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.

— Klepper is administrative superintendent for the city of Corpus Christi Water Utilities.

Balancing act

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.

Web Extra

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.