IO for You: A Utility Optimization Tool

October 26, 2012 by Woolpert

Millions of dollars in water utility assets, less resources and less funding…sound familiar? If you are a municipality in the U.S., this is probably all too familiar. And you are expected to make better decisions on how to maintain and repair your assets in addition to overcoming these challenges.

With increasingly more stringent oversight on decisions being made related to those repairs and maintenance, you face increased pressure to defend the logic behind your decisions. You often have to identify variables being factored in to how you decide where to allocate funding. Without a structure or process for how those dollars are spent, it’s difficult to secure that funding. Infrastructure in the worst condition typically gets fixed first, instead of infrastructure that will have the most impact/consequences if it fails. So how do you deal with all of this?

Although GIS and work order management systems provide valuable data about asset location, condition, maintenance history and work schedules, they don’t answer the critical questions of where and when to act:

  • Where and when should a municipality spend money on asset maintenance versus rehabilitation and/or replacement (R&R)?
  • In what order should maintenance and capital improvement projects be completed?
  • How should budgetary constraints be balanced to maximize levels of service?

To effectively prioritize maintenance and capital improvement expenditures, more municipalities are turning to a structured, quantitative approach known as Infrastructure Optimization (IO). IO empowers asset managers to make the “where and when” decisions by evaluating, understanding, and managing risk.

Also, organizations like the American Water Works Association (AWWA) are supporting the fight to overcome these challenges too. Their Asset Management Committee’s mission is “To help water utilities manage their physical, information and human assets using advanced asset management concepts by sharing information on best practices. Information that is shared should include methodologies for preparing asset inventories, evaluating asset condition and predicting failure, setting levels of service goals, developing likelihood, consequences and risks of failure, determining residual life, life cycle costs and renewal costs, prioritizing projects based on value, optimizing maintenance activities, and developing strategies for managing information to support these objectives. The committee’s intent is to promote proactive and cost effective management of water utility assets.”

Using IO, the help of industry organizations and best practices, municipalities can evaluate and predict water utility failures and associated costs and make more informed decisions.