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INTEGRATED APPROACH TO COMPETITIVE UTILITY OPERATIONS

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In today's market, public utilities are under pressure to become competitive with private sector operation and maintenance contractors. This paper presents an overview of a model that utilities can use to affect changes that enhance their competitive status.

The model assimilates the competitive components of benchmarking, technical improvements and organizational improvements re into an Integrated Competitive Utility System (ICUS). As shown in Figure 1, the ICUS model recognizes the synergistic relationship among benchmarking, technical improvements and organizational improvements.

The intent of the paper is to focus on the organizational improvement side of the ICUS model. One of the outcomes of competitiveness is doing more with fewer people. Therefore, one of the goals in a competitive environment is to enhance the competency and flexibility of facility personnel. This allows the organization to realize and maintain a smaller multi skilled workforce. The underlying premise is that once benchmarking has been completed, and commitment to improvements made, that technical improvements alone do not provide optimized competitive results. As important as the technical side is, buy-in of personnel is equally important. Buy-in is critical to successfully weather the dynamics of organizational change and prevent backsliding to less efficient practices.

In the long run it is people that will operate and maintain new equipment on a day-to-day basis. Investment in the utilities people asset supports cost effective maximization of capital assets.

The methodology for enhancing the competency and flexibility of facility personnel begins with a collaborative skills and training needs assessment. The findings of the assessment are used to develop and implement:



Development of an objective means to validate individual competency and proficiency


Sustainability of a multi-skilled flexible work force


Objective validation of individual competency and proficiency provide performance measures for monitoring the application of the enhanced skills of the employees. Sustainability measures support the integration of the improvements into the norms of organization cultural.

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority's (DCWASA) Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C. is used as a case study. In an effort to enhance its competitiveness, the DCWASA has embarked on 2 major programs at its 370 MGD Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Facility. They include a multiyear Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and an Operations and Maintenance Training Program (OMTP). As noted in the ICUS (Figure 1) DCWASA recognized the need to address the synergistic linkages between technical and organizational improvements to productivity and competitiveness.

A unique aspect of the paper is the presentation of a national certification program for maintenance personnel comparable to that for operators (i.e., Association of Boards of Certification). The maintenance certification will provide the water and wastewater industry with a long needed competency validation mechanism for this important personnel group.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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