New Zealand–based tech company Assura has worked with numerous U.S. irrigation district clients to create customized asset-management solutions. Assura can be used to track vehicles, heavy equipment, pumps, and more, recording maintenance and inspections and alerting staff when assets need attention. Assura combines the ease of an off-the-shelf solution with full customizability and robust support services. In this interview, CEO and Managing Director Hamish Howard fills us in on Assura’s asset-management capabilities.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and experience.
Hamish Howard: I grew up on a fourth-generation family-owned sheep and cropping farm on the Canterbury Plains on the South Island of New Zealand. In the early 1980s, my father installed a mainline irrigation system, so I learned firsthand how irrigation could change the economics of farming. My first job out of university was for a seed production company, and they told me, “You’re the youngest, you’re doing the computers,” to which I responded in my head, “But that has nothing to do with my degree!” I proceeded by trial and error—it was occasionally a baptism by fire. From there, I went on to build an information technology business of my own, which through equal helpings of hard work and good fortune, we successfully grew and sold. After the sale of that company, I realized I didn’t like golf enough to retire, nor did I have the funds to get good enough at golf for that to be my new career. Then along came Assura Software.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about Assura Software.
Hamish Howard: Assura Software is a New Zealand– based software business that provides solutions to a range of central and local government clients and many private firms. The Assura platform is a configurable workflow engine, which means we can emulate how information is captured in an organization and manage how it flows through it, all with the intention of making sure that the right people are doing the right things at the right time.
Through a number of serendipitous events and connections, we have started to establish a client base among the U.S. irrigation districts. The irrigation product is what in nerd talk is called low code, no code, which effectively means we have a base solution and can quickly configure it to reflect your processes and language. This also means that you can continue to grow and evolve the solution within your district as your needs change.
What I’m most proud of is the people who choose to work here at Assura Software. They’re nice people, they’re smart people, and they genuinely want the best outcomes for our clients. My job is to stay out of the way while they’re doing that.
Irrigation Leader: What are Assura’s asset management capabilities, particularly for vehicles and other large equipment?
Hamish Howard: The out-of-the-box solution covers the basic functions of asset management you’d expect it to, so you can capture the base details of the asset in as much or as little detail as required. This, in turn, allows you to record inspections of the asset and the work completed on it and identify when maintenance is due. From there, we can configure the solution to cater to any other needs you might have, such as recording mileage associated with work orders or identifying the hazards and risks that come with the operation of the asset to keep staff informed and safe.
We can also use a QR code on an asset to search for it inside the app. You can scan the QR code using your cell phone camera to see the asset’s full history or to associate it with a task. In practical terms, our asset management solution is used for a range of tasks at irrigation districts, including ensuring that vehicle checks take place with photographic proof, providing information about pumps and engines to crews in the field, ensuring crews take the right spares out to the site for repairs, and driving both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance.
Irrigation Leader: How might an irrigation district use Assura to manage maintenance and other periodic needs for large equipment?
Hamish Howard: A simple example is that a district could use Assura to drive regular inspections or the maintenance of a pump, vehicle, or any other asset. The asset is loaded in the system with as much detail as required, and then you can choose to set up recurring tasks or requirements for inspection and maintenance. This would appear to field staff on the mobile app as a checklist of tasks to complete: check fluid levels, grease, replace o‑rings, and so on. Staff can record notes verbally or take photos for review by a manager. This process captures the historical work that has been performed on an asset or the work that is due, providing a more complete picture of the asset. If an inspection or maintenance task is skipped, managers are alerted for follow-up. If any work is required as part of an inspection, the system alerts the appropriate person. It can also alert the user to other tasks that are due. If you’ve traveled to an area to complete some work, it allows you to see whether other maintenance work is due in that area. This ensures that you take the right equipment and don’t have to make multiple trips to the same location.
Irrigation Leader: How can Assura be adapted to a specific irrigation district’s needs?
Hamish Howard: Assura comes as a completed product that you can use straightaway for a number of needs, but it can also be quickly configured to provide other solutions or changed in the future as your business needs evolve.
Here are some examples of how it’s being used in irrigation districts. First, it can be used for work orders and field reports—capturing planned and unplanned work that needs to happen in the district throughout the seasons and ensuring it doesn’t get forgotten. This allows field workers to see what their jobs are and report them back to the office and allows managers to focus only on the things that aren’t happening, which we call management by exception.
Second, it can be used for spray applications, allocating what is to be sprayed and recording where and when it is applied. It allows the field worker to have all that information at their fingertips and to report back to management on progress and completion as well as factors such as wind direction and speed at the time of spraying. Then, it allows for the easy preparation of a report to state authorities about the aquatic and terrestrial spraying that has taken place. The mobile app can also provide links to safety information about the chemicals.
Third, it can be used to ensure that the right process is followed for submitting and approving permits for the things people request, such as putting a bridge over a canal.
Fourth, it can be used to make sure water quality testing is happening at the right time and that the right information is being captured.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of support do you provide?
Hamish Howard: Our support team is available on the phone, via e-mail, or on a video call if they need to share a screen. Most importantly, the support costs are all covered in the license fee, so you’re not going to be charged for calling us to ask questions or get help. We want you to use the solution and get the most out of it. I’ll also point out they’re all native English speakers (well, they speak the Kiwi version of English) and know the product well. The solution itself is hosted on Microsoft Azure, so it is available 24/7. We also continue to add features and functionality to the solution, which are rolled out to everyone as part of your license.