From Drawers to the Desktop

City of Saco consolidates data and improves customer service with new asset management system
From Drawers to the Desktop
Cityworks displays a work order to televise a sewer line.

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The City of Saco (Maine) Public Works Department recorded maintenance on its sewer and stormwater systems on sheets of paper and index cards. Management stored the information in file cabinets by street, and the city has 300 of them.

“Every street has its own folder, and anything that happens, from pothole to sewer repairs, is stored in it,” says Doug Howard, the environmental utilities supervisor. “Finding something meant fumbling through each bit of paper.”

In 2006, management tackled the problem of how to make work more efficient. They wanted a system that the department and the wastewater treatment plant could use. A solution fell into their hands when Howard discovered a Cityworks asset management software package from Azteca Systems on the computers.

“A previous manager had bought the program, but failed to administer it,” says Howard. “As soon as I looked at it, I knew this was exactly what we needed.”

Azteca updated the account and the software, which became the central piece of the department’s customer communication plan.

“Cityworks helps us provide better service by communicating customer concerns to our workforce and their solutions to residents,” says Howard. “It was instrumental in organizing our workflow, and now the data is in one easy-to-access location.”

 

Tailored templates

Saco is Maine’s tenth largest city, with a population of 18,500. The 45-member Public Works Department takes care of 69 miles of sanitary sewers, 30 lift stations, 1,750 manholes, 56 miles of storm sewers and 1,800 catch basins. Howard, collection system foreman Joe Cooper, and collection system operator Mike Cash maintain the sanitary and storm sewers.

In the not-so-good old days, the department kept track of schedules for cleaning sewer and stormwater pipes by printing big maps, hanging them on walls or storing them in drawers, and highlighting streets as work progressed.

“We clean 10 hot spots monthly, another six quarterly, and the rest are on a five-year rotation,” says Howard.

The city used a form for cleaning catch basins that gave just a street address. Basins are often across the street from each other, but if no property was associated with one of them, the cleaning operator listed them as street address A and B. “I knew the technician cleaned both basins, but I didn’t know on which side of the street they were,” says Howard.

Howard created some preliminary work orders and service requests in Cityworks, then showed them to upper management. Mike Bolduc, director of Public Works, agreed with Howard’s evaluation of the system and tasked him with initiating it. He began by training the three foremen in the department.

“Field technicians don’t always have a work order in hand, but the foreman does,” says Howard. “They can tailor work order templates to the job, guaranteeing that they bring back the kind of information we need in the database.”

The department now has 15 people trained on Cityworks, including Cash and utilities inspection operator Andrew Whitaker. The sewer division has a laptop computer that Cash and Whitaker share to do updates. As technicians become better trained on the software, they also will do updates in the field.

 

Communication advantages

Years ago, customer complaints and concerns were written on a notepad, and the page was handed to somebody who occasionally misplaced it or forgot what needed to be done. “We didn’t have many unhappy residents, but they did call to ask what was going on because they hadn’t heard from us,” says Howard. “Now we have a much faster response time and informed customers.”

Customer calls are logged in Cityworks as service requests, which can generate work orders if needed. Howard set up the service request template to collect the caller’s contact information. The program emails the phone message to the proper manager and sends a confirmation email to the caller.

“If customers don’t provide email addresses, our policy is to call them within 48 hours to acknowledge their request and tell them our schedule for attending to it,” says Howard. Once the service request or work order is closed out, Cityworks emails the resident stating that the work is completed.

“Improved communication is one of the biggest advantages of the program,” says Howard. “When calls come in, we don’t lose track of them anymore. That’s huge for us. The other big advantage is having all the asset data in one place just a mouse click away.”

 

Looking ahead

The city has mapped 95 percent of its assets using Esri ArcGIS software and is working this year on inputting updates into Cityworks. The remaining 5 percent of the assets are incorrectly mapped or known but unmapped.

“We send staff and interns with a Trimble backpack GPS unit to map assets still not in GIS,” says Howard. “If our field technicians find an incorrectly mapped asset, they tell the foreman, and he redlines it on the work order.”

The department also plans to expand Cityworks beyond managing sanitary and storm sewers. Howard is creating a template to track snowstorms, including how much sand and salt was used, who worked the storm, and how many hours they worked.

“It will give us history on how much it costs to run a snowstorm,” says Howard. “We’ll begin doing that this winter. We’re creating similar templates for major weather events that could become emergencies. It will help make FEMA reporting easier.”

The department also created work orders to track the maintenance history of street signs, traffic lights, sidewalk repair, and solid waste and recycling complaints. Key components of the city’s asset management program were presented at the 2008 Maine Rural Water Association conference and used as a 2007 case study by the U.S. EPA. In 2010, the city received the Asset Management Excellence Award from the New England Water Environment Association.



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