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.