News | November 18, 2002

Developing A Complete In-House Maintenance Management System

Source: LA Consulting
A Maintenance Management System (MMS) can help public agencies better manage their maintenance operations. One Florida County was not only able to able to accomplish this, but they did it with software they developed in-house. How could this be? Their success was a product of teamwork between the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the IT staff from Hernando County working together with a consultant to provide guidance and assistance.

The County
Hernando County is located in Florida's central west coast, 40 miles north of Tampa. The county encompasses 478 square miles and has a population of 130,000. The County expends nearly $18 million annually to maintain 1,595 road miles worth more than $700 million in replacement value, and 19 parks and 51 buildings. The County's population, one of the fastest growing in Florida, has increased more than 200 percent since 1980.

The County received an audit by an accounting firm indicating problems with productivity in maintenance operations in 1997. There were significant maintenance issues that needed to be addressed and resolved. DPW employees could not account for a third of their work time. Residents often waited a week before DPW took care of complaints. In addition, the County had been experiencing a steady transition from a rural to an urban area, and DPW realized that it needed to operate in both a suburban and rural maintenance mode and align resources to satisfy both customer bases.

The County rose to the challenge to address this issue, along with others identified by their new director, by selecting a management consultant. Tasks to be addressed included:

  • Underutilization of computer automation.
  • Existence of multiple databases that operated independently.
  • Access to work tracking data and use of limited management reports.
  • Field supervisors spent the majority of available time investigating service requests as opposed to directing work of production personnel.
  • Response based maintenance approach.

The approach
The consultant's approach was an inclusive one where County staff was involved from the problem definition to the final recommendation and then implementing a solution.

The 14- month process started in April 1999 and was completed in September 2001, which included the following six tasks:

  • Review of existing work processes, methods and manual and automated systems and practices. Develop ideas that could improve current operations
  • Formulate recommendations of work practices and opportunities for improvement
  • Selection of work management system and database population
  • Training and empowerment of staff to use the system
  • Guidance and coaching to implement and instutionlize good business practices.
  • Assist in implementing strategies to enhance work management efforts

All employees -- from a maintenance employee to director - were involved and participated throughout the entire process. All employees met four to five times over a 12-month time frame with the consultant providing input, reviewing findings and recommendations along with developing a complete understanding of the process. Training was provided as well after the desired direction and goals were established. The system was tailored to what worked for the county.

The software
An evaluation process occurred after the determination of needs and desired business practices were established.
The County already had in place a custom in-house software system (Unisys LINC software on a DMSII database) for tracking work by activity accounting for labor, equipment and material. The County also had a complaint tracking system in place that monitored actions taken. The consultant identified features desirable to meet the county's goals and helps establish good business practices.

A review of available systems was conducted that evaluated their respective pros and cons. In addition, the IT staff asked that the existing system be considered with enhancements. After a review and cost analysis it was jointly decided to modify the existing system to meet these goals.

A specific timeframe was established. The consultant was allowed to have the final "say" and was provided direct access to the County's system and programming staff. The effort was done concurrent with actual development of specific business practices and the software was completed in 12 months. Since several modules for tracking already existed, they were integrated into the process, eliminating the need for considerable recoding. Further, historical tables as well as past data were imported into the system helping to expedite the process. Modules were completed to allow the process to continue without being delayed by development. The system was designed so that different users had different system presentations. Standard reports were produced for heavy data users and an intranet version of input and output screens for users of the data. Further the system was linked to the County's web site to allow for intranet and Internet access.

Key benefits and cost savings
The MMS process that was implemented provided numerous benefits that were documented. These included several efficiency and effectiveness measurement. Efficiency improvements included increased productivity and accountability along with effectiveness improvement in service levels and response.

The accountability or the amount of time charged by maintenance employees to specific activities DPW productivity has increased to 80% from 67% value prior to 1999 (figure 1). Further, in review of activities over a four-year period, the amount of work done per labor hour increased by an overall amount of 25%. Specific activities such as swale maintenance (17%), AC repairs (15%) and traffic PMs (100%) increased.

In addition to improved work, there was also an improvement in response. A five-year trend shows that response has changed since the system implementation. The average response time has decreased from 6 ½ days to only 4 ½ days. Further, the number of service requests has stabilized while the County population has increased. The actual number decreased from 1996 to 2001 and decreased 155 from 1998 even though population increased by 10%.

As a result of this, DPW also expects to save more than $235,000 annually (about seven percent of the current operating budget). When productivity improvements are factored in, the total annual County savings will reach $800,000 per year! Over 14% annual savings in work per unit has occurred to date.

Lessons learned

The general lessons learned are broken into four management functions:

A. Planning
The first process to address should be an infrastructure asset inventory. All of the physical features that make up a road network need to be analyzed – road miles of pavements, number of catch basins, number of acres of right-of-way, signs, signals, fences, etc. Develop activity guidelines that describe the work be performed, work criteria and considerations, required resources, and expected results.

It's important to also determine how much maintenance is currently being done. In Hernando County, for example, of the 221 transportation activities identified, a small number such as asphalt repair, swale maintenance, blading, moving and tree trimming accounted for more than 60% of the total effort.

DPW broke down each maintenance activity in terms of crew size, the types of equipment required to do the activity (dump truck, asphalt heaters, etc.), developed estimates on what the productivity should be, and assigned each activity a measure. Pothole patching, for instance, is measured by the number of tons of asphalt in place. Based on past experience, DPW could gauge what an average crew could be expected to place in one day.

Once your asset inventory and activity guidelines are established, you can develop an annual work plan that will serve as the basis of your annual budget. Most public works departments prepare line item budgets that allocate available financial and physical resources to historical information. A more effective methodology is to determine what work is required – then organize resources around the work plan.

B. Organizing
Will your department maintain its existing organizational structure, make a few modifications or completely revamp its processes? Remember that it's not just software – applying good common sense with facts and basic management processes will help employees work better together. In Hernando County, a number of changes were initiated that resulted in measurable improvements. Some examples include:

  • DPW met with county jail and state penal institution officials to determine how to better focus inmate resources. Inmate labor is now used for tasks such as patching, trimming, edging, litter removal and laying sod.
  • Establishing a response and special project crew that minimizes the need to redirect crews scheduled for routine and/or planned work. Prior to establishing the MMS, for example, DPW didn't have a crew trained to respond to handle emergency response issues. Now there is a three-person crew always available during the week that can quickly tackle emergencies countywide.
  • Reclassifying one supervisory position to lead a service request inspector effort that allows field supervisors to focus their efforts on directing and controlling field employees.

C. Directing
A key element to a successful MMS is employee involvement. In Hernando County, for example, DPW conducts weekly scheduling meetings attended by all field supervisors. Key issues discussed include labor/equipment/material coordination, special projects, and future scheduling needs. The schedule is then prepared and distributed to all production employees every Monday.

D. Controlling
Having a successful MMS is more than just new software. It's recommended that daily work reports be standardized to include documentation of resources used each workday. This includes location, labor, materials, equipment, and what was actually accomplished. Field supervisors should be trained and provided with the necessary computer hardware in order to utilize information in the database to improve operations. Hernando County management staff continues to work with supervisors to develop a monthly work performance review that can be shared with all employees.

A properly implemented MMS yields significant annual cost savings, improves departmental productivity, and allows all staff to improve maintenance operations. Hernando County developed one with their IT staff to provide these improvements. Hernando County's major projects are now planned months in advance. Fleet levels have been reduced, equipment and employees are allocated for jobs in advance to avoid shortfalls, and DPW does much of its own computer work using its own computer software. DPW employees now have guidelines for their jobs, improved scheduling and better use of employees resulting in less down time. A negative situation has been reversed and now has resulted in 14% annual efficiency improvement, and better improvement is proposed.