Insights

Leveraging Technology to Streamline Condition Assessments

Understanding the condition of your utility’s assets is a vital business practice. Traditional and simplified condition assessments can be vague and unintentionally skewed by judgment. As a result, utilities that use these methods will have a difficult time understanding the true condition of their assets and what to do with the information. This could unknowingly lead to poor investment decisions.

The B&N Condition Assessment Tool, built in the Survey123 ArcGIS app, provides a standardized assessment that produces objective feedback. The detail of the data collected allows utilities to confidently develop an actionable plan for managing the integrity of their system. Here is how it works.

The Eye of the Beholder

Traditionally, inspectors are asked to judge an asset on its overall condition from “very poor” to “very good” without documenting why they believe the asset is in its said condition. Many industry references and regulations recommend assigning an overall condition score to assets on a 1-to-5 scale. This simplification can create ambiguous data, potentially leaving clients with assets that are all noted in “good” condition with no indication of how to manage them going forward.

Depending on the asset type and its attributes, the B&N Condition Assessment Tool prompts inspectors to capture data and information related to as many as 30 condition assessment questions per asset. These questions were formulated by facility maintenance managers and reliability engineers and have been vetted extensively over a decade of application. The level of detail that the questions capture allows the output data to more definitively reflect the assets’ condition and provides enough detail that the utility can take defensible action.

WATCH: How to use B&N's Condition Assessment Tool

Time-Saving Technology

In addition to objectivity, the tool allows inspectors to streamline the process of gathering, sharing and analyzing asset inspection data while avoiding data entry errors. The cloud-based app can be used on a smartphone or tablet, which simplifies data collection. This saves time on both the front and back ends by expediting the condition assessment itself and allowing remote personnel to receive data in real-time and course-correct if necessary. Users can also take photos of assets for reference after the inspection is complete, to either elaborate on or confirm data, as well as to determine and communicate any needed repairs. Together, these features help avoid multiple trips to the inspection site. 

With accurate condition data and images captured, inspectors can advise clients on the next steps they should take to best manage their asset investments. This can include regulation compliance, prioritizing improvements, long-term forecasting, and facilities or master plans.

A Tried & True Method

Utilities of all sizes have successfully used this condition assessment framework for over a decade. Our latest application of the tool was in January 2020, when B&N was retained to inspect 40 facilities distributed throughout Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility’s (AWWU) drinking water distribution system in Alaska. Site visits were conducted in sub-zero temperatures over nine business days and included booster stations, valve vaults, meter pits and reservoirs. Using the tool, our team of two inspectors captured detailed condition data for 711 assets (mechanical, electrical, structural, HVAC, valves and tank assets). The data collected will allow AWWU to prioritize maintenance needs, identify replacements, and estimate the remaining useful life of inspected assets.

B&N delivered the raw condition assessment data to AWWU and developed a technical memorandum to summarize the information, identify assets in poor overall condition and highlight assets with individual condition criterion that scored “very poor”, even if the overall score for the asset was "very good". Each asset with a condition criterion that scored “very poor” was described in an appendix with accompanying photos and notes that support the scoring criteria and allow AWWU to determine the best course of remediation.

Smart Technology in Smart Applications

Whether your goals are regulatory compliance, identifying and communicating maintenance needs, documenting defensible capital replacements in a master plan or facilities plan, or long-term financial forecasting, collecting accurate data does not have to be difficult, expensive, or time-consuming. Leveraging the latest technology and utilizing a proven approach in smarter applications will help provide more valuable information and confidently identify the next best steps for your water facilities. Ultimately, utilities will save on costs in both the near future and long-term while improving their assets’ reliability.

Kevin Campanella, PE, Director, Utility Planning
Kevin Campanella, PE
Director, Utility Planning