Smart, not scary

Halloween insights that will take the spooky out of CMOM
It’s nearing the witching hour. What scares you most? For some, it’s the fear of regulatory compliance. But CMOM doesn’t have to be scary!

Most utilities have developed some form of a Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance (CMOM) program elements, usually to comply with regulatory requirements or to improve their collection system operations. An effective CMOM program ensures that a sewage system is properly managed, operated and maintained, has adequate capacity to convey peak flows, and steps are taken to eliminate excessive infiltration and inflow from the system, with the goal to eliminate Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). 

But how do you prove that your system is living up to the stated goals of the program and satisfying regulatory expectations? Obviously, the ultimate measure is the reduction in SSOs and building backups due to system failures. But that’s not enough.

A utility cannot adjust its management strategies without first understanding system performance, production rates, staff availability and other performance factors. And few, if any, CMOM plans are accepted without some definition of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as number of SSOs, feet cleaned or feet inspected, being assigned.

So, setting up a performance measurement system with levels of service, metrics and targets is essential for improving effectiveness and resource allocation so that the goals of your CMOM program can be achieved. 

For example, if a regulatory action requires your utility to "conduct routine preventive operation and maintenance activities for sewers” to minimize sanitary sewer overflows and building backups, then tracking the number of overflows and backup occurrences must be reviewed against the causes. Are system failures due to grease buildup in the sewers, collapsing pipes or just not having enough staff to maintain the system properly? Once you know factors contributing to failures, only then can you determine how much and which type of CMOM activities are needed to help reduce those occurrences.
 
Effective measures and targets should be SMART, not scary:
  • Specific to the goals of the organization or the regulatory requirements.
  • Measurable to an appropriate degree of accuracy (integrated into tracking tools).
  • Achievable and controllable, not to frustrate those who perform the work. 
  • Relevant to meeting the goals of reducing costs and risks, improving customer service. 
  • Time-bound to establish temporal milestones.

Many performance measures evolve from demonstrating effectiveness to exposing efficiencies. In this context, you must differentiate between the two: Effectiveness is "producing a result that is wanted." Efficiency is "producing results without wasting materials, energy or time."

What is your organization trying to achieve?

Identifying the appropriate measures for your utility is dependent on a number of factors:
  • Who is the audience?
  • What has caused problems in the past?
  • How will the information be used?
  • What is to be proved, defended or justified?
  • Who in the organization will be analyzing the measures?

Initially, your display of KPIs can be as simple as using spreadsheets, but more sophisticated tools and dashboards can be generated for more advance performance measurement and analysis. Several computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) programs have built-in capabilities of data dashboard displays that can be configured from their work-order modules.


 
But take care before embarking on benchmarking your performance against industry data compilations, as presented in AWWA’s Benchmarking Performance Indicators for Water and Wastewater Utilities: Survey Data and Analyses Report, which is a voluntary submittal rather than a blind survey. It is best to perform internal benchmarking against your past performance until you have a more mature program and sufficient historical data.

Also keep in mind that a CMOM program is a continuous improvement process. It makes good business sense and should not be viewed as a daunting endeavor. The development of an improvement plan is only the beginning, and needs to be revisited and revised from time to time based on the performance analysis.

Even though federal and state guidelines are designed to help minimize the impact of SSOs, these processes and principles can be applied to stormwater, combined sewer and water distribution systems (especially because in many cities and counties the same staff are responsible for the management, operations and maintenance of each system). In many cases, a CMOM program becomes the first step in developing a comprehensive asset management program, which can engage the entire organization, not just the wastewater agency.

Collectively, the activities undertaken through a CMOM program can result in many rewards: increased productivity, improved operations and maintenance (O&M) practices, adequate resources and reduced system failures. This not only will increase the level of customer service, but will also reduce the negative effects on the environment. 

About the experts
autor photo
Steve Donovan is one of Brown and Caldwell’s CMOM experts and has 28 years’ worth of insight into all aspects of municipal collections systems, particularly in O&M.
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