Water Asset Management—Culture is a Core Strategy
History bears witness to the emergence of civilizations along banks of water where access was available either for consumption, agriculture or trade. Unarguably, water is our planet’s most valuable resource; we should not only protect it but also take care of the infrastructure that conveys this water.
Most water infrastructure systems across the globe are reaching a point where significant investments need to be made to maintain or improve the levels of service they deliver. Declining tax revenues, coupled with climate change concerns and a retiring workforce make this an interesting challenge for our generation.
Water utility organizations are in the business of ensuring the distribution of safe drinking water to their customers and treating sanitary and stormwater to safe effluent levels per local regulations. They rely on tangible and intangible assets, data, processes and practices, technology and most importantly, people, to ensure they’re delivering the service that their customers expect and regulators require of them. Asset management is the coordination of activities that an organization such as a water utility undertakes to derive value from its assets. Water utilities can look to ISO 55000 suite of standards for guidance on establishing an asset management system and if desirable, certifying against a requirement standard – ISO 55001.
Asset management shines a new light on everything an organization does, calling into question traditional ways of doing tasks and addressing problems. Introducing asset management can create uncomfortable experiences for people as they’re asked to stop focusing on a narrow, siloed approach in their day-to-day operations and adopt a broader perspective. An enterprise approach to asset management includes a focus on business processes, organizational transformation and technology upgrades. This could mean taking a hard look at a utility’s workforce to see how department leaders and workers are doing their jobs. It requires a proactive approach to improving efficiencies and workflow, rather than purely reacting when assets fail.
Culture is as crucial to asset management success as implementing an asset management program. Increasingly, utilities understand that culture affects plans and processes throughout an organization. So, it should be no surprise that changing a utility’s culture should be part of implementing an effective asset management program. A utility can have the Cadillac® version of asset management software and best-in-class processes and practices and management systems, but if they don’t train and properly equip the people who use the system, asset management will fail.
When new software and processes are implemented, employees sometimes find ways to work around these updates and will revert to old ways of doing tasks. If leaders espouse the benefits of the new processes but aren’t actively engaged in them, workers will see the new processes as formalities and wonder why they’re being asked to do things differently. Also, when switching from a paper-based records system to an electronic one, a common perception is that employees are being monitored. Organizations can benefit from identifying internal champions to support and engage at every level.
Peter Drucker, the management guru’s phrase that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is ripe for an upgrade—asset management culture IS strategy and should be at the core of an organization’s asset management program. Although ISO 55000 set of standards doesn’t make direct reference to “culture” or “culture as an asset management strategy,” it’s our experience that how an organization approaches the setting up of an asset management culture is critical to attaining and sustaining success. We’ve guided utilities using a variety of approaches to changing management and culture. A typical change management plan includes:
- Identifying leadership and stakeholder actions
- Developing a monitoring process to measure progress
- Developing an organizational change management dashboard to report progress
- Administering benchmarking surveys
- Building and engaging a change liaison network
- Conducting roadshows
- Developing and disseminating posters, flyers and testimonial videos
- Delivering end-user training
- Facilitating AM training and certification approved by the IAM
- Documenting an execution strategy for the organizational change management plan
The culture change and accompanying asset management program will help ensure that customers receive the high standard of public service that water utility agencies work hard to provide.