The combination of Edmonton’s growth and the lessons learned from 2012 flooding have placed the City of Edmonton’s Utility Services capital budget on a consistent upward slope.
Our current budget of about $150 million a year will climb to more than a quarter of a billion dollars by 2024.
We’re talking about literally hundreds of projects every year, from $100K tweaks, to massive multi-million dollar projects incorporating many sub-projects at different locations along a sewer’s route.
As Binod Rajbhandari knows well, coordinating all the human, equipment and financial resources, the vehicles and supplies required by each of those jobs, is an enormously complex task.
Binod is general supervisor of program planning and support with the City’s Drainage Design and Construction operation. He’s armed with a German engineering degree and plenty of public water system engineering experience in his native Nepal.
He and his staff are responsible for a formidable, detailed construction schedule planning process that must be flexible enough to absorb changing project priorities, such as when a major event simultaneously requires immediate attention and forces reassignment of resources from other projects.
“When I was first appointed, I knew we needed much more sophisticated planning software to keep up with new projects and always-changing priorities,” says Binod.
“I searched the market for off-the-shelf software, but there was nothing out there that wouldn’t require extensive and costly custom programming to completely meet our needs.”
Binod stepped up and did it himself.
Over a few months in 2014, he dedicated an enormous number of private-time hours to developing exactly the software he knew Drainage Services needed to make maximum use of human, equipment, financial and physical resources.
“My basement was perfect for that kind of work. You need quiet in order to think,” he says.
Binod knew the software should be easy to operate, and not so complex that experts would be required to adjust or add to it.
In the end, he worked wonders with simple Microsoft Excel.
“Everyone has it. We all know how to use it. And it was cheap – no investment was required for software technology.”
Binod produced an elegant program capable of profiling all types of project needs at any one point in time over several forward-projection years, and of overviewing changing needs over any period of time.
The program looks at the high-level, multi-year overview, drills down through various layers of common types of work such as tunnel construction and open-cut construction, and even enables planners to examine the internal and contracted human resources and specific types of equipment required by each individual project, no matter how small.
If a project’s priority changes, or its timeline must be stretched – Edmonton’s soil conditions are notoriously difficult to anticipate – planners can clearly see how those changes affect resources on other projects.
The program’s presentation of information in colourful, eye-pleasing graphs, charts and tables is truly impressive.
Binod says the program is helpful in planning future needs for either permanent or temporary staff, assessing whether jobs can be performed by internal staff or whether outside contractors are required, forecasting the acquisition or rental of equipment and in more accurately projecting the branch’s construction cash flow needs.
“It helps us all by enabling us to view many options for managing resources, all with just one click,” says Binod.