Rifat, F, 2015 - 'Customer at the centre' for strategic planning and decision-making of water servicing and asset management - Exploring the concept and way forward with asset planners
My final project explored a way forward on customer-centric integrated planning, at a strategic and decision-making level, for water servicing and asset management. I worked with one of the major water utilities in Australia that is changing its focus from infrastructure-based water management towards a customer-centric approach. It was an internal research project to motivate the asset planners towards customer focused planning under the existing business context.
It was found that the current state of practice focused mainly on regulatory requirements, which are asset based, and support to meet the basic needs of the customer (e.g., clean drinking water and good wastewater services). More specifically, the economic bottom line is the key driver underpinning decisions, though efficiency and reliability are a focus. Interestingly, though the water utility has detailed information on customers’ preferences, value and knowledge from years of customer research, direct customer engagement and customer research information is only used to develop the corporate strategy and for project implementation and later stages. It is yet to influence decision making at the service and asset strategy development stage. Lastly an integrated planning approach is consciously evolving within the manageable complexity of the current structure, though there are more opportunities for integration.
The asset managers acknowledged that, with a rapidly increasing population and uncertain and extreme climate events, maintaining a sustainable service for the city at an affordable rate will require a change towards an adaptive, participatory and integrated planning approach. It was also suggested that on this journey of change, the water utility had the resources, knowledge and wider coverage to lead the way in shaping the city and to influence other stakeholders, service providers and community.
A way forward was recommended using a customer-centric planning framework, different from traditional approaches, to consider a wider scope from a community and liveability perspective; feasible integration at various levels; participatory planning with stakeholders/community from the very beginning of the project/strategy; and a flexible strategy to incorporate changes and uncertainty. It was also revealed that from a water utilities perspective, a customer-centric approach is a stepped process for both the organisation and for the customer and should start with understanding the community’s needs. Educate, Engage early and Engage for problem solving and/or decision making were revealed as the next steps to successfully involve the community and the customer in the decision-making process.
Over all, the story of this project advises that to bring internal cultural change, besides changing the institutional structure, the investment of time and effort into an individual’s capacity and mindset will accelerate the transformation to be embedded and carried over to the right path.
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