After discussing and answering questions on asset inventory, Heather and Ross talked about “Levels of Service.”
In this post, they talked about some useful key performance indicators (KPIs) that asset management professionals can develop.
And interestingly, last year I talked about a terrible water incident we had in New Zealand. It has turned out, after we had a full government inquiry on it, to probably be one of the worst Western world public health water incidents in the last 20 years, which is not a particularly useful badge to collect.
And it involved untreated supply taking water that ended up having Campylobacter in it. In a town of 15,000 people, 5,000 got sick, and four died of secondary complications.
So that’s the background, and there’s been a full inquiry of it. That particular authority is one of my clients, and they used to have a whole heap of water service levels. I just have one now, which is “to provide safe water.” And the community is pretty keen on that as a service level as well.
And sometimes I think, with KPIs, we can complicate them far too much.
So, “provide safe water” is really a bang. Everybody can get that as a KPI for the water supply.
There’s a whole heap of things you have to do to demonstrate and prove that you are providing safe water.
- So, is the source safe?
- Have I got various decontamination in place?
- Have I got safe working practices and reticulation maintenance that will make sure it’s safe?
- Have I protected the supply from backflow?
- Am I meeting all of my permitted requirements and my legal requirements?
- And on it goes.
Now those are all the technical things that we have to do. And they also, they obviously have an awful lot of monitoring and checking going on at the very high level now. And that will demonstrate safe water as well.
And it’s where you pitch those KPIs and service levels. But in their case, they’ve said, look we only have one now, and that’s “provide safe water,” went through a whole bunch of stuff underneath to demonstrate that. That’s still under essentially, your federal government oversight, with a lot of that as well.
So, they have been doing a lot of work around proving they are providing safe water, which what the community wants and is going to pay.
And it’s useful to keep your KPI short and focused, I think. If you look where they originally came from, they came out of the business world, maybe a Fortune 500 company with a 100 billion dollars’ worth of annual revenue. They might have 10 KPIs so the board can see that everything is on track.
Our risk I think in public utilities is that we end up with 600 KPIs and that just becomes a whole heap of reporting noise that nobody can see through. And so I think it’s getting that focus back and in this particular case.
So what they’ve done, this particular authority has done, have the water one, provide safe water. The wastewater one is public health and protects the environment because that’s actually why we have a wastewater system. Otherwise, we all have wastewater or surge running down the sides of the roads because we wouldn’t care.
And the stormwater one, the storm drains protect people and property.
So, they’ve got really focused on what they actually hold those networks for and then cascade technical measures under that. But you’ve got some outstanding ones here as well.
I want to share on the screen right now, you’ll see something that’s available on the Southwest EFC website. If you go to services, asset management, and resources, you can pull up this Level of Service guide.
This one happens to be for water. But we are also working or have developed the one on wastewater that will also be able to give you some good starting places.
This was broken down into some key components that you might care about in doing a level of service. So, public health and safety as Ross are mentioning, that’s usually number one.
I mean, you’re all about protecting the public, protecting the environment if it’s wastewater, the safety of your workers, your people, all of that is paramount. It doesn’t get much more fundamental than that as your main thing.
And even talking about the Flint example. The minute you get on the wrong side of that, in Flint’s, the case in the USA, everything else stops.
That is actually the thing that is the bedrock of public water utilities.
If you are not safe and people are getting sick from drinking your water at that point, everything else you think you’re doing stops while you deal with that one.
So, it is public health and safety, a little bit of customer service, system maintenance, response time, like how fast are you going to respond to different things. A little bit of water loss control, drought and demand management, utility management, and internal utility goals.
And you’ll notice that there are some greyed out areas. These are actual target levels that you can feel free to change to whatever you want them to be.
So, the goals are things that you could adapt, whatever goals out of this list you like. Whatever one fits your particular situation, change the target levels for how you operate your system. And then you will have some reasonable level of service, to begin with.
This example is not meant like you would adopt every single one of these because they should be relevant to your system and what’s important. But you can pick ones out of here that would help you kind of get started.
And the reason we developed this document is we were finding systems of all sizes, from the very small to the very, very large. Hundreds of thousands to millions of people having trouble just kind of thinking through, what goes into a level of service? What kind of things we think about?
So, this can start your thinking. You can add goals, you can choose which ones make sense for you. But at least it starts your thinking process.
And even taking a step, maybe above the level of service goals, what is your mission statement, like what is it that you are all about?
So, is there a mission statement that kind of sets the overall arching thing for your utility? And if you have one of those, then the KPIs and level of service should match.
What do you need to do to meet that mission? So, if the mission is I’m going to serve good water, nobody is going to get sick, and nobody is going to die.
What are the KPIs and the service levels you need to have to make sure that doesn’t happen, that people are getting good safe water and putting these kinds of things above finance?
We want to have reasonably priced utilities, but we want to put, the overarching goal of public health and safety above cutting cost just for cutting cost sake.
And if your mission were, hopefully, we wouldn’t be going to see this in our industry, but if your mission is I want to provide the cheapest water in the world, you might be giving up some other stuff if that’s the drive or the service level.
That’s why service level guidelines and KPIs are important because you have that discussion. What is it we’re actually about delivering? And what is the reasonable price for that? And that’s the discussion.