In 2000, Corpus Christi came within one vote of out-sourcing water and wastewater operations. The hang-up? Even with the promise of $200 million in savings over 20 years, council members couldn't agree on whether constituents would be better served by private contractors or public employees. So they ordered the city manager to operate the utilities “more like a business.”
The implication was clear: Become competitive or be contracted out.
The first step was establishing a computerized work-order system. Although utility employees could access the city's geographical information system (GIS), they couldn't use it to input or spatially analyze customer calls and work performed. Instead, they recorded service requests by hand on index cards, then input them into an Access database.
Service levels were anyone's guess because standards hadn't been well-defined and weren't being accurately monitored.
Most work was performed in direct response to citizen calls, breakdowns, and malfunctions, which meant minimal preventive maintenance and no analysis of work backlogs.
To remedy this crises-management style of service, the utilities selected IBM's Maximo asset management solution to interface with the city's GIS and record and manage work. Technology and business-management consultant EMA Inc. installed the system and provided technical support.
The software was purchased in 2002 and implemented incrementally, one department at a time, in six-month intervals over two years.
BECOMING A PROACTIVE ENTITY
With an automated work-order system in place, the next step was to establish a call center. This happened in 2003.
Call-center operators use the system to record resident service requests, each of which generates a computerized work order. Because the software interfaces with GIS, they can see pending work while they're on the phone with customers and avoid creating duplicate work orders. They also can see the history of all work performed at a specific location, no matter which department did the work.
Customers are considered critical “assets” to manage, just like pumps and motors, and are identified by a unique location code assigned to the utilities' “service premise.” To create the unique location codes, EMA built upon codes already established in the city's utility billing system; assets such as mains, valves, and manholes were already in the GIS.
All of this data is used to rate customer service.
The wastewater department, for example, defines “good” service as:
Timely response to sewer-backup calls, measured by the time between when the call is received, when the crew arrives, and when work is completed. The target start time, for example, is four hours from when the customer calls, and target completion time is six hours from the call.
Reliable (continuous) service, which is measured by calculating the percentage of customers experiencing no service interruptions during a defined time period.
The data can also be used to create a baseline against which a department can quantify improvements over time.
For instance, the wastewater department determined that 90% of customers received continuous service during a one-year period. That percentage now serves as a baseline as the department works to establish a target percentage.
Today, the utilities plan work more systematically instead of reacting to the crisis of the hour.
Employees routinely produce maps that illustrate wastewater-backup calls, complaints of water quality, or water main breaks by geographical area. The maps pinpoint problem locations and are used to develop capital improvement and repair strategies. Exercising water valves, flushing “dead-end” water mains, and cleaning out problematic mains before they clog and interrupt service can be done in those problem locations.
The system was so successful that by 2005 all utility and public works functions — gas, traffic engineering, airport, park operations, facility maintenance, solid waste services, and street services — had installed the software as well. Information is now shared and directly accessible to any department.
The system enabled the utilities and public works department to comply with a 2006 city initiative to evaluate performance based upon the balanced scorecard model of measuring success according to four perspectives: customer, financial, process, and sustainability/learning and growth. The method translates business strategies and performance standards, such as the city's mission of “serving the customer,” into specific, measurable objectives like timely service request resolution times.
In other words, it measures how well operational activities will satisfy the organization's objectives. Managers identify goals within each perspective that help achieve the department's overall mission.
For example, to meet a mission that includes effective water supply management and customer satisfaction, Corpus Christi Water Department goals include two-hour response time to water complaints, one-hour response to main breaks, four-day response to meter leaks, and 24-hour completion of main break repairs.
EMA developed an “online dashboard” for the city that presents balanced scorecard goals, objectives, metrics, and targets on a Web page. Much like an automobile dashboard, the interface pulls data from enterprise systems such as IBM's Maximo and displays the metrics so users can gauge progress. Users view data by year, quarter, month, week, or day at the enterprise or department/business unit level. Drill-down functionality and charting provide greater detail, pulling response times, cost of service, and other essential performance metrics from core systems to present information on a Web page external to source applications.
Initiating this type of continuous assessment would have been nearly impossible without an automated work-order system because much of the data needed to measure performance is drawn directly from the system. At the same time, the methodology helps ensure the software system's success.
Each department's performance targets and results are posted online for any city employee with a password to view. This has spurred managers to pay closer attention to the data in the system. Accuracy has improved, making the system even more useful.
Together, these tools have enabled the utilities to transform from operations that couldn't even define what “good” levels of service meant to proactive agencies that can track, evaluate, and improve upon services to set standards of excellence.
— Klepper is administrative superintendent for the city of Corpus Christi Water Utilities.
Maintaining equilibrium between long-term goals and day-to-day practices.
It's easy to provide great service if price isn't an issue. Conversely, it's easy to keep costs down if you don't care about providing good service. The hard part is satisfying both goals simultaneously.
That's what the water and waste-water utilities of Corpus Christi, Texas, have been working on since 2000, using a tool outlined in the 1996 book The Balanced Scorecard by Robert Kaplan and David Norton. The strategic planning and management method is helping them identify and examine the relationship between the activities necessary to meet their overall vision.
The methodology's underlying principle is that because organizations can't directly influence financial outcomes, financial measures alone shouldn't be used to evaluate effectiveness. Areas where direct management intervention is possible should also be identified and measured.
The utilities, for example, are measuring customer call response and service completion times. Following the methodology, managers use “if-then,” or cause-and-effect, thinking to identify and adjust measures that will continuously improve service.
In wastewater collection, the department considered the factors that impact service and the elements over which managers have some control: “We will achieve timely customer response if enough proficient crews are available to respond to sewer-backup calls at the right time, and if adequate equipment is available, and if calls are promptly dispatched.”
Similarly, “We will increase the reliability of service provided if repairs are first focused on areas with the most frequent problems and if the problem lines are routinely cleaned.”
All of the “if” statements suggest possible performance indicators that help better manage the wastewater collection system.
For more information about the balanced scorecard method, visit our article links page.
A systematic approach
Finding problematic infrastructure areas before they fail.
Just seven years ago, Corpus Christi, Texas' wastewater staff logged service requests by hand and addressed problems as they occurred. With no formal way to track service calls, it was nearly impossible to pinpoint problematic infrastructure before failures occurred. Since installing an asset management solution, all that users need is the computer-generated work-order history.