Assura Software, based in Christchurch, New Zealand, aims to help businesses automate their everyday manual processes. Its software platform combines the configurability of a bespoke solution with the ease and assurance of an off-the-shelf product. In this interview, Hamish Howard, Assura’s CEO and managing director, speaks with Irrigation Leader about how the company’s solution can increase data security, reduce injuries, and help maintain social distance in the workplace.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell our readers how your software is used to manage assets and keep track of inventory.
Hamish Howard: Assura software allows staff to record and track the assets and inventory of a business, so that they know what they have, what maintenance has been performed on it, and what maintenance is due.
Recording an asset can be as simple as taking a photo or video with your smartphone and filling in a few fields with information about it. The system will then categorize it for reporting and kick off the appropriate associated actions, such as determining when maintenance and inspections should take place.
This tracking and reporting can be done at a granular level if required, and because the system is a workflow engine, it will provide alerts when maintenance is due. The escalation rules will also provide alerts to the appropriate people if this maintenance work is overdue, so you’re only managing by exception.
Irrigation Leader: Exactly how does your system work?
Hamish Howard: Assura is all about making sure that the right person is doing the right thing at the right time. For example, a pump may need to be inspected every 3 months and have some parts replaced every 6 months. The software will alert the relevant people about these tasks and ensure that they are competed. Unless that is evidenced with a photo and signature, it is escalated.
Assura is an application that can be accessed via a browser on your PC or laptop or via an app on your smartphone. The data are held on a relational database and the solution is hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
The software itself is a configurable workflow engine. This means we can change it to reflect your language, your processes, and how you work. The technology may also enable you to make your processes more efficient.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of information does your software store? Can it store photos and video?
Hamish Howard: In addition to the information you choose to enter in the fields, you can also attach any type of file. These could be files from your PC or laptop, or images, videos, or voice recordings taken with your smartphone in the field. The program also has an image field that allows you to capture signatures or even draw pictures, if that is useful and you aspire to be the next Da Vinci.
Irrigation Leader: Are the data stored in a secure way?
Hamish Howard: There are all sorts of geeky things I could say here about SSL certificates, two-factor authentication, and enterprise-grade firewalls, but this isn’t meant to be an interview to help insomniacs. While Assura does provide all of the above, a more practical way to view it is that you have far more control over who can access your information if it is stored in Assura’s solution than if it is on paper or in a spreadsheet.
There are multiple levels of security that give users the ability to control who has rights to see and do what in the system, right down to view, read, and edit rights on the field level. Compared to pieces of paper sitting on desks or lost in vehicles or spreadsheets that are difficult to share securely, Assura is a far more secure way to store data about your assets and your customers.
Irrigation Leader: How does your service enhance employee safety?
Hamish Howard: There are a number of ways in which using Assura can help keep staff safe. The obvious ones concern the reduction of paper and the need for papers to be passed from one person to another, potentially transporting germs and viruses like the coronavirus.
Being able to record your work and updates remotely on a smart phone, rather than on paper, reduces the need to be close to another person or to share a common space with them. In the current environment, being able to do your work and keep people informed while maintaining physical distance is really important.
The solution also keeps everyone informed. The information is visible and accessible without relying on people having to have a specific piece of paper or access to the right Excel sheet. Assura will let you know if you need to know.
Irrigation Leader: Is your software system designed primarily for large entities with lots of people and things to keep track of, or is it scalable to small irrigation districts with few employees?
Hamish Howard: The solution is not priced at an enterprise level or restricted by the number of users, whether with a minimum or maximum number. The benefit of the solution has more to do with the value it can add to an organization by increasing efficiency and visibility. To date, organizations of many different sizes have found a lot of value in using it. As a practical example, the New Zealand irrigation entities using our software vary from 4–9 staff members, but we also have government-based entities with many thousands of staff using it. Because the solution is configurable, it can be as simple or as complex as required and can evolve with you as your needs grow and change.
Irrigation Leader: If someone is interested in learning more, what are the steps?
Hamish Howard: The first step would be to take a look at the MHV Water case study on our website to get a bit more background and to hear from a user of the solution. That can be found at www.assurasoftware.com/portfolio/ mhv-water/. Then pick up the phone or drop me an e-mail. I can be contacted at (480) 477-9283 or hamish.howard@ assurasoftware.com. Then we can have a conversation where I try to explain rugby and why our national team is called the All Blacks and you try to explain American football. Then we talk about the issues you’re trying to solve or improve and we can arrange a demo to see if Assura is something that could help.
Irrigation Leader: Keeping in mind that Assura is a New Zealand–based company, where are your customers? Are you working with any U.S. irrigation districts or agencies?
Hamish Howard: We have a range of customers down here at the bottom of the world. Most of them are in
New Zealand, but we also have customers in Australia and Fiji. Our water and irrigation customers include MHV Water and Ashburton Lyndhurst Irrigation Limited, which are 143,000 and 74,000 acres in size, respectively.
In the United States, we provide a solution to Roosevelt Water Conservation District, based just outside Phoenix, Arizona, in Mesa. The general manager there, Shane Leonard, has been a fantastic supporter of ours, and all the evidence points to the fact that we’re providing a lot of efficiencies and cost savings that will see this faith repaid rapidly.
We’re talking to a number of other entities, but the situation created by the COVID‑19 pandemic has delayed planned visits to the United States to further these relationships and better understand how we can help.
Irrigation Leader: What should everyone who manages an irrigation district, organization, or business know about Assura?
Hamish Howard: I guess it’s important to point out that New Zealand has no community transmission of COVID‑19, so we’re safe to talk to, especially at a distance of nearly 7,500 miles.
The other things I’d like people to know are these:
Assura can be implemented remotely, and we have done this a number of times, but we do promise to turn up in person as soon as we are able to travel, break bread together, and give you a chance to laugh at our accent.
The return on investment is rapid in terms of the gains in efficiency for users and preventative maintenance savings.
Our system is configurable, so we can use your language and follow your processes.
Support is only a phone call or e-mail away, and we know that our success is built on the success of our customers.
That’s about it. We’d love to hear from you if you have any questions.