Utility companies play an essential role in our communities, supporting our well-being and quality of life. But, providing always-on services that rely heavily on machinery, technology, and other assets can pose a challenge. In the dynamic and demanding world of utilities, mastering the art of asset management and maintenance is critical.
From exploring the fundamentals to addressing the unique challenges different utility sectors face, we will share the background and best practices you need to create a robust utility asset management plan.
What is utility asset management?
Utility asset management is the strategic process of managing the physical assets and infrastructure involved in delivering utility services. It encompasses a thoughtful approach that takes the unique characteristics of each specific utility into consideration.
Utilities that need a utility asset management plan include:
- Electric utilities
- Water utility and treatment facilities
- Waste management
- Gas utilities
- Renewable energy
- Telecommunications services
How to create a utility asset management plan
While unique challenges face each type of utility, they all benefit from a strategic approach to asset management. Follow these eight steps for creating a comprehensive utility asset management plan that will position your business for long-term success and sustainability.
1. Conduct a comprehensive asset inventory
A comprehensive asset inventory that pulls together basic but important details of each asset is the foundation upon which all maintenance and management activities will be built.
- Catalog all assets: Begin by creating a detailed list of all tangible assets like machinery, pipelines, or vehicles.
- Use a structured approach: Classify assets by type, location, function, or any other categorization that might support your strategy.
- Gather detailed information: For each asset, collect information including make, model, purchase date, maintenance history, and performance data.
Best practice for this step is to leverage technology to catalog asset details. Asset management software or a CMMS allows for easier documentation of asset information, and makes it available from anywhere. To learn more, check this detailed guide on how to perform an asset audit.
2. Identify and prioritize critical assets and their risks
Evaluating risk is the first step in risk management and it enables utility companies to focus their resources and attention on assets that are most critical to their operations. Implementing the right strategies on this critical equipment can minimize potential disruptions and help ensure safety, regulatory compliance, and the appropriate level of service.
First, identify risks associated with each asset, including:
- Potential points of failure
- Safety hazards
- Environmental impact
- Regulatory considerations
There are then several ways you can evaluate the severity and likelihood of each risk such as analysis of historical data, predictive modeling, and expert evaluation. Be sure to consider how factors like weather conditions, geographic location, and regulatory changes may impact the risk over time. This should provide you with enough data to create a risk matrix.
For a more detailed breakdown, read our guide on performing asset criticality analysis.
3. Assess the current state of assets
The other strategic consideration for your maintenance plan is asset condition. The age, performance, and maintenance needs of each asset will dictate the prioritization of maintenance resources and budgets.
- Conduct thorough inspections: Carry out a detailed inspection of each medium- and high-priority asset to assess its condition including physical inspections, performance evaluations, and efficiency analyses.
- Determine asset health: Set a baseline for each asset by documenting factors like age, wear and tear, reliability, and failure history that can be compared over time to determine the relative condition of the asset.
- Identify maintenance needs: Based on the assessments, identify immediate and long-term maintenance requirements.
- Document and record findings: Ensure all findings from the assessments are well-documented and recorded. Use a CMMS system to make documentation as well as condition comparisons and analysis easier.
- Involve cross-functional teams: Ideally, you will be able to include the Operations, Maintenance, and Finance departments in the assessment process to get a holistic view of the asset’s condition and its impact on different parts of the organization.
4. Set asset management goals and objectives
These goals will provide direction for maintenance activities, technology investments, and overall asset lifecycle management decisions. Take your time to get this one right by consulting various stakeholders and aligning with bigger initiatives.
- Consider business goals: Ensure that asset management goals are designed to support the overall strategic objectives of the utility company.
- Define specific goals and milestones: Establish clear, specific, and measurable goals for asset management such as reducing downtime, extending asset life, or improving service reliability. Create a roadmap by breaking down goals into milestones.
- Consider stakeholder input: Incorporate feedback and expectations from various decision makers, including customers, regulatory bodies, and internal teams, to ensure that the goals consider a wide range of operation and maintenance needs.
- Balance performance and cost: Aim for goals that balance asset performance with cost-effectiveness. This includes optimizing maintenance schedules, investing in new asset management tools and technologies, and making decisions that provide the best return on investment.
- Include some wiggle room: The goals should be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances, such as new regulatory requirements, technological advancements, or shifts in customer demand.
Having well-defined asset management goals will help give your utility asset management strategy the direction it needs to support the organization as a whole.
5. Develop maintenance and replacement plans
Comprehensive maintenance and replacement plans play a crucial role in prolonging the life of assets, preventing unexpected failures, and ensuring that replacement decisions are timely and cost-effective.
Develop a detailed preventive maintenance schedule based on:
- Maintenance recommended in OEM guidelines
- History of maintenance needs from your records and expertise from your team
- Priorities laid out in your criticality and risk analyses (from step 2)
- Needs based on asset condition assessment (from step 3)
Prioritizing maintenance work can sometimes feel more like an art than a science. Including criticality, condition, and other goals is a necessary part of determining the right service level. Some assets will be fine with just a little bit of preventive maintenance, while others may require a unique balance different maintenance strategies, all of which come with their pros and cons.
Planning for replacements
No set of asset management practices is complete without a plan for replacement assets when they inevitably reach the end of their useful life. Identify a process in your utility asset management plan for how repair vs replace decisions will be made and approved. This ensures that replacement costs are included in your financial plan.
6. Implement technology solutions (CMMS, IoT, AI)
Technology like CMMSs, IoT devices, and predictive analytics can significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your asset management program. In essence, it helps you do a better job of managing and maintaining your assets — with less effort.
CMMS solutions are used by small and big organizations alike to optimize their maintenance operations. If you’re not already using some kind of maintenance software, this should be your first investment.
Check how the City of Lompoc Water Treatment Plant uses Limble CMMS to help ensure their clean water infrastructure and reduce their risk of downtime.
Other technologies to consider include IoT devices and condition monitoring sensors which track asset conditions in real-time, as well as predictive analysis to anticipate potential issues and optimize maintenance schedules. Here are a few examples:
- Smart meters for monitoring electricity usage and demand patterns in real time.
- Grid condition monitoring sensors to detect fluctuations or disturbances within the electrical grid.
- Pressure and flow sensors in pipelines to detect leaks or bursts early.
- Gas leak detection sensors connected to an IoT network for immediate alerting and response.
- Corrosion monitoring sensors on pipelines to predict maintenance needs.
- Predictive analytics for optimizing gas flow and distribution based on usage trends.
- Tilt and vibration sensors on cell towers to detect structural issues.
Your technology investment will ultimately depend on the criticality of the issues you want to prevent, the compatibility with existing systems, and the cost of implementation.
7. Allocate resources efficiently
No asset management plan will be effective without the resources to execute it. Be sure to include the various types of resources needed to execute your plan effectively.
Here are some tips on how to handle resource allocation:
- Assess resource requirements: Quantify the financial resources, labor, tools, expertise, and technology your plan requires.
- Prioritize based on asset criticality: This ensures that the most important assets receive the necessary attention and funding.
- Optimize the use of your workforce: Plan staffing based on the skills required for various asset management activities. Consider cross-training and upskilling to maximize workforce flexibility and set your team up for success by providing the right tools for the tasks at hand.
- Leverage technology for efficiency: Use technology solutions like CMMS to gain greater efficiency and get the most out of the resources you do have.
- Plan your budget: Develop a comprehensive budget that accommodates all aspects of asset management, including maintenance, replacements, technology upgrades, and emergency contingencies.
Effective resource allocation ensures all necessary resources are available when needed, optimizes the use of those resources, and contributes to the overall efficiency and sustainability of utility operations.
8. Ensure compliance and documentation
Once your utility asset management plan is in place, the final step is ensuring accountability for its execution and ongoing adherence to changing regulations. Maintaining thorough documentation is key. It safeguards against legal risks and penalties, maintains operational integrity, and builds trust with stakeholders.
- Stay informed on regulations: Keep abreast of all relevant local, national, and international regulations that affect your utility as they change over time.
- Schedule regular compliance audits: Conduct regular audits to verify compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Utilize both internal audits and, if necessary, external auditors for an unbiased assessment.
- Maintain comprehensive documentation: Keep detailed records of all asset management activities, including maintenance records, compliance checks, audits, and any corrective actions taken. Documentation should be accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible.
- Keep compliance top of mind: Regularly train and update your staff on compliance requirements and the importance of following established procedures.
- Leverage technology for compliance management: Use tools like Limble CMMS to track compliance-related activities, store documents, and manage reporting requirements. These tools can also remind you of upcoming regulatory deadlines or required maintenance activities.
- Develop a response plan for compliance issues: Have a clear plan in place for addressing any compliance issues that arise, including steps for investigation, corrective actions, and measures to prevent future occurrences.
These practices not only help utilities meet regulatory requirements but also contribute to the overall efficiency and reliability of their operations.
Simplify utility asset management with a CMMS
A CMMS is designed to streamline and enhance every aspect of effective asset management and maintenance. It offers an array of key features that address the unique challenges of the utility sector:
- Centralized asset information: A CMMS provides a centralized platform for all your asset information, making it easier to track and manage maintenance tasks and assets across various locations.
- Predictive maintenance capabilities: Advanced predictive maintenance features combined with condition monitoring sensors help utilities foresee potential issues before they escalate, ensuring uninterrupted service.
- Regulatory compliance: A CMMS simplifies compliance management, keeping track of all necessary documentation and maintenance records in one place.
- Real-time data and reporting: A CMMS enables data-driven decision making by simplifying the analysis of factors like life cycle cost, maintenance costs, team productivity, and other KPIs.
- Mobile accessibility: With mobile access, field technicians can update and receive information on the go, enhancing responsiveness and operational efficiency.
The utility industry is continuously evolving, facing new regulations, infrastructure requirements, and increasing customer expectations. Limble CMMS is a tool for today’s needs and a partner for tomorrow’s challenges. Its scalable architecture and flexible design allow it to adapt to any type of utility, ensuring that you are always equipped with the best tools to face the future.
Schedule a product demo to learn how a CMMS can help your organization.