The Customer-Driven World Class Utility
Every utility aspires to achieve business and service excellence. Utilities often define their best-in-class water management goals from their current operational performance and where they strive to be in the future.
Utilities need to chart an integrated path to service excellence, financial resilience and proactive customer engagement to obtain “world-class” standing. As this year’s Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: Water Industry Report indicates, challenges such as aging infrastructure, loss of talented workforce and financial constraints continue to influence business decisions and utility performance. In an environment of continuing challenges and limited resources, how does a utility create its path to “business excellence” status?
Enhancing the Customer Experience
With media headlines about water service incidents increasing in recent years, proactive customer engagement should be a critical principle of the modern water utility’s strategic plan. More dynamic two-way communication can go a long way in building trust and enhancing the customer experience. Initiatives such as communication through mobile apps and other media channels can help with timely and consistent dialogue between the utility and the ratepayer to benefit both parties.
Smart Analytics for Water Sustainability
Although water utilities are beginning to utilize data analytics for operations and asset management, smart metering and optimization of data for real-time analytics and enhanced efficiencies is still fairly nascent.
According to survey respondents, only 7 percent are currently benefiting from these smart technologies. Through comprehensive analysis and dissemination, data can – and should – drive business decisions, master planning and capital investments that support greater water sustainability.
Data analytics can tie into how a water utility models its operations from finances to asset management, utilizing real-time information. Organizations then have the flexibility to adjust technical and strategic models for more effective and economical operations. Among this year’s survey participants, 93 percent indicated that system resilience was one of the most important challenges to the water industry, making its correlation with enterprise asset management critical.
Changing Value Perceptions
With respect to building financial capacity, most utilities strive to achieve the required bond covenants while balancing customer affordability requirements and adequately meeting operation and capital budgets. Utilities that aim to build long-term sustainability, however, exercise a deliberate and holistic focus on key factors including best practices that are based on asset management, service delivery excellence, customer convenience and low-income assistance, enhanced financial performance metrics and consistent stakeholder engagement.
A world-class utility should be asking itself: To get to that ultimate level of performance, what resources and strategies do I need to apply? Water solutions should focus on providing value in all facets of service delivery while communicating the alignment between the costs and the value of water.