PRB Articles


SmartParks

When Jim starts his workday at 6:00 a.m., he turns on his computer, and starts the SmartParks program. He scans the list of new and open work requests. He prioritizes and assigns work orders to specific crews, but the bulk of the routine work, such as the mowing and cleaning, are already in the hands of his crew chiefs.

He can look at what tasks were finished yesterday, and how many open work requests each crew has. When a new urgent request arrives he can open a map on his computer that pinpoints the location of the work, and decide which crew will be closest. Then, he can send the work request to the cell phone of the crew chief on the spot.

The crew chief can look on his cell phone display, open any assigned work request, assign workers to the job and keep track of start time and finish time. The cell phone updates the SmartParks program automatically every 5 minutes.

Jim is a very good park manager, one of the best in the Department. His area, which consists of more than 50 parks, including a significant regional park, several large sports complexes, and many community parks, is well run. His workers take pride in their parks. They have the best equipment, are well trained and do a wonderful job.

But work order management did not always work this well.

“I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.” Jim’s frustration exploded as he pounded his desk. “I hate computers, I hate this change, and I hate SmartParks. “This isn’t what they hired me to do, and I’m not good at it. I’m a park manager, not a computer person.”

It seemed as if the tremendous potential of this new work order management program -- its sparkling technology, geography information system (GIS) integration, electronic work orders, instant inventory and more -- was a burden, not a help to this Montgomery County Parks manager.

Montgomery County Department of Parks in Maryland is a component of the metropolitan Washington bi-county agency of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). The Department, an award-winning, successful, and well-funded suburban park agency with authority over more than 32,600 acres of parkland, is in the process of implementing a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) called SmartParks. Even though we kicked off the work order management and facility inventory system over a year and a half ago, the implementation phase of the process continues.

Our new system consists of a Work Order Management System which functions in conjunction with a computerized inventory of all park properties, land records, and park facilities, such as trails, fields, buildings, and playgrounds, including their maintenance and repair records.

Why CMMS?

We turned to CMMS because when it was time to defend our budget requests before the budget-approving County Council, we could not answer some very basic questions: How much does it cost to maintain an athletic field? If we add a local park of X size, how much funding do we need to maintain it? How many acres do we mow? How many parks do we have? If the budget is cut, what won’t get done? Is it cheaper to contract the work out or do it in-house?

Without being able to answer the Council members’ questions quickly and with some assurance of accuracy, they began to lose confidence we were as efficient or effective as we claimed and perhaps did not need as much funding as we were requesting. We decided we needed the help of a CMMS to help track the costs of our maintenance activities and possibly streamline our delivery of service.

Project Implementation

We began by creating a Request For Proposals and selected Maximus, Inc. as the vendor for our new system. Maximus then developed the following implementation plan:

Define goals and deliverables

Create and empower a project team and manager

Review our business practices and improve them

Customize the software and screens to our needs

Train our users -- managers and project staff

Goals and Deliverables

The major goals (and deliverables) for our implementation plan included: basic/effective cost accounting, the creation of logical and efficient work processes, park-wide access to centrally managed park inventories and, tying it all together, effective utilization of park resources.

Basic Cost Accounting: By tracking the labor and material costs of each work request, we now know our true costs. For instance, we now know what it costs to maintain an athletic field for a year including factors such as how much mowing, vandalism and storm events cost. We can track if we spend more money on playgrounds or on shelters or calculate the cost of each component of a proposed new park (including the park’s total maintenance cost). And we can predict how cuts in our budgets will affect services.

Logical and Efficient Work Processes: We have examined and changed our work management process improving how we set priorities and assign all work. We now can track the status of work requests, and even follow certain maintenance contracts like storm water pond mowing and pedestrian bridge inspections.

Centrally Managed Park Inventories: SmartParks is a centrally managed park inventory system allowing every park planner and park manager to use they’re computers to see the complete park facility inventory. Staff members can see the repair records for all facilities, the components of each park and can perform searches for any facility or location.

One benefit of centrally managed inventories is we can now control the quality of the data, and assure the accuracy of reports and costs. In the past, simple questions such as: how many playgrounds, how many miles of trail, or even numbers of parks in a particular region or district were difficult for us to answer. Now the responses are readily accessible and accurate.

Effective Utilization of Resources: Now we can see how busy each crew is, how many work requests they have completed, and the length of time it took them to complete the work. We are even able to track backlog work, which helps us justify budget requests, and anticipate the type of work that keeps crews busy, and what slows them down.

Creating/Empowering the Project Team and Manager

Assigning the Project Manager – One person needs to be assigned the Project Manager. This is a senior management position with broad responsibilities for establishing and meeting the timelines and milestones for implementation. The Project Manager is also the main point of contact for the consultant, and for the Project Team (see below).This person needs to be familiar with the Department’s mission and goals, should administer the contract, and have enough credibility with the park staff to sell the project over the long term.

Create a Project Team – The Project Team is accountable for the implementation of the new system. This group of senior managers supports the Project Manager and has the responsibility to make decisions about the future of the organization, understands the implications of the changes, and allocates resources such as clerical help, computer resources, and training to ensure the project succeeds. The Project Team supports the Manager in the difficult times of the implementation.

Business Process Re-Engineering

When we started to think about using a CMMS, we did not know what a Business Process Re-Engineering (BPR) was. We now know a BPR is a review of how work flows through your organization, identifying the Who, How, What, Where and Why of each transaction. Having gone through it now with our consultant, we realize that the BPR is the cornerstone to improving service delivery to our customers, both internal customers and external customers. Whether you are considering computerizing your maintenance or not, having an outside consultant look at how work flows through your organization, (or does not flow) will help to identify bottlenecks to getting work prioritized and completed. You can also identify approval processes that are being by-passed and where the leaks are in your budget.

Software Customization

Most of the CMMS packages available on the market for you are what we call "Off-The-Shelf" products. This means the programs are already developed, and sold ready to use. In reality they are not ready to use, but require customization for your uses. This is particularly true for a parks and recreation organization. Parks have unique facility types and unusual requirements, which vary from park system to park system. No one could develop perfect software fitting everyone's needs. When you decide to purchase particular software, make sure the company will spend time with you to understand your business, and will be able to customize the program and the reports for your specific needs.

Training

Training is such an essential part of the success of the implementation process. The need for training starts before you buy your software, and extends well after the consultant has been paid and sent home. It is critical you have staff to continuously train and re-train because the initial classroom training will not stick evenly, and re-training will be necessary. People change jobs, get promoted, and new people get hired. Each time someone changes jobs or roles, a training session becomes necessary. Buy as much training from the consultant as you can, and make sure you have good in-house trainers who can continue the process.

These last three implementation steps are the primary responsibility of the consultant. As you select a consulting partner, check references using the BPR, the customization, and the training as ways to measure the consultant's effectiveness. Make sure your consultant is excellent at all three of these areas.

Bringing the Organization Along

When you think about it, any major change in work practices are going to affect the people who work there – and, installing a work order management system where there was none certainly changes the work culture.

It does not matter how talented or how motivated the workers, they will be apprehensive about this change. They will worry about the technology. Will they be able to learn it? Will they break it? Will they be replaced by it? They will believe you are intruding on their work and that you do not trust them anymore.

For example, before SmartParks, our park managers and crew chiefs knew what tasks needed to be accomplished, and they just did it. When it was time to mow, they mowed. When it was time to clean, they cleaned. When it was time to prep the fields, they did that.

Now, they must have a work request before they can work, and report when they start and stop, and give an account of what they completed.

In most cases, they do not understand or care about the department’s budget discussions.

It’s not their job to understand the cost accounting of their work. We hired them to maintain, to mow, to clean and to care for their park areas. The justifications important to the managers are not important to the workers, yet the biggest effect is on the workers. You will have to spend time and energy convincing your staff of the importance of this new system and sell them on using it religiously.

Are you ready for your own CMMS?

Many park agencies are considering whether they should implement this type of technology. Below are some decision points for you to consider.

q Is there an organizational commitment to start and complete such a significant change to your organization? Are you willing to assign the managers to the implementation roles? Are you willing to spend the 2-3 years altering the work processes, learning the terminology, and changing the culture of your organization?

q Does your management team understand and believe in the need for this massive change? Every manager needs to be able to explain the reasons for the project, and they must believe in the need for it themselves.

q Does your organization have the technology available to make it work? We discovered that our managers were working with very old computers, they had poor connections to the network, and their computer skills varied as much as their parks did. This is true of many park systems.

q Is your Department ready to take an honest look at your business processes, and to re-engineer, or re-invent yourselves? Do you have the authority to change job descriptions and move people into new roles?

q Are you ready to rumble? You will have to constantly remind staff why this change is needed. To bolster your managers in the face of resistance, and to educate your policy board and citizens in order to justify the costs. You will have to remind your leaders and officials that it takes time to change a complex organization, and remind them that the data will not be reliable for several seasons, while you fine-tune and train, fine-tune and train.

Benefits

The benefits of SmartParks are observable. We have better information for our managers and for our policy board. Our work process is very much improved, and we can set priorities for our work. Staff members are getting used to work orders, and no longer feel this part of the process to be so burdensome. Citizens love that when they call in a problem, we get to it faster, and can track for them any work they requested. Our computerized inventory is available to every manager and planner right at his or her desktop. Management reports are helping us construct our budgets, and defend our budget requests.

We look forward to improving our management reporting capabilities, so we can manage our parks and maintenance resources more wisely. We are training our field managers on how to use the reports and the analyses more efficiently and effectively. We expect this will be an ongoing process and hope we can always say that we are an improving organization.

Brian Woodward is currently the Regional Operations Manager - SmartParks for MNCPPC, Montgomery Parks. He has a BS in Wildlife Biology, an MS in Public Administration, and 20 years management experience in the field of public parks. He has worked in the fields of budget and finance, natural, cultural and historical resource management, agricultural preservation, trails and greenways, long-range planning and park operations and maintenance management. Brian can be reached at brian.woodward@mncppc-mc.org

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