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As are many U.S. water and wastewater utilities, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is challenged to ensure cost effective management of assets in a changing regulatory environment, where rate pressures and public scrutiny are paramount, infrastructure is aging, and environmental sensitivity is essential.

In 2002, SPU began implementation of a comprehensive asset management program, and although full operationalization of our asset management concepts is years away, major advances have been achieved that have resulted in benefits to customers throughout the Seattle area. When deciding to implement an asset management program, SPU executive leaders sought best practices and made a deliberate decision to launch into what it terms an “early gains approach". They felt that starting off by conducting a comprehensive gap analysis, and implementing a massive program initially would “drown” progress. Instead, they chose to establish a core philosophy, implement key asset management elements, and focus on early gains to build staff confidence. This approach has proven to be successful.

Keys to success so far have been the strong executive leadership, the clarity of process and examples of successes we have obtained from Australian organizations practicing asset management, and a committed employee base at SPU open to new ideas and ways of providing exceptional services to customers. Since 2002, we have had a strong focus on the technical change needed – such as how we tee-up issues for decisions, how we value services to customers, how we compare project alternatives from a triple bottom line life cycle approach, and how we establish and hinge our investments on service levels. During this time, however, we have not had a deliberate approach to the management of culture change in the organization – those adaptive changes we feel are needed if we want the AM philosophy to be sustainable. Currently we are providing greater focus and attention on these aspects.

This paper introduces SPU's approach to asset management, describes the primary elements of our strategy, discusses the culture change initiatives underway, and provides a general description of SPU's accomplishments to date.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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