Col­lec­tive dis­ci­pline

EME Outlook - - So­ci­ety Wal­lone Des Eaux (Swde) -

Cur­rently our prod­uct range cov­ers more than 30 clean­ers and an­ti­s­calants each. Ad­di­tion­ally we of­fer floc­cu­lants and bio­cides as well. Our cus­tomers mainly plant man­u­fac­tur­ers, end cus­tomers and dis­trib­u­tors op­er­ate world­wide. Dis­trib­u­tors as part­ners in dif­fer­ent Eu­ro­pean coun­tries re­selling our prod­ucts, plant man­u­fac­tur­ers build­ing fa­cil­i­ties to gain clean drink­ing wa­ter or to recycle process wa­ter. Most of our end cus­tomers are lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and munci­pal­itues who want to make drink­ing wa­ter ac­ces­si­ble for their re­gion. Our re­search and de­vel­op­ment sec­tor is run­ning stud­ies to im­prove the per­for­mance of our prod­ucts more in small mem­brane sys­tems and with var­ios test­ing meth­ods. Fur­ther­more, we of­fer mem­brane au­top­sies and analy­ses of scal­ings or foul­ings in our lab­o­ra­tory. We want to use our ex­per­tise to pro­ceed the ac­cess of drink­ing wa­ter for ev­ery­one. This can ei­ther mean to as­sist in lay­ing out and plan­ning plants or clean­ing wa­ter with prod­ucts that do not harm the en­vi­ro­ment or any hu­man. Any way to ob­tain clean wa­ter and en­largen ac­ces­si­bil­ity of clean wa­ter is our goal!

Lo­cated in the south­ern re­gion of Bel­gium, So­ci­ete Wal­lone des Eaux (SWDE) has a rich his­tory in the area that has led it to be­come a recog­nised in­dus­try leader, with a rep­u­ta­tion for ex­cel­lence.

The Com­pany serves a large ter­ri­tory and has been do­ing so since it was formed as a Na­tional Com­pany in the 80s, when it was known as the Bel­gium Wa­ter Na­tional Com­pany. Shortly af­ter SWDE was in need of re­ju­ve­na­tion, and this gave life to its new name and new out­look on con­duct­ing busi­ness in the re­gion.

SWDE was formed un­der strict reg­u­la­tions that would en­sure it best served the peo­ple of the re­gion, and due to this its present day state sees the Com­pany sup­ply one mil­lion drink­ing wa­ter con­nec­tions through to ap­prox­i­mately 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple.

“It is im­por­tant to note that we are work­ing solely within the drink­ing wa­ter sec­tor,” ex­plains Eric Smit, Board Mem­ber of the Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee. “Ev­ery­thing re­lated to the san­i­ta­tion of wa­ter and waste­water is some­thing that we do not in­volve our­selves in, al­though it is im­por­tant to what we do and the way we are able to run our day-to-day op­er­a­tions.”

Strate­gic plan­ning

In its present day state the Com­pany em­ploys around 1,340 peo­ple, with a strate­gic plan in place to down­size its work force to 1,200 peo­ple by 2022. This will rep­re­sent an ef­fort of around 20 per­cent of the global FTE over a 10- year pe­riod of time.

“We put a strate­gic plan in place five years ago, with two very spe­cific tar­gets in mind,” con­tin­ues Smit. “Ini­tially the two tar­gets seemed to be in con­tra­dic­tion of each other, how­ever, they have come to­gether over the years as part of the big­ger pic­ture for our Com­pany.

“The first ob­jec­tive was about in­vest­ing heav­ily in both peo­ple and fa­cil­i­ties, with the av­er­age age of our pipe-net­work cur­rently at around 56 years old. We saw the need to in­vest in the re­newal of our fa­cil­i­ties and pro­duc­tion/distri­bu­tion net­works.”

The Com­pany has set fixed tar­gets of ap­prox­i­mately 100 mil­lion per year for its in­vest­ment pipe­line and fa­cil­i­ties al­low­ing it to carry out the re­quired work to a high stan­dard.

Smit adds: “Our se­cond ob­jec­tive for the strat­egy in­volves find­ing ways to keep our wa­ter bills at a sus­tain­ably af­ford­able price for our cus­tomers, which has al­ways been our aim. We have set our tar­get on achiev­ing an av­er­age of 0.5 per­cent of a house­hold bud­get to be spent on drink­ing wa­ter.”

This aim is a part of the man­age­ment agree­ment that links the Com­pany to the Wal­loon Re­gion in which it op­er­ates, with the main obli­ga­tions based on keep­ing an­nual ex­penses at a rea­son­able level.

Smit states: “In sum­mary, our op­er­a­tional strat­egy for the fu­ture of the Com­pany is based on two con­di­tions; keep­ing the cost of wa­ter at a rea­son­able level, while also guar­an­tee­ing a sig­nif­i­cant level of in­vest­ment and re­newal of our net­works within the re­gion. That will be achieved through a sub­stan­tial driv­ing down of our over­all run­ning costs by around 15 per­cent over a 10-year pe­riod of time.”

In the past SWDE has achieved suc­cess with thanks to the close mon­i­tor­ing of its op­er­a­tional strate­gies. For ex­am­ple, lead­ing up to 2016 the Com­pany worked on the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of its man­age­ment struc­ture through the re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of its pro­duc­tion and distri­bu­tion ac­tiv­i­ties and mak­ing room for lean man­age­ment.

“This al­lowed the man­age­ment team and key play­ers in the field to work closely to­gether us­ing our new man­age­ment model,” Smit de­scribes. “We were able to re­de­fine the op­er­a­tional pro­cesses, which gave us more flex­i­bil­ity in other ar­eas of the busi­ness to re­con­sider how we were or­gan­is­ing our ac­tiv­i­ties.”

When the Com­pany de­cided to ap­proach the sub­ject of its strate­gic plan for 2022, opin­ions were very pos­i­tive about the tar­gets be­ing set thanks to past ex­pe­ri­ences in this area.

Smit con­tin­ues: “Our aims are al­ways rea­son­able but am­bi­tious and what bet­ter proof of our suc­cess than win­ning a prize for the Or­gan­i­sa­tion Publique de l’an­née (Pub­lic Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Year) in 2016.”

Key philoso­phies

In or­der to meet with the afore­men­tioned strate­gic plan, SWDE cre­ated seven core pri­or­ity projects to aid it dur­ing this time.

The first of these projects in­volved the lean re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of both its ac­tiv­i­ties and man­age­ment team, be­com­ing one of the key philoso­phies of the Com­pany and a great con­trib­u­tor to its re­cent suc­cess in the in­dus­try. This re­quired a large-scale cul­tural change within SWDE, which so far has been in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful due to the ef­forts of each mem­ber of staff in­volved.

“Link­ing in nicely with our lean man­age­ment re­struc­tur­ing process, we have also worked on be­com­ing more ag­ile in terms of our HR man­age­ment,” ex­plains Smit. “We have come from a dom­i­nantly top-down cul­ture of man­age­ment, which we have had to change quite dra­mat­i­cally.”

Mov­ing on from the man­age­ment struc­ture within the Com­pany, it has also placed a fo­cus on tech­ni­cal projects and se­cur­ing wa­ter sup­ply for the ter­ri­tory in terms of both quan­tity and qual­ity.

Smit states: “We had to ques­tion how we would be able to re­in­force wa­ter sup­ply across the ter­ri­tory, while also safe­guard­ing the sup­plies for both the cus­tomer and in­dus­try.

“We have also had to look into get­ting more ef­fi­ciency in other ar­eas of our busi­ness; in­clud­ing our teleme­try and tele­m­an­age­ment in­for­ma­tion sys­tems. As in all in­dus­tries, this is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to both the safety and ef­fi­ciency of our busi­ness, which has also aided us in our fifth phi­los­o­phy to im­prove our net­work per­for­mance in terms of mon­i­tor­ing losses.”

The sixth phi­los­o­phy in the SWDE’S strate­gic plan in­volves the improve­ment of knowl­edge in as­set man­age­ment, which is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to its in­vest­ment prospects.

Smit adds: “We re­alised that if you spend money in the wrong place at the wrong time, it will be to no avail and there­fore as­set man­age­ment is a key is­sue for us to pri­ori­tise our in­vest­ments re­newals.”

Lastly the im­por­tance of in­ter­ac­tiv­ity with the cus­tomer and pro­vid­ing a

more cus­tomer-cen­tric ser­vice has been brought to the fore, start­ing with a push for a re­shape of its web­site.

“We have re­alised that it is eas­ier for our cus­tomers to get in touch with us on a web­site, and re­cent in­ter­ac­tiv­ity stud­ies have found that more than a third of our cus­tomers have cre­ated an ac­count and are con­nected to us via ei­ther the web­site or so­cial me­dia chan­nels,” ex­plains Smit. “This is hav­ing a di­rect im­pact on our outgoings, with thanks to the re­duc­tion of calls and costs re­lat­ing to mail­ing and pa­per­work.”

In­di­vid­ual com­mit­ment and

In its re­cent his­tory SWDE’S op­er­a­tion man­age­ment was di­vided be­tween its var­i­ous in­de­pen­dent branches, which was done to align with the di­rect legacy of the Com­pany’s for­mer re­gional of­fices. From that point on­wards it was able to move from a re­gion­ally-based struc­ture to an or­gan­i­sa­tion built upon the vary­ing skills and oc­cu­pa­tions such as distri­bu­tion, sales and pro­duc­tion.

“As the years have passed our op­er­a­tional strat­egy has be­come in­creas­ingly trans­ver­sal,” con­tin­ues Smit. “With thanks to our new or­gan­i­sa­tional frame­work, our fa­cil­i­ties lo­cated across Wal­lo­nia all share uni­fied aims, em­ploy the same re­sources and ap­ply­ing the same work­ing meth­ods.”

All of the de­vel­op­ments made by the Com­pany in re­cent years have been car­ried out in a rel­a­tively calm so­cial cli­mate, en­abling SWDE to suc­cess­fully carry out projects to a set time scale.

“We are proud of the de­vel­op­ments we are see­ing at present, mak­ing pos­i­tive changes and de­liv­er­ing on our planned re­sults such as re­duc­ing the wa­ter losses pre­vi­ously seen on the net­works,” con­cludes Smit. “This con­fi­dence has al­lowed us to be more cre­ative, in­no­va­tive and sub­se­quently more suc­cess­ful, tak­ing our shared vi­sion, in­di­vid­ual com­mit­ment and col­lec­tive dis­ci­pline to the next level.”

We are proud of the de­vel­op­ments we are see­ing at present, mak­ing pos­i­tive changes and de­liv­er­ing on our planned re­sults such as re­duc­ing the wa­ter losses pre­vi­ously seen on the net­works

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