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THE CONVERSATION THE CONSULTING ENGINEER AND THE UTILITY MANAGER OUGHT TO HAVE: WHAT DOES GETTING MORE FOR LESS MEAN?

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Abstract:

In an era of greater expectations from the public for greater efficiency in utility operations, managers are examining all aspects of their operation, including their relationships with consultants. When expecting “more for less” from their own staff and infrastructure, it is not surprising that some of them are carrying that demand to consultants. But what does “more” mean and what does “less” mean? These are important definitions to come to common understanding about.

First and foremost, the competitiveness issue is not the only trend that should be important to both managers and engineers, as technology has significantly evolved over the last three decades. The example chosen for this paper is wastewater treatment technology. Technology changes include the level of understanding of unit process performance, moving from rules of thumb to process models, as well as the type of financing available (grants to self-financing) that have had a marked impact on project development. Also, the level of innovation has been remarkable, with significant capital cost savings; information technology has unlocked the usefulness of all kinds of data to utility managers. Taking advantage of these trends has got to be an important element of getting “more.”

When initiating capital projects, the manager must estimate both the cost of the construction and the cost of the engineering. But which is the important cost? Is it the cost of construction, the cost of engineering and related administrative costs, or the total cost of the project? And how is the quality of the project defined (the “more” issue)? Utility managers and consulting engineers are often put at odds during the critical project initiation phase. At this time the manager often wants to show to governing bodies that the engineer's costs have been contained while the engineer wants to develop the project concept through additional investigation, but may be forced to forego this in the competitive selection process. Focusing on the cost of the total project is the answer to this initial project imbalance. Not finding balance here may result in finding truth in the old saying that “there is nothing more expensive than cheap engineering.”

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2175/193864702784248124

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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