Infrastructure Management and Capital Planning through Risk Management

Bruce Perlo, Sr.

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

An important part of governing a municipality is to track the condition and budget for the maintenance and improvement of the infrastructure. Technology can be used to improve operational efficiency, planning and budgeting in many areas. Citizens and municipal employees can participate in the process of maintaining and improving the infrastructure using their internet enabled devices, such as tablets and smart phones, combined with web accessible asset management and work order software, to improve municipal operations and budgeting. The basis for using technology for this is to identify and locate all of a municipality’ assets such as roads, culverts, hydrants and buildings, etc. This information can be derived from GIS or tax/appraisal systems.

Historical information about maintenance and asset condition, if properly captured and saved, provides the basis for capital planning, risk management and operational budgeting. In addition this information can be used to ensure that proper inspection, preventive maintenance and repairs are scheduled.  The system capturing this information can be expanded to include remote data entry using smart phones and internet enabled tablets from the site of service as work is performed. The technicians at the work site can retrieve plans, sketches, photos and manuals without returning to headquarters. The cost of labor, materials and contractors can then be summarized.

Two areas that can reduce costs and are tied together are infrastructure management and capital planning through risk management and citizen complaint management.

You can think of the process as a chain. The citizen registers a complaint from the location using a smart phone. The complaint is routed by the public works department to the nearest service person by email or text message. This allows effective use of staff. For increased efficiency, complaints can be grouped by area.  After the situation is resolved the service provider updates the database using a smart phone or tablet including asset condition, material, labor, contractors and time use of municipal equipment. The result and cost of this work is automatically linked to the assets involved.  This builds repair and cost history for the asset. An analysis of this history can be used as a capital planning tool to summarize when, how and how much repair or replacement of the asset will cost.

In addition to a citizen starting the process, the municipal officials using software systems can schedule automatic periodic inspections and preventive maintenance for assets and equipment. The correct people are automatically notified when each of these inspections, preventive and/or unscheduled maintenance are to be performed. Afterwards, the condition of the asset or equipment and costs can be updated by the employee using a mobile device so that we know all the costs the asset generates. This gives us the true cost of ownership which helps with the decision of whether to repair or replace.

Maintenance and inspection history allows the addition of a risk management component. The risk management component includes a ranking of the assets’ overall condition ranging from perfect to failure mode. (The ranking is often 1-5, with 5 = failure mode.)  The second part of this ranking is the consequence of a failure. For example, the consequence of failure of a culvert under the main road through the municipality would be catastrophic. The consequence of failure of the same type of culvert under a little-used road might be serious for those living on the road but not catastrophic for the municipality. (The ranking is often 1-5 with 5=disastrous.) These two numbers can be multiplied together so that an asset with a product of 25 would be one that should be fixed immediately, as opposed to an asset in the range of 1 to 10 which can be scheduled in the future.  The strategy, cost and projected date for mitigating the consequence is also recorded. An analysis of this data can be the basis for the capital planning and maintenance budgets. Since every asset has a location, it is possible to develop maps that show where critical infrastructure parts are located so that the overall capital budgeting for each year can be localized to specific areas.

In the past, this sort of information has been handled on paper and/or spreadsheets with manual entry by clerks. Modern technology using tablets and smartphones will enable municipal employees to directly update these files from where the activities take place very efficiently. In addition, they will be able to download plans, sketches and other documentation to the jobsite, eliminating the necessity of returning to the office to retrieve this information. This makes for a much more efficient operation.

In summary, the use of mobile communications devices combined with a database of all of the activities related to municipal assets will keep the municipality’s staff updated on where problems may occur and how they may be mitigated in the most cost-effective way. In addition, it helps municipal management and elected officials plan their operational and capital budgets.

Bruce Perlo Sr. is the president and founder of Business Management Systems, Inc. He has been helping New Hampshire municipalities and schools with software and support since 1982.