The Importance of an Operational Assessment Programme
Day to day operations of water and wastewater facilities can be a challenging and time-consuming job for most utility managers. Keeping up with the everyday activities and challenges can leave little time to reflect on the bigger picture and research best industry practices. Bringing in industry expects to audit and perform an operational assessment can identify significant areas for improvement. The recommendations can lead to changes in operations making the utility more effective and efficient and, in some instances, resulting in large capital cost savings. These savings can pay many fold of the cost of the assessment and return a significant return on investment.
Unlike many assessments that focus on only high level strategies, the assessments conducted by WWWS in partner with CBWPM, focus on the operational level. They provide concrete, achievable recommendations that are provided by industry peers with expertise in running utilities including an energy audit designed to identify energy cost reduction strategies and savings.
What is an Operational Assessment?
Unlike an engineering consultancy conducting an overall assessment of utility engineering aspects, the process that WWWS is proposing is an operational assessment, conducted by operational personnel, talking peer to peer with their counterparts. The assessment would be of the day-to-day activities and an assessment of the equipment used includes such aspects of the operation as:
- Daily water and wastewater operator system checks
- Water system leakage and losses
- Review of routine equipment maintenance checks and approaches to repairs
- Simple recommendations for predictive and preventive maintenance programmes to reduce down time and costs.
- Improvements for water and wastewater quality sampling and testing practices
- Identification of efficiencies that can be gained through the use of SCADA
- System security
- Identifying the benefits of critical equipment redundancy
- Data capture for Benchmarking initiatives
- Customer relations
- Clearly defining customer rate classes
- Opportunities to defer capital expenditures through effective conservation
- Financial and budgetary processes
- Power use and related cost reductions
- Human capital planning related to personnel development for Effective Utility Management – ties back to Centre of Excellence with training plan
The Benefits to the Utility
The following provides an example of the benefits derived from an Operational Assessment.
1. An restructured Organizational Chart following Best Practices
2. Reduced equipment downtime by 50%
3. Significant deferral of capital investment for upgrading water distribution system through conservation initiatives
4. Increases customer satisfaction rating from 60 – 90% (survey data)
5. Rates and tariff review created better equity and true cost of service between rate classes
6. SCADA upgrades improve response times for emergencies and failures by 60%
7. Significant improvements to equipment tracking, performance reporting and record keeping
8. Improved water quality monitoring and reporting programmes by over 50%
Many assessment processes only provide general recommendations that the utility may find too general, too costly or too complex to implement. The WWWS assessment team works directly with operations and management staff to make practical “on the ground” recommendations for improvement to gain efficiencies in daily operator routines and equipment maintenance and selection. The recommendations that are provided will include detailed information on the latest in industry equipment that is practical, low cost and best suited to the challenges of the site.
The Assessment Process
Operational assessments are completed using a peer-to-peer review process. This process brings WWWS operations staff that has extensive operational experience together with local utility staff to discuss and review day-to-day operational practices. Operators in the field speak the same “language” and understand each other’s work environment and challenges. Information is shared and strengths as well as opportunities for improvement are identified and discussed in all operating areas. Recommendations that include training plans are also provided.
All recommendations utilize industry best practices applied based on-site specific operational needs. Simple low cost, yet effective items are identified and recommendations provided. Assessments done by team of two or three individuals take 4-5 days. Time spent depends on the complexity of the operation and the provision of utility documents such as routine check sheets, water and wastewater quality reporting and customer consumption records submitted before arrival.
The documentation submitted ahead of time decreases the amount of time on- site.
At the conclusion a report with recommendations for changes to items such as operational checklists and maintenance procedures, energy saving initiatives etc. is prepared. The utility is presented with working examples of how operational improvements can be implemented. The report also contains a list of simple, clearly defined recommendations that serve as a template that can be referred to which moves operations forward in an effective and efficient manner.
A recent assessment in WASCO the St Lucia utility resulted in 100 recommendations and a comprehensive workplan.