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Preparing for the Retirement Wave: How Technology Can Capture Permitting Expertise

How many people on your team are already planning for retirement? The silver tsunami cascading across the industry means that most water utilities are at risk of seeing institutional knowledge walk out the door. 

The transition can put serious pressure on your team. This is especially true when it comes to permitting, as employees who carry the essential know-how for specific protocol and day-to-day operations take that expertise with them when they leave.

Fortunately, by using smart, digital tools to document that knowledge and to systemize the permitting process, you can mitigate the risks that come with institutional brain drain. 

In this article, you’ll learn how technology can help capture the insights that currently live in employees’ brains so that you can develop a uniform, replicable process for managing permitting across the entire utility.

Why continuity planning is critical for permitting

When you need essential details about a specific type of permit, but the team member who knew it like the back of their hand has retired, it’s more than an inconvenience. 

Not only do you have to dig up, read, and parse the details of the permit; you’re going into the job minus all the hard-earned knowledge that your former team member provided.

And the stakes are high: missing a detail could lead to costly fines, or worse, public health risks. Take wastewater discharge that falls outside of NPDES criteria, which can rack up fines up to $25,000 a day—and that’s for the first offence.

Day-to-day, gaps in institutional knowledge:

  • Eat up time and energy as personnel track down key information 

  • Damage morale and lower internal confidence in your organization

  • Lead to patchwork systems that create more chaos later on

Plus, if your organization is mired in legacy software and spreadsheets, you risk alienating a younger generation that is more comfortable working in an online environment. 

Where offline documents fall short

Not all permitting systems are created equal. At many utilities, every manager has their own process for tracking permits. Permit requirements and renewals are tracked across spreadsheets, Word docs, and even on paper. Without a centralized place to see the status of all permits, it’s easy to miss something. 

Here are a few common challenges of managing permitting offline:

  • Relying on memory: Whether it’s knowing the specific criteria required for a specific type of permit; ensuring you’re not running a generator overtime; or getting ahead of permit renewals, so much of the permitting process tends to rely on memory.

  • Prone to duplications and errors: Files hosted locally on individual computers don’t sync up—meaning, that if Employee A makes changes to a spreadsheet, they won’t be reflected in Employee B’s copy. So, either A needs to send B an update, or mistakes are going to happen.

  • Lack of transparency: If your colleague were to win the lotto and not show up for work on Monday, how would you know to pick up where they left off? Managing permitting tasks offline often means relying on a lot of guesses, assumptions, and blind trust.

  • Not standardized: Team members often create their own private documents and spreadsheets to track tasks and manage information overload. Once that team member has retired, interpreting their files can become a headache.

  • Files are easily lost or corrupted: Local files are fragile. Even if you have your own in-house servers, they’re at risk of damage (natural disasters, malfunctions, negligence) or theft. If your entire organization’s knowledge base is hosted on a humming box kept in a storage closet, you’re much more vulnerable than you would be keeping your information in the cloud.

For many utilities, offline systems may work for now. But as soon as a new team member comes onboard, and needs to get up to speed, they have a massive task on their hands.

If your permitting system is leaving you at risk of missing something, it’s time to start looking at software solutions.

How digital permitting software supports continuity

When your employee ‘Mike’ is the only one who knows how to deal with a specific type of permit, or when the status of renewals is tracked on a spreadsheet on someone’s desktop, it creates risk for your organization.

Cloud-based software can help you systemize your permitting processes, making it easier to manage day-to-day tasks, interpret requirements, and flag abnormalities—all while ensuring your team will continue succeeding well into the future.

And, since so many teams in your utility have a stake in permitting, adopting a universal system promises to save time, increase collaboration, reduce the risk of error, and create greater visibility at every level of the organization.

Here’s how software can support continuity:

Documenting institutional knowledge

A single, unified system can help pass on Mike’s knowledge to other team members. 

When a new team member has a question about a permit, or when they need to confirm that all of the requirements are being met, they can turn to your permitting system and get the info they need. That saves time, and reduces the risk of serious errors.

Reducing risk

When it comes to permitting, tiny oversights can have big consequences. A generator left running overnight can lead to a six-figure penalty and a damaged relationship with the regulator. Digital tools can eliminate these kinds of risks by proactively triggering alerts for deadlines, exceedances, renewals, and more. 

Plus, an online system allows for increased transparency which introduces checks and balances within the team, so that one person isn’t responsible for catching every single mistake.

Managing workflows

Managing permits means tracking tasks, sticking to standards, and creating reports. Modern water utility software (like Klir) automates many parts of the process, while setting up fail-safes to make sure everything is completed on time. Instead of always double checking that you have all the information you need, or that you’ve checked every task off a list, you can focus on managing your organization.

Klir Demo Video

Simplifying permit renewals 

With all your permitting information in one place, it’s easy to generate reports, visualize data, and plan. Rather than waiting for a tidal wave of permit renewals to roll in, a comprehensive system lets you get a bird’s eye view of the work ahead, and allocate resources as needed.

What to look for in permitting software

Permitting software has the potential to make your job easier, reduce the likelihood of errors, and ensure the longevity of your organization. 

But what kind of software is right for you? Here are four key criteria to look for:

Cloud-based 

A solution based in the cloud, accessible via web browser, wipes out a lot of headaches by creating a single source of truth that can be accessed anytime. There’s no need to install and update software, and it’s easy to share info between team members without resorting to email. Plus, thanks to encryption and off-site servers, your data is secure.

Purpose-built

General enterprise software, meant to be used by a wide swath of different companies and organizations, often requires customization that’s not only costly, it often means sacrificing on functionality. Aim to use a software that is specifically designed for your needs. 

Ease of installation

On-premise software systems typically charge a large fee up front to install locally on your servers. Not only does this cost you more money out of pocket, but it slows down the entire process of getting your system up and running. 

Try to choose a system that is easy to install or configure, and won’t leave you in the lurch for months as technicians work on it.

Hands-on support

When your whole organization relies on software for permitting, you shouldn’t be left to your own devices if problems come up. Make sure your software solution offers technical support from real, live humans with experience in water, who can answer questions particular to your industry.

Get Permitting Peace of Mind With Klir

Klir lets you manage every permit detail and requirement in one place so your entire team always has the information they need. Curious to see how it works and what it can do for your team? Learn more and book a demo today.

How to Automate Your Water Monitoring Plan

As regulations become more numerous and complex, water monitoring plans follow suit. Restrictive budgets and personnel shortages don’t make the job any easier.

How is your utility keeping up? With sampling responsibilities spread across different teams and individuals, and data constantly coming in from these different sources, how do you know you’re using resources efficiently?

Automating your water monitoring plan with technology can help you avoid errors, save time, and adapt to new reporting protocols. 

In this article, you’ll learn how to use automation to track and execute your water monitoring plan, so that your team will be ready for anything that comes down the pipe.

What does it mean to automate your water monitoring plan?

Sampling runs, lab tests, these are important jobs carried out onsite by skilled individuals. But the work that goes into scheduling those sampling events and consolidating the results? Those administrative tasks take up valuable time—and that’s where technology is well suited to play a role. 

With the right software, you can instantly analyze reams of sampling data, build out comprehensive and adaptable sampling schedules, and generate regulatory reports at the click of a button.

Why automate your water monitoring plan?

When you automate your water monitoring plan, you minimize the administrative work that’s involved. For compliance managers, those time savings can free up an entire workday every week.

Plus, an automated water monitoring plan can deliver benefits across the organization:

Break down data silos

If the Water Quality Department is maintaining Safe Drinking Water standards, another team is managing NPDES permit samples, and yet another team is managing samples based on customer complaints, how can you tell where these needs intersect and overlap? 

Automation creates a single source of truth, bringing all sampling activities into a single view. Information that once lived in spreadsheets or filing cabinets can now be made accessible utility-wide. Plus, your efforts go further: non-compliance sampling results can be easily attributed to overlapping regulatory reporting needs.

Manage timelines across multiple departments

As new sampling needs come up, an automated online schedule lets you adapt. Easily slot in new runs while ensuring that all other testing requirements are being met on time.

Simplify monitoring & reporting 

Online tools can unlock instant analysis of the raw data coming in from your LIMS. Then, generating a monthly report is as easy as clicking a button.

Rather than struggling with Excel or Word templates, where duplicate files and offline edits lead to mistakes, you can create standardized reporting templates that feed in accurate data from the same source every time.

Improve consumer confidence

With powerful tools to analyze sampling results in real-time, you can feel confident that you always have an accurate read on water quality. That means that when issues arise, you can mitigate the consequences with faster interventions and proactive communications.

And when it comes time to generate your annual Consumer Confidence Report, there’s no scrambling to consolidate and reconcile Excel sheets. You have all the data you need—accurate, up-to-date, and accessible.

Tools to automate your water monitoring plan

There are many tools that you can implement to automate your water monitoring plan. Some software tools are purpose-built for the job, while other familiar tools like spreadsheets and basic online scheduling software can be configured to introduce some level of “automation”, despite limitations. 

If you have the time, resources, and expertise to set up a series of Excel sheets to track all your compliance tasks, for instance, it may be able to save your organization a lot of time and energy. Otherwise, these tools can end up being just “more of the same,” adding to the complexity of your current plan.

The following list weighs the pros and cons of both DIY and cloud-based digital tools for automating your water monitoring plan—many of which may already be in use: 

PDFs

Use: Formatting and compiling reports

Pros:

  • Compatible across multiple computer systems

  • Relatively straightforward to generate reports from templates

Cons:

  • Will not automatically populate with reporting data 
  • Multiple versions of reports (drafts) can create confusion

Spreadsheets

Use: Collating data, doing simple calculations

Pros:

  • Familiar to many users at your organization
  • Can be incredibly simple or very complicated, depending on user skill level and need

Cons:

  • Difficult or impossible to integrate with other systems, such as scheduling software or LIMS
  • Typically must be manually updated

  • Offline or duplicate file versions introduce risk

Cloud-based scheduling apps

Use: Tracking sampling runs and frequency

Pros:

  • Cloud-based scheduling software lets you share schedules between multiple teams and individuals
  • Ability to create recurring events

Cons:

  • Information is separate from where sampling data “lives”

Purpose built cloud software (eg. Klir)

Use: Task-management including scheduling sampling runs, analyzing water quality data & automating reporting

Pros:

  • Introduces single source of truth with all sampling data in one location
  • Integrates with LIMS and other systems

  • Accessible utility-wide, with the ability to set permissions, schedule and assign tasks

  • Automatically generates reports from data

  • Delivers automatic alerts for crossed thresholds

  • Can be easily modified and expanded by users to adapt to new sampling requirements

  • Tailored to water utilities

Cons:

  • Possible pushback from individuals accustomed to spreadsheets and traditional methods of scheduling / data management
  • May require organizational changes as processes become more efficient

Steps to automating your water monitoring plan

Here are six steps to follow when automating your water monitoring plan:

1. Identify sampling needs across your organization

Document where and when sampling events are occurring across the organization for both regulatory or non-regulatory purposes. Part of this process may involve connecting with different departments, interviewing key personnel, and learning about their goals—as well as the difficulties they face.

Some tools are built to help you compile and systemize these requirements, so your software supplier may be able to help with this step. If you’re taking the DIY route (say, using Excel), this work may involve consolidating documents on a single internal server.

2. Feed in data inputs

Determine how your system is going to connect with your LIMS and the other places data “lives”. Do the tools you’re using allow you to automatically import LIMS data? How will other sources of information, like SCADA, integrate with your system? 

If this information is online, the goal should be to feed the data directly into the system through a secure intermediary (typically called an API). Purpose-built software like Klir can pull this data in automatically. If these data sources are air-gapped, you might need to identify which personnel are responsible for providing the raw data imports on a regular basis (say, nightly). 

3. Document your processes

Different sampling requirements have different processes—in terms of frequency, types of testing and reporting, chains of custody, and practical matters of access for technical operators. 

To automate your monitoring plan, you’ll need to document the process for each sampling event within your organization.

Then, make sure the personnel involved have access to this information, ideally within the system that you’re using to schedule jobs.  

4. Set alerts for important thresholds

Any utility tracks for 90+ contaminants within a given year, and querying a spreadsheet is not only time consuming, it exposes you to the risk of missing something.

With an automated system, you can set parameters so that the system will proactively alert you any time the levels are approaching or exceeding a limit. When silence is a good thing—when your system isn’t telling you your levels are in danger of crossing the line—you can rest easy. 

5. Schedule sampling jobs

Once you have all of your sampling requirements, you can create a master schedule, with filters for different departments, types of reporting, etc. 

Your master schedule will include samples that must be taken weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. This will be a key reference point to assign tasks and work orders. That’s why the option to filter specific reporting requirements or create sub-schedules is key—so every individual can find what they’re looking for, without sacrificing insight into the schedule as a whole.

Of course, sampling schedules change, so a truly automated system should be able to account for contingencies and reallocate resources accordingly.

6. Generate reports

Finally, automation will let you quickly, easily, and consistently generate reports from the data that you’re constantly generating. Ideally, this step involves establishing a template once, so that the system can pull in accurate data from the same data input at any given time.

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Automating your water monitoring plan saves you time, reduces the likelihood of errors, and improves communication at all levels of your organization.

While you can use tools to develop a DIY approach, automated systems like Klir are the fastest, easiest way to get up and running.

Ready to learn more? Talk to one of our specialists to learn about automating your utility’s water monitoring plan.

Request a Demo

Book a demo with our team and receive the latest industry insights and exclusive offers.

We will reach out shortly to find a time that works for you.

Request a Demo

Book a demo with our team and receive the latest industry insights and exclusive offers. We will reach out shortly to find a time that works for you.