Utilities today are faced with a number of issues, like changes in populations and workforce, increased costs, and aging infrastructure. One thing that shouldn’t be a concern is whether your organization is as effective as it can be. Many utilities rank organizational issues along with infrastructure and finances as their top challenges. An organizational assessment tailored to the specific needs of utilities is a highly useful first step in solving these problems.
Setting goals and reaching them: 3 key steps
Before goals can be reached, they have to be defined. A good place to start is making a list of all the services your utility provides and determining the number of employees needed to carry out those services successfully. When doing this, bear in mind the challenges currently facing the industry and how they might affect the organization’s needs in the future. Then begin to set goals and performance objectives. Some utilities find it best to set goals one at a time; others set numerous smaller goals and divide their team’s efforts. It is up to each utility to decide what their objective setting strategy will be, but it’s important to work toward measurable results.
Next, review business processes using interviews with key staff, documentation, and performance data. This information can be used to develop functions like work order creation and execution or work scheduling. Existing business practices might already align with the goals you’ve set, or they might need to be altered to reach the organization’s objectives. In either case, reviewing these processes provides a baseline for recommendations for efficiency gains.
Developing business process maps showing what ideal processes look like is helpful in figuring out what’s attainable. With the current and goal practices defined, begin to list the incremental changes needed to move the utility towards more efficient operations. This could include staff training, new technology (Computerized Maintenance and Management Systems [CMMS], Geographic Information Systems, etc.), alternative management methods, or adjusted job descriptions. Most successful organizational change is incremental, so a plan to move from current practices to more ideal ones often takes several steps.
Seeing actual results might not be as simple as it seemed at the outset, but making improvements in key areas can help organizations reach their desired outcomes. Every utility is different, but some level of disconnect is common, leading to inefficiencies and missed opportunities where internal divisions don’t collaborate on related projects. This might take the form of conflicting efforts from different departments due to miscommunication or doubling up on similar types of work that could be consolidated and completed by one group alone. Administrative functions can also usually be centralized to some extent, freeing up non-administrative staff time. Becoming aware of these issues and responding accordingly will result in gains in overall organizational performance and efficiency.
Improving staff training and adding or expanding technology initiatives also yields results. Investing in staff skills and technology drives increases in productivity. For example, while many utilities have a CMMS, they are often not using it as effectively as they could be. For instance, some approval processes go through multiple levels of supervision, which ensures accuracy and consistency in operations. Leveraging a CMMS, though, could allow several steps of that process to occur simultaneously. This would allow utilities to adapt more quickly to change while encouraging employee innovation. Accurate models of a utility’s distribution or collection system can also be extremely effective tools in focusing maintenance efforts on the most critical or particularly problematic assets.
By the end of this assessment, every utility should have a prioritized list of changes specific to its current operations and strategic goals, as well as a step-by-step guide to improving its practices. Though evaluating an entire organization requires time and effort, it’s sure to reduce costs, improve asset management, and make capital planning clearer, while ensuring consistently high levels of service.