AECOM, a global infrastructure firm, announced that Zeynep Erdal, Ph.D., P.E., has been named regional business line leader for its water business...
Have you had the experience of spending millions of dollars
on GIS, Process Control, SCADA or CMMS but not seeing any change in your
organization or work practices? While you made a huge investment in technology,
have you received very little, if any, return in terms of productivity or
savings for your utility?
Why does this happen? Why would any business spend millions
of dollars and not expect an improvement in effectiveness, efficiency or
quality? The answer to this question is that oftentimes people use technology
to automate processes but do not change the associated work practices. They do
not see the opportunities for a utility to grow and thrive. They do not think
of using technology as a strategy to improve their productivity. Technology by
itself will not lead to improved productivity.
You cannot apply technology without changing what people do
or how they do it. The only way to get a return from technology is to have your
staff specifically design a plan that involves all your utility's policies and procedures, assessing and modifying them to maximize the payback
from integrated technology. This applies to utilities of any size.
Technology must be implemented as a strategy to
thrive, to grow and improve.
Current State of the Utility
The last few years have seen a lull in the frenzy of
competitive takeovers witnessed in the 1990s.Takeovers have slowed as the major
players retrench, evaluating not only their acquisitions but also their
big picture. You read almost daily of their problems: growing too
fast, overextending themselves, diversifying into too many markets. In
addition, the terrorist acts and threats of this past year have caused us all
to pause and refocus on other things.
Competitiveness will be back with a vengeance. It is like an
infection that is dormant right now , but you can be sure that we have not seen
the last of privatization. Utilities must change their culture, mentally
leaving behind the public sector and using continuous improvement
to be able to compete on behalf of their customers. The opportunity for
improvement still exists with only small improvements made in the last five
years. (See Figure 1.)
The next wave is coming, and technology, carefully
integrated into your organization's work practices, will put you in good
standing with your customers now and with competitors when they come knocking
later. The opportunity lies in the fact that right now you have the time to do
What is Technology?
Just what do we mean by technology? Technology, just like
its implementation, is a big picture, full of switches, valves, computers,
gauges, software, wireless, relays, PLCs - virtually any tool that does
something at your command. Technology includes the processes, whether manual,
mechanical or electronic, that make your utility function in an orderly and
Without a doubt, the direction of technology is toward
computerization, improving decision-making, knowledge sharing and automation,
resulting in improved processes and improved hydraulics. One of the fastest
growing areas is in wireless technology, reshaping our definition of workplace,
work time and workforce. (See Figure 2.) Every bit of information and/or
control now is available to the worker out in the field, greatly simplifying
his work, allowing him to work faster and smarter and saving significant time
Computer technology continues to advance exponentially just
as costs have continued to decline. Today's PC is more powerful than the
supercomputers of a few years ago. Moore's Law, named in 1965 after Dr.
Gordon Moore of Intel, hypothesized that the number of transistors per
integrated chip circuit would double every 18 months. Although he forecast that
this trend would continue for ten years, through 1975, it has continued more than
a quarter century beyond that. (See Figure 3.) Likewise, a comparison of
automation functionality and cost showed that normalized value per input/output
point greatly increased in functionality while dropping in cost over the last
20 years. (See Figure 4.)
The Concept of Technology as a Strategy
When you plan a technology project, you involve the
organization and people who will be impacted by that project as part of a team.
That team examines the way they currently do their work practices and then determines
how it could be if they applied the appropriate enabling technology. This
process (involving the people who will be impacted by the change) gets them to
work together, identifying the ideal or best work practices. The new technology
then will enable them to implement those best practices.
That is the key to technology as a strategy; you are not
just applying technology, you are applying best business practices using
The Six Never Rules of Technology
Rule 1: NEVER apply technology by itself. A technology upgrade always must include an
analysis of your organization and your work processes in order to use
technology as efficiently as possible. Don't repave the cowpath;
straighten it out first!
Rule 2: NEVER apply technology without a business (ROI)
plan. Your return on investment over 2 to
4 years will not only keep you on track, but also it will affirm your business
case with your governing board. An investment must get a payback.
Rule 3: NEVER apply technology without user commitment to
pain and dreams. Requirements must be
clearly defined by staff at all levels, first by identifying their pains. Next,
identify the problems people want to see go away, or the dreams people want to
see come true. Commitment to the issues is as important as commitment to the
solutions. Consensus is essential at all levels. This consensus will ensure
that the users of the technology will have what they need. Diagnose before you
Rule 4: NEVER apply technology without a total systems
approach. You need to look at the big
picture, reach to your vision, and remember that the whole is greater than the
sum of the parts. Where do things fit? Where do they integrate? You are not
working with a tree, but a forest!
Rule 5: NEVER work at the bleeding, dull or trailing
edges. Always work at the cutting edge.
Some risk-taking is required. Not taking any risk is the biggest risk of all.
Rule 6: NEVER complete a technology project without
proving the derived benefit. Demand
results. Prove the business case. This may, at times, require acknowledgement
of unmet expectations, but that is the learning part of any project. Technology
as strategy requires that a return on investment is proven, and it requires
that results be achieved. Proving the benefits sends the right signal to all
Applying technology as a strategy will make your
organization thrive. Involving your employees throughout the planning and
implementation process will assure you prove your business case. Technology as
a strategy means using technology in harmony with best work practices to
continuously change the way you do business!