Launch Slideshow

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Gaining the Competitive Edge

Gaining the Competitive Edge

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    To measure the success of operations activities, the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, contracted with technology and business-management consultant EMA Inc. to incorporate the “balanced scorecard” strategy into a Web-based dashboard that pulls performance data from the city's core business systems and data repositories, such as IBM's Maximo asset management system, and provide derived performance metrics. Other IBM technologies that support the dashboard include the DB2-400 database and AS400 server, which serve as the platform for the city's utility billing system and provide raw data for several dashboard metrics. Goals are color-coded by perspective: Customer is blue, financial is green, process is yellow, and sustainability is orange.

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    The Corpus Christi Water Department establishes lofty “stretch” targets and continually strives to improve. All metrics shown are based on work orders. When actual results are better than the target, the numbers are green; below-target numbers are red.

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    Clicking on the “metric” Clicking the “metric” shown on the balanced score card displays details on how the metric is calculated.

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    Step 1: Download the work-order data for all reported backups during a defined period of time to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet document. Each customer has a distinct location code that indicates the street address.

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    Step 2: Using Excel commands, create a pivot table to isolate customers with the most frequently reported problems.

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    Step 3: Create a worksheet in Excel; this becomes a prioritized list of addresses for maintenance and repair. Review history and discuss repairs with the foreman to ensure data is complete.

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    The red dots indicate work performed in response to resident complaints about sewer backups during three extremely dry months. Areas with a disproportionate number of reported problems during periods of no rain are thus “problem locations” that can be targeted for more frequent maintenance.

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.

DEMONSTRATING IMPROVEMENT

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.