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Seven reasons to avoid spreadsheets for managing your water assets

If you’re in the water business, you’re in the data business too. From the information set out in maps, weather data and forecasts, and water quality figures, to the historical and realtime data from your assets and sensors, you need data to do anything – particularly when you’re making decisions.

To have any value, you need your data to be accessible when you need it, and to be trustworthy. This means that the way data is stored matters a lot.

Traditional tools like spreadsheets, paper maps, handwritten field reports, and DVDs of CCTV surveys can get you a long way. The versatility of spreadsheets means they can store your asset data, hold records of surveys, and perform some analysis. Information on paper and DVDs or CD-ROMs has its place too. These storage media are cheap to buy and use, so there’s little or no entry barrier to using them.

Those tools have limitations, though.

You need to know exactly where they are. With physical media like paper and DVDs, you have to be able to get your hands on them – literally. With spreadsheets you need to know each file’s storage location. And which version is the latest? There will probably be copies on coworkers’ computers, and they might have been updated individually.

The format and structure of the data matter too: for example the raw data from sensors is hard to comprehend until it’s displayed on a graph. Data needs a format that lends itself to comparison or analysis. And is it industry standard?

The alternative is water and wastewater data and information management tools that do not suffer from these issues. Read on for seven ways you could benefit from them.

Spreadsheets, while meant to enhance data analysis, sometimes make the job more difficult, according to Lani Good, Asset Management Practice Leader at West Yost Associates in California. Expansive worksheets, varying formulas, and inconsistent procedures make what should be a standardized process into a laborious one for engineers who need to pick up where others left off. What if the spreadsheet developer is out sick? Or leaves the company? Multiple hours, even days, could be wasted trying to reconstruct their methodology.

West Yost chose InfoAsset Planner to support their clients. Lani said: “For us, it was really a no brainer, because any of those spreadsheets that we create could have 45 tabs of information on them.” By using InfoAsset Planner, all this data is consolidated and usable within a single platform. The Asset Management experts at West Yost can both identify immediate needs for asset maintenance, and also set rehabilitation and replacement programs that look to the future. “We’re finding that a lot of the public agencies are really finding that priceless,” Lani said. Read the full story >

1. Finding data

For most purposes, you’ll be needing several different datasets, and if it’s fragmented across many different systems it’ll be hard to bring it all together. Before you even start any analysis, you might find yourself waiting on a co-worker to update and email you a spreadsheet; having to retrieve a DVD of a CCTV recording from an archive in another office; or searching through customer complaint tickets to find out how many leak reports there have been at a particular address.

The way to overcome this is a system that brokers, and brings together, federated data from the silos of data that exist in every organization, designed from the start to work for water infrastructure. Getting this up-to-date information into easy reach, consolidated in a single source that’s asset centric, enables asset managers to get the best performance from pipes, pumps and other infrastructure. If you have a problem at a location, our asset management software allows you to locate it on your GIS map, and see comprehensive, up-to-date information for each asset, including survey, incident and maintenance records. Or you can simply check the condition of all the concrete pipes in an area.

The software supports multiple users, so you and your co-workers can add, edit, access and use the same information at the same time, whenever you need to, and resolving any conflicts that arise.

2. A single version of the truth

Spreadsheets and paper records are only as current at the date they were made. Sharing spreadsheets by email risks creating multiple versions containing different data. Which one do you trust?

You may not even be aware of all the available information. For example, we hear from customers that other departments may create drawings or GIS data that don’t make their way into a central system. They can find themselves duplicating systems, data, and costs.

Asset-centric systems like InfoAsset Manager and InfoAsset Planner make all the relevant information available to everyone who needs it, giving you confidence in your data and the decisions that flow from it. InfoAsset Mobile is optimized for use away from the office in the field either connected or disconnected from the office. Allowing your field crews to work from the same information as everyone else in the utility, and record the work they’ve done without having to return to the office. And InfoAsset Online enables you to share information about your assets with anyone you choose, via a simple web interface.

3. Business continuity

If a DVD goes missing, or paper records are lost, damaged, or have degraded over time and are unreadable, can you still do your work?

Digital records are much easier to back up regularly, and can be set up for remote access, so work can continue even in difficult and unexpected circumstances.

4. Reducing errors

There’s a high risk of keying errors when people type data into a spreadsheet manually. If someone makes a change or introduces an error, there’s no audit trail and it’s hard to track down where the error came from. If the error is in a complex calculation, you really need the person who built the spreadsheet to find and fix the error. If they’re out of the office, you might be stuck.

We designed InfoAsset Manager to have audit trails and verification tools that check data as it comes in, further boosting your confidence levels.

5. Transparent decisions

A further problem with complex calculations is that they’re not transparent. If someone asks you how you arrived at a decision (such as which capital works to prioritize within a capital improvement plan), unless you’re familiar with the calculations in a spreadsheet, that’ll be a tough question to answer. But we find that it’s a common question for asset managers and planners, so we’ve built in transparency.

InfoAsset Planner, for example, has decision trees that enable you to dig into the decision logic of how it prioritizes infrastructure repairs, so you can respond easily to questions from planners, finance teams, auditors, boards, and even customers and the media.

When the City of Tacoma in Washington State needed answers to questions such as which assets were in sensitive or risk-prone areas like a wetland, or under a rail network, it was hard going. Engineer Teresa Dressler and environmental specialist Kali Legg said: “We had to manually build spreadsheets and at times questioned if the work was even getting done.”

They chose InfoAsset Planner software to create and manage their asset management plan (AMP). They are now empowered to more easily determine the Remaining Useful Life (RUL) of different assets based on variables such as age, pipe material, condition and location. InfoAsset Planner then generates a complete risk matrix of LOF and COF to determine a risk score.The City of Tacoma can prioritize future needs and resource allocation for repair and rehabilitation projects in both the city’s stormwater and wastewater systems for years to come. Read the full story >

6. Creating reports

Reporting, while essential, is one of those tasks that can take a disproportionate amount of time and effort. You might have to get the SCADA data from the feed, import it into a spreadsheet, format it, make some graphs, export them to slides or documents…just like last month and the month before. It takes effort and time that would be better spent elsewhere.

No wonder people turn to systems that automate reporting.

At Innovyze, we’ve had customers who said our automated reporting was the trigger for their decision to buy our software – it saves them days of effort. Tools like Info360 make reporting as fast and easy as possible – with as little work as just a click or two, and drag-and-drop customization.

7. Certification

Excel is versatile, but this means it’s not specialized. Specialist water software brings quality standards, optimization for the properties of water and its infrastructure, and certification that enables you to comply with the required standards. 

To see what life beyond spreadsheets and DVDs looks like, just get in touch.

Or watch our on-demand webinar, Optimising Asset Capture. It includes a demo of InfoAsset Manager and InfoAsset Planner (formerly InfoNet and InfoNet Mobile).