Four Keys to Leadership in Wastewater Management
What does it take to thrive in the field of wastewater management? We learned the answer to this question while building Clearford into a wastewater leader. Headquartered in Ottawa, Clearford has offices and staff across Ontario, and is active in India as well. As one of the largest operators of private water and wastewater systems in Ontario, with over 170 sites across the province, our diverse team includes licensed engineers, operators, and project managers. Our objective is to provide innovative solutions to meet the water management needs of owners, property managers, and communities.
To increase our collective knowledge and enhance innovation, two elements of leadership in the water/wastewater industry, Clearford established a new business plan which seeks out partnerships to deliver decentralized water solutions that are critical to small and rural communities and businesses. The first step was the acquisition of Koester Canada and its Team Aquatic operations group in late 2017. The company expedited its business plan in May 2019 with the integration of ASI Water. The firms’ complementary expertise and similar vision for leading in the wastewater sector equipped Clearford with the resources needed to provide end-to-end services to customers.
Here, we distil our insights into four keys to leadership in wastewater management.
1. KNOWLEDGE SHARING IS CRITICAL
Wastewater projects can be complex with diverse regulatory, operational, and business considerations to factor into a project’s planning and execution. For this to succeed, knowledge-sharing and open communication are crucial. All parties, from business development teams and project planners to design engineers and plant operators – not to mention customers and regulators – must be on the same page regarding project objectives, technical parameters, and performance expectations. Organizations that operate in silos will suffer when key information fails to reach all stakeholders involved in a project. This is why the design-build-operate (DBO) model has proven to be the most successful approach to service delivery in our experience. Having our construction and operations team involved early in the design
stage ensures a facility design that is constructible and, equally important, that is easily operated and maintained with reliable equipment. We have found that this approach reduces the unnecessary claims for extras often seen in the traditional model of separate design, build, and operate contracts.
2. END-TO-END CAPABILITIES DELIVER VALUE
Successful wastewater management requires many skillsets to carry out feasibility studies, design and manufacture plants, secure agency approvals, construct and commission facilities, and carry out long-term operations. Some organizations concentrate on specific aspects of the wastewater management sector and build up specialized skills in these areas. While this niche approach can result in focused expertise, it can also become costly when customers need to bring in multiple specialized partners to carry out a project. On the other hand, organizations that develop end-to-end capabilities are often better equipped to lead wastewater projects in a time- and cost-efficient manner by leveraging their comprehensive in-house expertise. Acting as a full-service contractor for turnkey wastewater solutions creates opportunities for better managing risk and uncovering optimizations throughout the project cycle.
3. PROXIMITY MATTERS
When properly built and maintained, wastewater plants generally run smoothly and predictably. However, if problems arise, they need to be mitigated immediately to minimize the potential for negative outcomes and liability issues. This means having operators on call and within close proximity to plant sites speeds up the response time when something goes wrong. For wastewater management firms providing services to decentralized sites spanning a large geographic area, implementing a model of dispersed service hubs represents a best practice to ensure operators can rapidly attend to emergencies in a cost-effective manner. Over the past several months, our management team has been busy integrating the Clearford Waterworks and ASI Water operations teams and business support systems to provide a targeted one-hour response time to all sites across a service area over 100,000 square kilometres, taking into consideration everything from staff workload and travel times to opportunities for integrating remote-control technologies that reduce the need for staff to make unscheduled site visits.
4. INNOVATION OPENS DOORS
The wastewater sector is well established, but innovation nonetheless plays an important and ongoing role in finding better ways to manage wastewater. Technological innovation, such as developing more effective membrane filters or building smarter systems for UV water disinfection, are obvious examples of this. However, it is equally important to innovate in areas such as rethinking business processes and identifying new market opportunities. For example, there is currently increasing demand in Ontario for licensed wastewater operators to operate or oversee sewer bypass systems for contractors undertaking sewer replacement or rehabilitation work for municipalities. While this may fall outside the scope of their existing services, organizations that are flexible and responsive are more likely to capitalize on such opportunities.
Ultimately, any organization that aims to thrive in the wastewater sector must be open to change – by pursuing and sharing new knowledge, by developing new capabilities, by expanding its operational footprint, and by embracing innovation. By definition, not every organization can lead in wastewater management, but those of us in the industry know it is worth striving to be at the forefront of this field to maximize the environmental, social, and economic benefits to communities.