Workflow Made Easier

A Michigan township heads off loss of institutional knowledge and improves efficiency with work process management software.
Workflow Made Easier
The Waterford Township Public Works building

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Michigan's Waterford Township faced the retirement of multiple Public Works staff members, some with more than three decades of water and wastewater knowledge.

Leaders also wanted to improve integration between the township's computerized systems and standardize workflow. To address both issues, the Public Works Department deployed Proficy Workflow work process management software from GE Intelligent Platforms. Public Works director Bill Fritz says it has been a big help to the potable water and wastewater systems and to other areas of operation.

"We were looking for a solution that would link real-time operational data in our SCADA system to our computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and document management system (DMS) to create standard operating procedures and work orders automatically when conditions were met in defined workflow procedures," says Fritz.

"With SCADA continually sending real-time operational data through defined workflow procedures, the system automatically identifies abnormalities in operations and creates an electronic standard operating procedure (eSOP) and work order to ensure proper and timely correction."

The eSOPs also capture the best institutional and professional methods for resolving the problem, helping significantly as the workforce retires and less-experienced people take over, he says. In analyzing return on investment (ROI), Fritz conservatively projected savings of about $100,000 a year and full payback in as little as four months.

Easy resolution

Waterford Township, in the center of Oakland County, is known as a lakeland paradise for the 34 lakes that dot its 35.3-square-mile area. Public Works serves some 71,700 residents with assets that include 360 miles of water main and appurtenances and a water and sewer infrastructure with more than 80,000 features that require maintenance and work orders.

"One key aspect of the project was to get operating procedures standardized and in a format where Public Works staff in the field, who might not be familiar with the system, could go in and follow the steps necessary to correct issues," Fritz says. Now, when an event occurs, assigned staff members are presented with a step-by-step list of instructions for resolving the issue. The electronic system also captures and logs the process for future reference and evaluation.

The township has already begun to realize benefits. "The ROI analysis only takes into account the first phase of the project and does not factor in savings from the additional workflows developed by our staff," says Fritz. "This analysis illustrates an opportunity for Public Works to extend the savings by developing additional workflows and leveraging the software's ability to standardize best practices throughout the department."

In the future, he says, the staff will design workflows to help automate preventive maintenance on water and other equipment. Examples include pump run time-driven maintenance tasks like bearing lubrication and seal inspection. Instead of hoping staff members remember to perform this maintenance at manufacturers' recommended intervals, a workflow can be created automatically and work orders generated to make sure it gets done.

Earning recognition

In recognition of its innovative deployment of eSOPs and workflows that integrated with SCADA and CMMS, the department received the 2012 Technical Practices Award from the Michigan Section of AWWA. The award recognizes that Waterford's approach of allowing Proficy Workflow to analyze SCADA data and then using CMMS integration to create work orders could be implemented and expanded in other organizations.

"Workflow is more about its potential than anything," says Fritz. "If you have an operational process, it can most certainly benefit from a workflow designed to monitor abstract and varied functionality and ensure proper operation and efficiency. No doubt it takes work at the beginning to develop them, but when they are in place, hundreds of staff hours are saved, and effective and consistent operations are ensured."

To Fritz, Proficy Workflow provides a middleware solution that works with Proficy iFix HMI and Historian (the township's SCADA system) and Azteca Cityworks (the CMMS). Integrating these systems was an important improvement, providing a crucial bridge between the SCADA and CMMS platforms.

Linking the platforms also enabled automatic work order generation based on SCADA data that flowed automatically into Workflow. Before the Workflow install, staff had to manually look through operational data for conditions that may have presented problems that alarming didn't address. Once these were identified, work orders would be generated with little, if any, eSOP to correct the problem. With Workflow, SCADA data is continuously monitored. When deviations occur, appropriate workflows and work orders are automatically created, saving staff hours.

Focused approach

By using real-time SCADA data and Workflow, Fritz says, staff members are directed in a focused manner to resolve obscure operational problems and their root causes. "Defined events are flagged automatically and consistently, forcing staff to resolve them in a timely manner, consistently," Fritz says.

"If you have a pumping station with multiple pumps and one is starting a lot more than another, you first have to be aware that it is happening, and then ask yourself why. Workflow does this and creates an eSOP and work order automatically to correct the problem. The same is true for pump run times and required maintenance on pumps when they reach run-time maintenance thresholds. This system ensures that we are proactive instead of reactive."

Gray Matter Systems, a GE Intelligent Platforms authorized representative, provided the Proficy Workflow solution. "We've been working with Waterford Township for a long time, and so, to us, the Workflow installation just made sense," says Mark Meisel director of water/wastewater solutions. "At the end of the day, it's all about providing the best service to the public, and this project demonstrates Public Works' dedication to doing just that."

Critical goals

Public Works implemented Proficy Workflow to provide the ability to apply logic to SCADA values for work order generation, to employ eSOPs, and to create inspection forms for data collection.

There were three project goals:

Use Cityworks Work Order API to integrate SCADA workflows with Cityworks.Employ eSOPs, providing a method for documenting proper process and transference of institutional knowledge.Provide auto task generation by creating a workflow component for SCADA.

The project had two phases. The first centered on automating workflows triggered by two incidents: those based on data coming from the SCADA system, such as pump starts, stops and run times; and others such as sewer station inspections dealing with specific, regularly scheduled activities. This phase also included integration of the Work Order application programming interface (API) to fully automate work order generation.

Phase two includes the integration of the Public Works Department DMS, which provides staff with seamless links to documents, drawings, agreements, manuals and other items that are archived and can be used to develop additional workflows.

The Workflow integration included creation of four main components — the equipment model, events, Workflow templates and schedules. Creation and use of these components results in a process-driven workflow for managing by exception.

The department first modeled its system in Workflow by linking relevant database tags from the SCADA system. This allowed data to flow in real time from SCADA into defined workflows.

A trigger event was then created to initiate a defined workflow based on conditional expressions or time-based factors.

Event triggers

Condition-based events use real-time values, such as pump starts and stops, pump run times, water level increases or decreases out of range, and changes in flow. These events use values stored in the equipment configuration to evaluate expressions to automatically determine whether action needs to be taken. Time-based events use a data/time expression to determine when events such as pump station inspections should be triggered.

The next step was to create templates containing the procedures and steps for staff to follow when completing the workflow. The steps can be executed automatically — such as having a pump turn on or off or manually through user interaction. These procedures and steps can be modified by the workflow authors, and the administrator can add services to refine the process.

Finally, schedules are created by defining time-based activities within the Workflow template, if necessary. When a Workflow is triggered, an email is sent to alert the appropriate staff member and to provide the work order, if defined to be automatically generated. Staff can then begin to process the workflow and view all details.

Real-time SCADA data related to the workflow can also be displayed to help staff resolve the event. Specific eSOPs and documents such as operational manuals can be displayed. The eSOPs outline steps to problem resolution in a numbered format and have a comments field for the operator to enter information. The steps guide users through resolution of the issue and have expiration times. If a step is not completed in a certain amount of time, escalation processes such as supervisory notifications can occur.

At any time, staff can get a list of completed workflows and check a workflow history to view its details. Managers can develop workflows based on the functions of their group. They can also delegate work and see the status of operations by viewing pending workflows.


Ian Blyth is director of marketing with Gray Matter Systems, a supplier of process automation solutions to the water and wastewater industries based in Sewickley, Pa. He can be reached at Bill Fritz is director of Public Works at Waterford Township, Mich. He can be reached at


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