One of my favorite topics of discussion is the relationship between GIS and enterprise asset management and in particular Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) Systems. This discussion happens with increasing regularity as most water utilities now have multiple computerized systems that store information about their assets and GIS is part of their system of record for asset information.
Breaking down silos of information
If you think about it, for years utilities have had pieces of information about their assets in multiple places. For example paper as-builts (or perhaps even linens or mylars) describing what was constructed (or should have been constructed), maybe old project records with financial information that describe what it cost to put assets into operation, in other places paper work orders that described the level of effort to keep assets functioning. You could rightfully call these silos of information – they all may be describing the same asset, with different primary pieces of information (and most likely some overlapping and contradictory information) and perhaps at different times in an asset’s life-cycle. There was no interconnection between these information sources and often no senses of which was one was more correct or authoritative.
We’ve now moved into an era where most utilities have taken advantage of information technology (in some form) to store and maintain their information. Instead of manual drafted paper maps utilities use GIS, instead of handwritten ledgers to track payments utilities use billing systems, etc. Common IT systems used at water utilities are billing, financial, workorder (CMMS), GIS, SCADA, CIS, LIMS, etc.
Utilities still have pieces of information about their assets in multiple systems, but now they are computerized systems. This means it’s still possible to have different descriptive information about an assets, costs associated with an asset, performance of an asset (perhaps describe by SCADA data or indicated by customer complaints) in multiple systems and that data may conflict. So it continues to be a struggle for many utilities that still have to go to multiple systems to get a complete understand of their assets and it may also be a struggle to know what is authoritative information when data in multiple systems conflict.
Some utilities are overcoming these challenges by specifying how their enterprise IT systems must work together. This often takes the form of identifying where data is at a utility, how it’s maintained and then determining how systems should integrate with each other to share information and what systems are the “system of record” meaning they own the data. It’s important to note that you may have multiple systems working together (properly integrated) that form your system of record. So the “system of record” determination may happen on a field by field basis.
Enterprise Asset Management
The interesting thing about enterprise asset management is that it’s both a concept and now the name of a class of software commonly used at utilities and facilities. A few years ago a trend started in the utility and facility industry where vendors of workorder and CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) began to refer to themselves as “Enterprise Asset Management Systems”, reflecting that the systems that create workorders and manage maintenance tasks (both planned and unplanned) rightfully should participate in the enterprise IT environment. But this has also added to a lot of confusion about how assets are really stored and managed in the enterprise IT environment at most utilities. While now called EAM systems, workorders and maintenance tasks are only part of what a utility needs to truly manage their assets.
From our experience with large water and sewer utilizes, enterprise asset management is something that is only achievable with multiple systems at a utility that are properly integrated. After speaking with many utilities big and small, it seems like what utilities want for enterprise asset management is the use of integrated information from multiple systems to enable a utility to best manage their assets. It’s the best data from each system to describe what an asset is, how it affects others related things (customers, service levels, other assets in your network), what its condition is, maintenance history, cost to build, cost to maintain, criticality, etc. That data should be maintained in a way that it’s created or maintained one time and then stored in the appropriate system in a way that’s transparent to users. So enterprise asset management as a concept is really the ability to access and use the right pieces of information (and that information needs to be descriptively and temporally accurate and authoritative) from enterprise IT systems at a water utility.
GIS, Enterprise Asset Management and EAM Systems
So how does GIS play a role in enterprise asset management? Spatial location is typically the one common aspect among all of the data at a water utility. We can understand the relationship between customers and distribution or collection system assets by their spatial location and interconnection. A map is often the easiest way for humans to aggregate many sources of data together to visualize them all and understand how they affect each other. When we spatially enable our utility data we can then use the analytical power of GIS to gain a better understanding of how our assets are performing and how they affect our level of service and our customers. From years of working with utilities, we’ve seen GIS consistently be the gateway where large amounts of asset data enter a utility and where its basic characteristics (location, size, installation date, material, etc) is maintained. So maps from GIS are the place to visualize, analyze and explore many pieces of asset related data and also enable you to propose ways to manage your assets better (maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement) and understand the impact.
Interestingly, when you look at how modern EAM systems (workorder & CMMS) are implemented at water utilities, they almost always have a GIS integration component that includes a toolbar in desktop GIS to keep assets in sync between the GIS and the EAM and also uses server based GIS to give a spatial view of assets and workorders to utility staff that are dispatching and managing workorders. So the way EAM systems are integrated with GIS underscores the concept that enterprise asset management is about utilizing the best information from each system that stores data about assets.
Want to share your experience or thoughts on this? Feel free to post a comment.