More than ever, municipalities are required to do more with less. Cambridge, Ontario, an area punching above its weight on the economic performance scale, is blessed with a growing population. However, as budgets remain static or even decline year over year, it is challenged with how best to serve the community with available resources.
From an asset management perspective, Cambridge is tackling infrastructure management with technology that will increase productivity, improve performance, and help it better plan preventative and on-going maintenance.
“Cost avoidance” is a common refrain these days. For Cambridge it is particularly important as it works to capitalize on asset renewal by addressing infrastructure needs with a holistic approach.
Consider the approach the city had only a few short years ago, one that many municipalities continue to use for asset management. Most municipalities have a variety of information sets in hard copy drawings, blue prints and various electronic databases. They struggle to capture legacy information in the heads of their workforce, the bloodline of their business. How often do we hear of companies losing their information when someone retires or moves on, and the negative impact it can have on an organization?
This is a significant issue in municipalities that commonly have long-term employees who have amassed a great deal of experience and knowledge well beyond historically recorded information.
Cambridge manages over 250,000 city-owned assets that include buildings, roads, underground infrastructure such as pipes and sewers, and other things that make a city tick. An IBM system installment has allowed it to integrate these activities, build in preventive maintenance and combine approaches to maintenance that are resulting in savings for the corporation.
The technology also addresses efficiencies for field workers: the city is now using mobile applications that feed into the work management system to provide real-time updates to anyone working on a project. Just think of the impact on the working environment: crews can now see complete information from their vehicles and no longer have to drive back to headquarters to investigate issues or rely on numerous calls over the radio with people throughout the organization to assemble a complete picture.
Image a robot crawling through a sewer pipe that takes visual images of the condition of the underground infrastructure. These video images and identified defects are uploaded to the system, providing Cambridge with video confirmation along with other intelligence that it gathers. Pre-planned response plans and formalized procedures along with near real-time record keeping provide detailed electronic logs of all activities on infrastructure and are accessible to all staff in the office and field. This has greatly diminished knowledge loss when long-term staff leave or retire.
Like private companies, the bottom line matters. Like other Canadian municipalities, Cambridge is faced with a funding gap for infrastructure. The city has forged partnerships with federal and provincial governments that have helped it address these needs and build for the future. The investment in the work management system was supported in part by the Canadian government’s Gas Tax Fund, a partnership model that has benefited the city’s 130,000 citizens and has even further reaching impact on best practices in this country.
Currently, when a road or lane closure happens, the new IBM system is updated and a direct feed to the website occurs. It not only lets the primary emergency responders like fire, police and ambulance know, it also posts the information for the general public so they too may adjust their route that day. While other municipalities share road closure information, most, if not all, use a manual system to update the website. The Cambridge system is automated for efficiencies and feeds into the big picture.
The city is now working on another first: it has teamed with IBM to enter into a research agreement. This is a first-of-a-kind approach for the city and one that builds on the expertise of the private sector. The city is fiscally responsible yet faces a growing list of regular maintenance and new infrastructure requirements. The city needs to enhance planning, cut costs and deliver the services needed for a vibrant and healthy community. The work in asset management is setting the pace for change so the city does not hit a critical pothole in the road that leaves it without the resources needed to get the job done. It doesn’t mean Cambridge has solved everything, but this research and development partnership will keep it on the path to continuous improvement.
George Elliott is commissioner of transportation and public works for the City of Cambridge.