On 21 January 2020, Ross Waugh and Heather Himmelberger held another Ask-the-Experts webinar titled, “Infrastructure Asset Management – How to Start.” Inframanage.com presents the webinar topics through a series of blog posts.
And I think, some folks asked about, what about low hanging fruit and how can you get there.
One of the ways, especially with small systems, one advantage small systems have is there are fewer people to get on the asset management train than if you’re a big utility and you’ve got to convince a whole bunch of people that this is worth doing.
That’s actually a lot harder than a small utility where there are a few people who actually work there. And you can get them all in a room, you can all work together and talk.
So there are some advantages to small system asset management over a larger system.
And one of them has to do with this low hanging fruit and quick wins.
Often what we can do with small utility is just tell us the problem you have, like what is going on, on your system that is a problem, and you have it today, and you would love to solve it or at least get in a better place.
It could be something as simple as I don’t know where all the meters are. So you’d say okay, well, if that’s one of your problems, I don’t know where my customer meters are. I don’t know if everybody has one. I don’t know if they all work. That’s a great place to start.
So you can go out and do a customer meter survey. You can do it quickly or you can do it over time whichever works.
And you start to compare the billing system list with the customer meters that you’re finding and see if they match.
You look to see if the meters work. You look to see if they’re leaking. And almost every utility that we’ve dealt with in a small system side has gone out and done a meter survey has found something that they didn’t know.
One example is a community that had a restaurant that didn’t have a meter. And it was the biggest restaurant in town. So all this time.
They are not going to tell you they haven’t got a meter either.
Yes, the restaurant is not going to tell you and that’s a bunch of revenue that you lost out on.
There are systems you found out multiple houses were tied into one meter. So there’s going to be one unhappy customer and one very happy customer. But it needs to be fixed.
There are systems that found the meter was sending a signal but the signal was off sometimes by a fraction often, sometimes by a fraction of a hundred.
Meaning that they are under billing that customer by quite a bit. So by fixing that problem, you have additional revenue.
So this can be great stuff where, if you are looking at a problem that you’re having at your system and seeing how by just asking yourself some questions going through strategic thinking process can help resolve that, you can have a win relatively quickly. But then (it) prompts you to want to do more.
So you don’t have, again, make asset management super, super fancy at the beginning. You just address some issues you’re having to kind of make your feet wet for the type of thinking and the type of inventory you need and that kind of thing.
And then use that to springboard you into doing more so that you can get your customers and your boards and your managers, those people who make decisions, make decisions to invest.
You can get them on board because you have an authentic thing that you can show. Hey, I had this win, or could be where my valves are? Or it could be something with hydrants or something with the pipe, and there are lots and lots of different starting places.
Pick any of them that matter to you. And if it matters to you, you are willing to put more effort into it.
So, when you pick an issue that matters to your utility, you’re being more passionate about trying to solve it instead of randomly selecting an issue.
Yes, look, I think the thing is to, it’s good to communicate those wins, up to your management or your governance or even to your community, if you’ve got a, like a Facebook Page or a community newsletter or whatever.
Because people see problems and then when they see them fixed, and then you can say, hey that saved a hundred thousand or a couple of hundred thousand dollars, they’ll go, “Wow, that’s great!” That’s good.
Or if you’ve got a whole heap of leakage and you get on top of that, and you fixed that and people noticed that there are no leaks anymore, it just increases confidence in the management of the system. It also means you are not wasting money.
And often, given what has happened in New Zealand is that the governing board doesn’t cut the money back. They just go, “Hey, go fix the next problem.” And so, you fixed the next one. They would say, “Go fix the next one.”
And so, your tariff stays the same. Your revenue stays the same. Your expenditure stays the same. So, there’s no less money, but you’re operating more efficiently.
You’re not wasting money, and you have gained the trust and the opportunity to get on and keep ahead of the problems rather than letting them be expensive.