Nov 14, 2003

The Perfect Complement

Leveraging software to protect the water supply

Water is the most essential element for life. From
environmental preservation and economic viability to population growth and
vibrant ecosystems, the water supply affects every aspect of a continually evolving
and expanding society.

Because water is so essential to life, the ability for
government at all levels to ensure access to a high-quality, sustainable water
supply is crucial.

According to the World Bank Group, a United Nations agency
specializing in water services development assistance, more than one billion
people in the world still lack access to safe water. Here in the U.S., many
local municipalities confront constant water issues such as ground
contamination, chlorination levels, and aging delivery systems. Today's fears
of chemical and biological terrorism have produced additional concerns about
how to protect the water supply.

The current economic climate has forced many state and local
governments to face budget cutbacks and service reductions. This situation
often translates to a reduction in the replacement, repair, or upgrade of aging
pipelines, tunnels, reservoirs, and dams. As a result, many water districts are
turning to software technology for an efficient yet cost-effective way to protect
the water supply.

As employees at water municipalities understand, many facets
exist in maintaining water quality and delivery--infrastructure repair,
preventative maintenance, and quality assurance are just some of the activities
that agencies must track.

Software solutions provide water districts with the ability
to take a centralized approach to these water management activities, resulting
in time and cost savings for everyone involved. Software technology enables the
coordination of numerous activities ranging from shutoff/connection work orders
to meter records and asset report information. The end result is that water
districts can automate their processes and reduce system and service

Managing administrative tasks

As readers of WWD know, the administrative tasks involved in
managing the maintenance information for an entire facility are tremendous.

Maintaining permits, inspections, and upgrading records and
activities is a monumental strain on already limited resources. Software
solutions can streamline many of the processes associated with this
maintenance--from calculating and coordinating work orders to scheduling
repairs and preventive maintenance.

In addition, software technology enables activity/process
automation for many time-consuming activities such as asset valuation, project
costing, and inventory control.

To ensure security, municipalities should consider
applications that are flexible in establishing parameters yet offer robust
system protection. User-defined fields and customizable screens allow users to
configure the system to mimic an existing business process.

At the same time, the system should provide built-in
security measures so that only employees at a certain level of clearance can
access items such as costing criteria, staffing needs, and inspection details.

Developing an IT strategy

When assessing a municipality's capabilities and developing
an overall IT strategy, WWD readers should consider the following guidelines:

*Anticipate growth and change;

*Maximize a budget with cost-effective programs; and

*Choose an enterprise approach.

When anticipating growth and change, an effective IT
strategy involves selecting technology that not only meets immediate needs but
also can adjust according to changes in agency demands and responsibilities.

One example that is becoming increasingly important for
agencies is their ability to streamline the inspection process. A system that
offers wireless capabilities will enable employees to access maintenance
information from remote locations (e.g. reservoirs, watersheds, etc.) via
mobile devices such as PDAs and laptops. Inspectors spend less time traveling
to and from the main office and spend more time completing their work in the

Another area of growth is the use of Geographical
Information Systems (GIS) for map analysis. GIS provides users with geographic
representations of all land use and zoning information associated with a
parcel, permit, inspection, or plan. This added functionality improves decision-making
by providing staff with more convenient access to complex geographic data.

In order to maximize a budget using a cost-effective
program, especially during these economic times, the budget for IT expenditures
is likely to be constrained. Therefore, a strategy should account for long-term
implications on the bottom line.

While ensuring security of the local water supply is
tantamount and difficult to assign a monetary value, the reality is that
municipalities must be diligent and creative in implementing cost-effective
programs within a reasonable budget.

Even smaller agencies can see the cost saving benefits of
implementing technology solutions. Although the city of Othello, Wash., is home
to just a few thousand people, the Public Works Department still recognized the
value of implementing a software application at its agency. The city is using
asset management software to automate and track all work orders and
preventative maintenance schedules for the water, sewer, street, and parks and
recreation divisions.

Emphasizing the final point, choosing an enterprise
approach, a coordinated, system-wide integration plan ensures protection for a
water supply and also accomplishes other objectives important to a

Because so many land, permit, and resource management
activities are related, taking an enterprise approach can create efficiencies
across multiple departments and for the agency as a whole.

For example, the South Florida Water Management District
(SFWMD) illustrates the benefits of an enterprise solution.

The district is in charge of managing and maintaining the
water supply and land acquisition activities for almost six million people
across 16 counties in southern and central Florida. The land area they manage
covers an area of 17,930 square miles.

The SFWMD has implemented technology to automate and track
the district's land acquisition activities, allowing them to efficiently and
effectively protect the area's water supply and corresponding ecosystem.

Dolores Cwalino, technology business analyst for the SFWMD
commented that the software they use allows the district to "better
protect and conserve the water supply in the Everglades by providing a method
to track land information that affects the quantity, quality, timing, and
distribution of the water supply."

Today, of the public utilities that provide basic needs such
as electricity, gas, and telephone, none are more important than that of water.
Technology is the perfect complement to managing and protecting the water supply
because no matter what the state of the world, clean and accessible water will
always remain essential to life.

About the author

Robert P. Lee is president and CEO of Accela, Inc. Lee can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, phone 925/560-6577.