“From the Field” is a series of interviews in which water utility operators share their insights and experiences on varied topics.
Hearing from peers in other water utilities is one of the best ways to get new ideas and gain more understanding about issues and trends. In this series of occasional articles, we ask several water professionals to share their thoughts on a particular topic.
This article focuses on how three utilities are breaking down the traditional barriers between different teams and departments in their organization, and the benefits they are seeing from this.
Insights and experiences shared by:
- Darren Cash, Customer Hub Manager, Sydney Water, Australia
- Francisco Iturriaga, Department Head, Operational Intelligence, Esval & Aquas del Valle, Valparaíso and Coquimbo, Chile
- Rhett Duncan, Executive Manager - Customer Delivery, Unitywater, Queensland, Australia
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: What steps are you taking to break down the silos in your utility? And what benefits are you seeing from those efforts?
Darren, Sydney Water: We’ve brought together a lot of functions that were previously siloed under different businesses. Many of them were siloed geographically as well. So, instead of having people spread out in eight different locations, with eight different line managers for the different functions, we have one team that is now all in one location, and under one reporting line.
That has been a key enabler to us building a central view around the customer. We’ve embedded that customer centricity into all our functions. Previously, the customer-centricity might have been there with our call center operators, but not necessarily with the other parts of the process that fit into my team. It's been a big success, and it's something that the individual team members really get a lot of satisfaction out of. They like being able to work together on solving a problem and on avoiding a problem for customers.
Rhett, Unitywater: We are very consciously working on the culture of our organization to make sure people closest to the action are empowered to make decisions. So, rather than a question coming up the management chain, going across into another division, and going back down to the person with the answer, we are empowering the people on the frontline to reach across to their peers on the frontline in other parts of the business, ask a question, make a decision, and move forward.
In the past couple of years, we’ve been actively bringing teams together from across the organization. We have a leadership forum where all the leaders in the organization meet twice a year, and in addition, we bring together branch managers and section leaders quarterly.
So, we’re working hard to connect people across the organization, and as a result we're seeing the speed at which the organization can now work is accelerating very, very quickly.
Francisco Iturriaga, Esval & Aquas del Valle: Visualization and data management was traditionally managed in silos, with no real interaction between the different platforms and different teams. TaKaDu finally allows us to be able to integrate the silos and merge the information to generate a better result.
A large number of our people are all working with TaKaDu, which is improving communication and collaboration. About a fifth of the company interacts with the TaKaDú platform, which, in our opinion, is an important number. There are also different teams and areas that operate the system for different purposes, for example, maintenance, field operation, planning, hydraulic modeling, the operational intelligence center which looks at water losses, repeated outages, and bursts. Finally, there are a series of cross-company areas that use the tool.
A note from the TaKaDu team
A central tenet of TaKaDu central event management (CEM) is that it becomes a single source of truth, and employees from multiple disciplines can use the information it provides to make decisions. As TaKaDu is a web application, everyone can easily access it to add their insight. At all stages in the management of events, employees use it to share information with peers or to hand over the responsibility to team members with more expertise. We’re inspired by how these utilities are successfully adjusting their people, processes and technology (PPT) and as a result are increasing their operational efficiency and delivering significantly better customer service.
This is the 3rd article in our From the Field series. Read the previous articles:
If you have ideas for other topics you would like to hear a range of views about, please let us know. And remember to check back here soon for the next article in the series.