Advancements in technology have been moving at a fast pace – so fast that people have not always been able to keep up with the changing workplace. Therefore the questions that managers could debate around the maintenance of utility assets are:
• Is it the technology/system, the user of it, or the general level of communication that causes breakdowns?
• Are we truly able to maximise the potential of the technology and systems we take on to ensure adequate maintenance of the utility?
• Are we looking at the ‘people versus cost’ relationship, and what this really means?
Understanding some of the main issues around utility maintenance are briefly discussed below:
Inadequate or even basic acknowledgement of an appropriate change education process. Most of the time when we think of change, we think of change management and we understand that the success of any project during implementation stages usually relies on this being at the core. However, when it comes to utility maintenance, the change agent, the perception is that this is no longer required. Do we pause to think that the realisation of an asset comes from our continual ability to adapt to change? Therefore, change educators (CEs) are integral to be able to consistently adapt to those constantly moving items, such as job role adjustment, loss of worth if it was paper bound, adjusting to new systems and technologies.
Realistic process flows with strict timelines and accountabilities to enable the utility industry
Use of theoretical models and process flows that are boxed but not necessarily specific to the utility needs. The trend is often to apply only the theory in a book or the process flow of someone else that convinced us through their collection of data that there is worthiness in following a certain way inside an organisational flow. Strict process flows specific to the Service Level Agreement or needs of the client are required to be communicated down to the perceived simplest but most important activities. This critical success factor will ensure efficient response and maximal service delivery.
Critical inter-departmental communication and empowerment of staff
Inter-departmental communication and hierarchical issues. Sometimes, during the maintenance cycle, there are various tiered support structures lacking adequate communication. This causes delays in reaction time, disgruntled customers and unhappy departments. For example, an urgent query directed to the call centre to attend to a pre-paid issue, by a customer. For various reasons, the technical department does not attend to this issue immediately – but does not inform the call centre. The result is a lack of trust in the utility’s ability to provide the service required. At times, staff will feel disempowered and micro-managed instead of being provided with accountabilities to perform the task required of them. For the success of the maintenance cycle, it is important to empower all roles and responsibilities, and emphasise how each one plays a crucial role. This will allow staff to be empowered, inspired and feel valued by their organisation.
Realistic expectations of capabilities of systems & technology
Unrealistic expectations of functions and life span of utilities. People inside the organisation as well as customers tend to be sold on the benefits and capabilities of the product, system or service provided. This is understandable; however, it creates unrealistic expectations during the maintenance cycle. It is vital to ensure that all parties have a balanced mindset regarding both the benefits and drawbacks that the product, system or service provide. People connect when given realistic expectations, rather than a description of perfect process.
Education, transparency and communication
Inadequate education, transparency and communication with the client/customer:
‘Always do what you say you are going to do.’
Adequate customer education, transparency and communication are required together with constant ‘feeds’ via signs, symbols, and messages to allow consistent education and ‘calls to action’. Communication and full transparency in a pre-engagement process allows the customer to not only trust that they will remain informed, but also encourages them to become custodians of the utility, taking ownership of and responsibility for its success during the maintenance cycle. ESI