Innovating for the Common Good at Southgate Water and Sanitation Districts

Recently, we had a chance to talk with Southgate Water and Sanitation Districts about their use of a geographic information system (GIS) to help manage their public assets. This was a very enlightening discussion which revealed a lot about this very valuable resource.

Essentially, this system allows Southgate to manage, coordinate, and analyze information about things such as sewer mains and lines, as well as real-time work activities. By optimizing this information, Southgate has streamlined their operations and increased their service response times, and this is just scratching the surface of everything the platform has to offer.

Beyond this progressive and technology-forward approach to water and sanitation operations, Southgate has also garnered a reputation for industry-leading collaboration and teamwork. Southgate’s team is willing to share information with other districts and maintains a partnership with other organizations to tackle capital improvement projects. At Southgate, the focus is on leveraging their services for the good of all, acting truly as public servants. We had the privilege of speaking to District Manager David Irish, Engineering Manager Christina Baca, and Geospatial Technology and Infrastructure Asset Manager Elthron Anderson.

GIS: The Ultimate Swiss Army Knife

Public entities often employ a variety of different systems for things such as billing, work orders, training, inventory for equipment and safety gear, and a separate one for performance metrics. This can lead to a situation where one entity has a half dozen or more systems all housing critical, but separate information.

Southgate has unique advantages because they have consolidated all of their needs onto a single platform comprised of two main components: “Esri’s ArcGIS,” a GIS that provides location-based analysis of data taken from GPS satellites, and “Cityworks,” the asset management system that contextualizes that data for public entity use. Together, they function as one information optimization tool, thus eliminating the inefficiency of compartmentalized data management.

This means that Southgate Water and Southgate Sanitation Districts can leverage the information and assets they have in remarkable ways. Their platform can help keep tabs on the conditions of water mains, underground pipes, and manholes. It can also organize and maintain information on scheduled maintenance and respond to work orders and service requests in real-time. It can collate all assets into a single inventory and even quantify each service activity to determine what additional resources or personnel are needed for future operations. This ability to trace and analyze their operations to the minutest detail has vast benefits for these districts.

For example, district staff can make a strong case to their Board of Directors for additional funding that is needed based on quantifiable metrics. Their proposal can be scaled appropriately and be based on something other than supposition. Alternatively, an employee sent out to inspect an underground pipeline can instantly retrieve all relevant past work orders, regardless of his or her previous level of involvement with those facilities and devices. This allows Southgate to empower employees at every level of tenure with the kind of institutional knowledge that only experts would have previously had.

To top all of this off, the platform is readily accessible via smart phones and tablets, meaning that Southgate’s employees have easy access to this functionality without having to be tied to an office computer. This certainly isn’t all that “Cityworks” is capable of as Elthron Anderson will attest, but this platform is an all-in-one package deal.

Sharing Is Caring

When asked about what prompted their active interest in collaborating with other districts, the Southgate team cited their own manager David Irish as one of the primary forces behind the initative. A native of Colorado, Southgate’s District Manager has had a long history working at special districts. After graduating from the University of Denver, his first job was a part-time position at Willows Water District where he eventually became assistant manager.

He then held managerial roles at Lakehurst Water and Sanitation District and Bancroft-Clover Water District before coming to Southgate. This experience, working in different districts serving different communities, has lent him unique insight into industry operations, and how cooperation between organizations can benefit employers, employees, and customers alike.

Under David’s direction, Southgate Sanitation and Water Districts have several capital improvement projects underway, and more than a few people have taken notice of the district’s cooperative nature.

Mayor Ron Rakowsky of Greenwood Village remarked on Southgate’s efforts:

“As a fiscally conservative city, we always pursue partnerships to benefit our citizens, save resources, and protect the assets of our community […] By teaming up with Southgate Water and Sanitation Districts, we will complete two critical projects at the same time and each jurisdiction will save money in the process. Perhaps the most important aspect of our cooperation is the resultant minimal impact of a road closure on our citizens by not having two separate projects.”

Elthron, a champion of the vital importance of sharing information, says that not a single month has gone by without an entity approaching Southgate for GIS maps and data, or inquiring about their processes. This is especially so in the case of other entities that are in the process of implementing their own asset management programs. In this spirit, the districts have included instructions on how to request this data on their website.

Safety First

Compared with some entities, Southgate has a small field staff comprised of ten employees. This, according to Christina Baca, makes it easy to get everyone on the same page. Christina shared the benefits and challenges of safety in small numbers, how it can be advantageous as well as pose unique challenges since the field teams often work different hours, some during the day, others in the evening.

Despite this, Christina was proud to say that they have taken extra steps to protect and pay special attention to each of their employees. Everyone has their own safety harness, individual concerns are immediately addressed, and safety is reemphasized as the top priority in all operations. Southgate’s Boards of Directors and David Irish all continue to stress the importance of managerial support in the districts’ safety culture, understanding that safety can often be viewed from the sidelines when a particularly pressing task or major project is underway.

These districts represent a combination of important attributes. Their dedication to innovation, service, and safety all run hand-in-hand and show that these types of managerial styles are symbiotic and helpful to everyone.

Photos courtesy of Southgate Water and Sanitation Districts. Special thanks to David Irish, Christina Baca, and Elthron Anderson for contributing to this piece.

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