City boosts financial oversight with asset and maintenance management
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Oct 08, 2015
Effective asset tracking has always been important to state, local and federal governments, but financial regulations requiring them to categorize capital asset values -- especially when coupled with tight budgets -- are prompting municipalities to use technology to help get the job done.
Specifically, local governments are looking to replace the spreadsheets they’ve long used for asset tracking with centralized tools that follow assets’ life cycles and enable data sharing among divisions and departments, said Ed Garibian, president of eRPortal Software Group, a provider of asset, materials and maintenance management software based in West Springfield, Mass.
“Prior to the government regulatory increase, maintaining asset management was really for large municipalities only, and it was only the really large ones that needed systems that could centralize their whole operation,” Garibian said. But with stricter, more-complex reporting and compliance requirements, small and midsize communities needed a more sophisticated solution to dynamically inventory and track the maintenance and depreciation on their capital assets.
Carson City, Nev., with a population of about 54,000, is one of those communities. When its asset-tracking system became outdated and difficult for multiple users to use simultaneously, officials implemented eRPortal Software. They use it to manage and follow not only assets – which can be anything from vehicles to air conditioners to computers to highway infrastructure -- but also the labor and equipment costs associated with them, Jimee Freeman, a system technician at Carson City Public Works, told GCN.
“Prior to eRPortal, tracking the maintenance and associated costs of an asset required some rather laborious research,” Freeman said via e-mail. “Now it’s simple to open an asset’s history and see exactly what’s been done, when it was done and how much was spent.”
Freeman calls the system’s preventive maintenance records function the most game-changing for his department. Before eRPortal, “we were relying on employees’ memories” for information on what maintenance was done and when. Now, he said, the software “gives us the peace of mind knowing that if a disaster were to strike and we had to, for example, show the [Environmental Protection Agency] our records for a particular asset over the last few years or face a heavy fine, we could do so in short order.”
Access to the software is open to nearly all employees in the city’s Water, Streets, Environmental Control and Electrical divisions, Freeman said. Maintenance workers log in and see the work orders assigned to them.
“The work order is simply a basic form outlining which of our assets needs work and the tasks that need to be performed,” Freeman explained. "On this work order form, users enter their labor hours and any equipment or materials used to complete the task."
When an asset -- say, a vehicle -- needs to be added to the system, city officials create a new record that includes the serial number, make, model, year and cost. Preventive maintenance records are then generated, meaning the system can, for example, automatically create a work order to get the vehicle’s oil changed every 90 days. The fleet supervisor would see the order and take action to complete the task, Freeman said.
Overall, eRPortal tracks the lifecycle of the usage of any kind of asset: maintenance costs, maintenance guidelines, the best workers to perform the maintenance and performance. In the end, administrators can better find areas needing refurbishment or replacement.
ERPortal is built on a Microsft SQL-based database. To use it, government agencies must have in place a virtual or actual server and database technology, Garibian said, if they want to keep applications onsite. If they prefer to run them in the cloud, that requires less IT infrastructure investment.
Users can access the tool via mobile devices or the web. “Once folks log in to it, what’s exposed – what data, what applications, what functionality, all that – is based on their role in the organization,” Garibian said. Users can view their to-do lists or create reports on the fly.
Records can be created or imported automatically from other systems as well. If, for example, a geographic information system is the master source of asset records, then when records are created in that system, they can flow over automatically to eRPortal’s asset management system.
eRPortal offers three levels of functionality: entry, advanced and premium. Cost is based on the number of users, with users defined as a device or a person.
“Basically what it comes down to is having a much finer degree of reporting on where a piece of equipment is in its lifetime, what its cost of ownership is and how effective that piece of equipment has been as an investment,” Garibian said. That puts city managers in a position “to produce a forecast of what sort of investments the municipality is going to need to make in the future.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.