MAKING IT ALL HAPPEN

Accomplishing all this while the newly merged staffs were performing their “day jobs” and developing an environmental management system was very ambitious but also very important. Several strategies were used to tie the three ongoing efforts together.

Utility employees and consultants who were involved in all three efforts facilitated communication. As specialists were brought in to address specific technical tasks, the common staff members shared briefings and preliminary findings from the other two studies to provide much-needed context.

To narrow the range of possible approaches and considerations, a preliminary framework for each initiative was developed. For example, when criteria and performance measures were developed for water resources, guiding principles from the draft strategic plan and preliminary elements of the asset management plan's method for defining risk reduction provided foundations that allowed efficient development of prioritization criteria that reflect the new entity's values and goals.

Even so, there were substantial challenges in conducting three such extensive initiatives simultaneously.

There are practical limits to how many hours employees can spend in workshops and still have time to meet day-to-day responsibilities. Right away, the new entity was contending with compliance considerations, not to mention an economic climate that was making life difficult for all utilities, old and new. Because neither operation came to the merger with a formal maintenance program, employees were trying to provide information and make decisions with incomplete information about the condition and operational history of many assets.

One strategy was to begin working incrementally in advancing current knowledge of the system while using the three initiatives to begin developing a framework for long-term advances. Jordan knew it would take several years to fully integrate the system and begin utilizing predictive tools.

Those working on the asset management plan created a qualitative list of assets considered most vulnerable to failure while developing a consequence and likelihood of failure “risk framework” to be applied more systematically as time and resources permitted. The need for a predictive-maintenance management system was underscored when a sewer interceptor that didn't make the organization's list of the “dirty dozen” riskiest assets failed.

Though time-consuming, Jordan believes that conducting the three initiatives with integrated teams was ultimately the most effective approach. With information gathered and processed onsite, anything learned about one of the initiatives was quickly shared with employees working on the other two. Decisions about how to best allocate limited resources were also made much more quickly than they would have been otherwise. For example, an enhanced prioritization of 79 water and sewer capital projects with a total implementation cost of $375 million was developed in July 2009 as part of the water resources project.

“With the prioritization linked to the strategic plan, we've updated and expanded the program to include additional projects in the FY 10 through FY 20 capital budget,” says Engineering Manager Jim Flechtner, PE, who led a cross-departmental team that used the prioritization results to develop the capital improvement budget. “The strategic planning study gave us the opportunity to make sure that organizational goals and programs align with external stakeholders such as local municipalities, universities, and hospitals, which also provide critical services.”

In June 2010, a dozen employees learned how to use the organization's new IBM Maximo asset-management software. Gallinaro indicates that these employees will share their expertise with about 100 other employees using a “train-the-trainer” teaching methodology. This strategy emerged from employees working on the asset-management study, who quickly realized how important a computerized maintenance management system was to the organization's long-term viability. This need was reinforced by two of Jordan's three guiding principles — sustainability and service — and serves the strategic plan's goal of providing reliable, cost-effective service. New procedures, such as business case evaluations, are being introduced to provide the basis for sound decision-making.

“We've hit the ground running,” Jordan says. “We opened for business less than a year from the agreement to form the authority. We recognized early on the need to implement systems that will increase our ability to operate proactively and immediately took steps to begin building this process. Water and sewer customers experience no service interruptions because employees dug in and got the job done.”

Like past successes and hardships, ongoing success requires ongoing cooperation.

“Each department has to understand the other's functions,” Jordan says. “It's not just about doing the right thing; it's about doing the right thing at the right time. Teamwork, integration, and mutual appreciation will help us as we work to meet our principal objectives of stewardship, sustainability, and service in a tight economy.

“We will need to continue using a balanced approach meeting the needs of our community and maintaining a sustainable utility while keeping rates and charges affordable to our customers.”

— Matichich (michael.matichich@ch2m.com) is global technology leader, financial services, for CH2M Hill.