in ensuring your company maximizes the returns with no items lost.

After considering these factors, you can create a comprehensive water utility asset management plan in order to properly manage your assets and optimize your operations.

10 steps to creating your first water utility asset management plan

It’s time to create your water utility asset management plan. Use these 10 steps and questions to get you started:

1. Define strategic goals

In order to be successful, your water utility asset management plan must be aligned to strategic goals. Remember to make your goals SMART -- specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-focused -- and identify what you see as the outcome of your business efforts.

If you don’t know where to start when planning goals, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Where do you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, and 50 years?
  • What’s the biggest problem you’re currently facing?
  • How can you improve in the next year?

You don’t have to focus on the details yet -- just identify what’s important to your organization and where you hope to improve.

2. Determine critical assets

Your critical assets are what keeps your utility functioning--they are the ones that sustain your operation and should be your focus.

What are your most important assets? Are there any at risk? Make sure your assets are in line with your strategic goals and long-term plan for success. If you want to improve data monitoring on assets, identify the tools you will need to accomplish this. For example, while having drones, sensors and web apps are nice additions, if they don’t align with your strategic goals, consider shifting your focus to something that will.

3. Build maintenance plan

Maintaining assets is a crucial part of your operation. Build a maintenance plan to ensure that all assets are working properly, and be sure to include how often and when you will perform maintenance on your assets.

This should include both preventative and reactive protocols: establish who will be involved in maintenance, how often each piece of equipment should be checked, and a summary of the plan that covers standard operating procedures (SOPs), a list of the parts needed, safety procedures and estimated time to complete the preventative maintenance tasks.

4. Build asset recovery plan

Begin your asset recovery plan by compiling a list of all equipment, tools and other resources. Assets have a pre-allocated lifetime expectation with value depreciation over its lifetime, so consider what you will need in the future, and what’s left of the remaining life cycle. If you’re short on storage space, consider removing unnecessary machinery.

The physical and cost data developed in the inventory will provide a basis for utility managers to plan and carry out work that restores or replaces an existing asset toward its original size, condition or capacity. These decisions must be made on a life cycle basis so that the trade off between maintenance cost and replacement cost can be optimized.

5. Manage data risks

While not tangible, data is arguably the most important asset any company has, and the more the better. There will always be a need for a risk management data strategy, and it’s only growing in importance. Consider the regulatory data requirements for your industry -- how you plan on using data to drive value? Manage data? Adapt to business needs?

Data loss can come from many different actions -- storage, use, transmission, management and security of data are all key factors to keep in mind. Conducting an audit will help you understand what data is most crucial to your business.

To prevent data risks from occurring, try integrating these practices into your daily work and technology maintenance procedures:

  • Keep software up-to-date
  • Install anti-virus protection software
  • Backup critical data
  • Implement two-factor authentication
  • Create data validation protocols

6. Outline workflows

What workflow processes need to be in place? Who is responsible for what? This is a key area utility asset management plans really improve: by giving your team insight and access into real-time workflows and distribution of tasks, everyone is aware of their responsibilities and is accountable for work.

If your strategic plan requires new workflows, identify this process and meet with the team this applies to. That way, it’s a dialectic conversation about refining and finalizing the process rather than a top-down decision.

7. Build financial plan

What is your budget? What finances are needed to successfully execute your utility asset management plan? Review your strategic plan and identify the resources that you will require -- then identify if you need to expand your team, accrue more equipment, and if you’ll need financing to make these moves.

8. Choose tools and information systems

There are usually significant efficiency gains to be made by integrating various asset management tools and information systems into your plan. The utility may have existing tools or systems related to maintenance tracking, laboratory, finance, GIS, documents, procurement, etc. Determine those first and see what you need and how it will integrate with your system in order to make your utility as efficient as possible and carry out your plan.

9. Establish communication

Implementing a new water utility asset management plan will impact the culture of the organization, and good communication essential for success. Develop methods for outreach and change management to ensure it runs smoothly. Likewise, reporting to internal decision makers and external stakeholders are also important for communicating asset conditions, investment alternatives and potential risks if assets are not maintained properly.

10. Develop and implement plan and process

What does your SAMP look like? How will you roll out the plan to your team? Based on the assessment and preceding steps, begin developing your plan. Be sure to include short-term and long-term actions to improve asset management practices. You should also think about any specific schedules, assignments, resources, priorities, costs and actions necessary in order to implement the plan successfully.

Ultimately, your water utility asset management plan will outline your organization’s purpose and should be scaled to match its size/complexity. While it should be in a separate document, it can also be combined with other organizational strategic documents to help execute.

Your water utility asset management plan should include:

  • A table of contents
  • An executive summary with corporate objectives
  • Appendices with details to help keep the base document short
  • Language and terms that are understood across the organization
  • Graphics and tables to improve readability
  • A financial summary
  • A glossary

Conclusion

As critical resources to support a healthy community, water and wastewater companies must tackle any and all water issues in order to be sustainable and successful. This all starts with your water utility asset management plan.

Your asset management plan for water utilities will serve as a roadmap to your objectives, which means it requires a long-term strategy and the engagement of the leadership. In order for the asset management plan to be effective, you must outline clear goals, as well as the elements of the systematic program.

Water utility asset management plans not only allow managers to track the overall asset performance, but they also outline the entire lifecycle of the asset to ensure they are managed efficiently and effectively using a systemized approach. Implementing cloud-based operations management solutions can also improve water utility management effectiveness. 

When managed effectively, you can expect to meet consumer demands with a focus on system sustainability, properly and efficiently tracking assets, meeting service expectations and regulatory requirements, promoting collaboration, improving security and safety, reducing maintenance and operations costs and prolonging the life of assets.

Download Free Water Asset Management Plan Guide

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