Smart Metrics Industry Best Practices

Smart Metrics comprise a comprehensive framework related to operations, infrastructure, customer satisfaction, community sustainability, natural resource stewardship, and financial performance.  Water and wastewater utilities can use the framework to select priorities for improvement, based on each organization’s strategic objectives and the needs of the community it serves.

We have defined each of the leading practices metrics for each of  10 attributes.   Each attribute provide useful and concise goals for water sector utility managers seeking to improve organization-wide performance.

Product Quality

Produces “fit for purpose” water and other recovered resources (e.g., energy, nutrients, biosolids) that meet or exceed full compliance with regulatory and reliability requirements and consistent with customer, public health, ecological, and economic needs. Products include treated drinking water, treated wastewater effluent, recycled water, stormwater discharge, and recovered resources.

The Leading Practices for Product Quality are as follows:

  • Air quality
  • Wastewater treatment effectiveness/compliance
  • Drinking water quality/compliance
  • Biosolids beneficial use
  • Reducing water service interruptions
  • Minimizing wastewater treatment toxicity events
  • Preventing sanitary sewer overflows
  • Reducing wastewater service interruptions (blockages)
  • Providing safe high-quality water
  • Protecting public health
  • Preventive maintenance of the water distribution
  • Enhancing and protecting the environment
  • Systematic process compliance (findings per internal audits)

Enterprise Resiliency

Ensures utility leadership and staff work together internally, and coordinate with external partners, to anticipate, respond to, and avoid problems. Proactively identifies, assesses, establishes tolerance levels for, and effectively manages a full range of business risks (including interdependencies with other services and utilities, legal, regulatory, financial, environmental, safety, physical and cyber security, knowledge loss, talent, and natural disaster-related) consistent with industry trends and system reliability goals. Plans for and actively manages around business continuity.

The Leading Practices for Enterprise Resiliency are as follows:

  • Reducing recordable incidents of work-related injury or illnesses
  • Maintaining sufficient staffing levels
  • Emergency response readiness
  • Use of Standard Operating Practices
  • Energy co-generation
  • Solid waste recycling/composting
  • Risk management program

Financial Viability

Understands and plans for the full life-cycle cost of utility operations and value of water resources. Establishes and maintains an effective balance between long-term debt, asset values, operations and maintenance expenditures, and operating revenues. Establishes predictable rates— consistent with community expectations and acceptability—adequate to recover costs, provide for reserves, maintain support from bond rating agencies, plan and invest for future needs, and taking into account affordability and the needs of disadvantaged households. Implements sound strategies for collecting customer payments. Understands the opportunities available to diversify revenues and raise capital through adoption of new business models, including revenues from resource recovery.

The Leading Practices for Finacial Viability are as follows:

  • Setting appropriate balance between debt and equity funding for capital program
  • Return on assets
  • Maintaining adequate cash reserves, working capital, and margins
  • Maintaining efficient O&M costs in relation to customers and volume of sales
  • Maintaining strong bond rating
  • Debt service coverage ratio
  • Recognize and support the stockholders interest
  • Rate comparisons
  • Budget management effectiveness: capital budget
  • Budget management effectiveness: operating budget
  • Setting rates and financial forecasts for a multi-year period
  • Minimizing uncollected bills
  • Vet major investments through rigorous process
  • Developing funding plans that account for growth

Operational Optimization

Ensures ongoing, timely, cost-effective, reliable, and sustainable performance improvements in all facets of its operations in service to public health and environmental protection. Makes effective use of data from automated and smart systems, and learns from performance monitoring. Minimizes resource use, loss, and impacts from day-to-day operations, and reduces all forms of waste. Maintains awareness of information and operational technology developments to anticipate and support timely adoption of improvements.

The Leading Practices for Operational Optimization are as follows:

  • Energy optimization
  • Resource optimization (cost metrics)
  • Resource optimization (human resources)
  • Resource optimization (other)

Community Sustainability

Takes an active leadership role in promoting and organizing community sustainability improvements through collaboration with local partners (e.g., transportation departments, electrical utilities, planning departments, economic development organizations, watershed and source water protection groups). Manages operations, infrastructure, and investments to support the economic, environmental, and social health of its community. Integrates water resource management with other critical community infrastructure, social and economic development planning to support community-wide resilience, support for disadvantaged households, community sustainability, and livability.

The Leading Practices for Community Sustainability are as follows:

  • Promoting customer service affordability
  • Implementing environmental management system
  • Supporting community programs
  • Implementing successful recycling and resource conservation programs to support sustainability
  • Actively supporting employee and corporate participation in establishing and supporting community goals
  • Managing greenhouse gas emissions to support environmental goals
  • Promoting sustainability through CIP sustainability review
  • Promoting energy efficiency
  • Supporting overall utility system efficiency
  • Supporting environmental stewardship

Infrastructure Strategy and Performance

Understands the condition of and costs associated with critical infrastructure assets. Plans infrastructure investments consistent with community needs, anticipated growth, system reliability goals, and relevant community priorities, building a robust set of adaptation strategies (e.g., for changing weather patterns, customer base). Maintains and enhances the condition of all assets over the long-term at the lowest possible life-cycle cost and acceptable risk consistent with customer, community, and regulator-supported service levels. Assures asset repair, rehabilitation, and replacement efforts are coordinated within the community to minimize disruptions and other negative consequences.

The Leading Practices for Infrastructure Strategy and Performance are as follows:

  • Capital program delivery
  • Rehabilitation and replacement rate
  • Planned maintenance effectiveness
  • Condition assessment/system integrity
  • Minimizing water loss
  • Development and implementation of strategic asset management plan
  • Risk management plan/program

Customer Satisfaction

Provides reliable, responsive, and affordable services in line with explicit, customer-derived service levels. Utilizes a mix of evolving communication technologies to understand and respond to customer needs and expectations, including receiving timely customer feedback and communicating during emergencies. Provides tailored customer service and outreach to traditional residential, commercial, and industrial customers, and understands and exercises as appropriate the opportunities presented by emergent customer groups (e.g., high strength waste producers, power companies).

The Leading Practices for Customer Satisfaction are as follows:

  • Understanding overall customer satisfaction
  • Tracking complaints
  • Accurate meter reading and billing
  • Customer contact center efficiency and responsiveness
  • Service reliability
  • Use of social media

Water Resource Sustainability

Ensures the availability and sustainable management of water for its community and watershed, including water resource recovery. Understands its role in the complete water cycle, understands fit for purpose water reuse options, and integrates utility objectives and activities with other watershed managers and partners. Understands and plans for the potential for water resource variability (e.g., changing weather patterns, including extreme events, such as drought and flooding), and utilizes as appropriate a full range of watershed investment and engagement strategies (e.g., Integrated Planning). Engages in long-term integrated water resource management, and ensures that current and future customer, community, and ecological water- related needs are met.

The Leading Practices for Water Resource Sustainability are as follows:

  • Long-term water supply adequacy
  • Tracking current water demand
  • Reducing water consumption
  • Long-term ambient water quality
  • Minimizing real water losses
  • Providing adequate capacity

Employee and Leadership Development

Recruits, develops, and retains a workforce that is competent, motivated, adaptive, and safety- focused. Establishes a participatory, collaborative organization dedicated to continual learning, improvement, and innovation. Ensures employee institutional knowledge is retained, transferred, and improved upon over time. Emphasizes and invests in opportunities for professional and leadership development, taking into account the differing needs and expectations of a multi- generational workforce and for resource recovery operations. Establishes an integrated and well- coordinated senior leadership team.

The Leading Practices for Employee and Leadership Development are as follows:

  • Succession planning
  • Leadership development
  • High performing workforce
  • Retaining talent through employee satisfaction
  • Recruiting talent

Stakeholder Understanding and Support

Engenders understanding and support from stakeholders (anyone who can affect or be affected by the utility), including customers, oversight bodies, community and watershed interests, and regulatory bodies for service levels, rate structures, operating budgets, capital improvement programs, and risk management decisions. Actively promotes an appreciation of the true value of water and water services, and water’s role in the social, economic, public and environmental health of the community. Actively engages in partnerships, involves stakeholders in the decisions that will affect them, understands what it takes to operate as a “good neighbor,” and positions the utility as a critical asset (anchor institution) to the community.

The Leading Practices for Stakeholder Understanding and Support are as follows:

  • Actively engaging stakeholders in decisions that affect them
  • Securing support and understanding from stakeholders