IT Untangled: Do Water Districts Need Different IT Support?
Water districts play a huge role in everyone’s life. Thanks to them, we have clean water in our homes, offices, and schools. But when you think “water districts,” you don’t think of information technology (IT). Like any other office building or company, they still need phone systems, workstations, and Internet service. Plus, don’t forget security is a must no matter what industry you are in.
Accent Computer Solutions, Inc. works with several water districts and knows how their needs differ from other industries. One of our Chief Information Officers, John Leete, works directly with five California water districts. He explains that while they are like other businesses, they have their own distinct set of needs and obstacles.
Let’s explore how the right outsourced IT company can help water districts achieve their unique goals.
How Operations Work Differently for Water Districts
Day-to-day operations of a water district don’t vary much from how other typical offices run. We all need email, good working computers, the Internet, etc.
“Like any other business, water districts have administrative tasks, like HR and accounting. They use the same kinds of tools: Word, Excel, Outlook or other email system, etc. So, from an IT standpoint, they still need many of the normal “IT” things. Think: workstation refreshes, troubleshooting, backups, and security.”
But there are two major differences.
SCADA Systems and Water District Board of Directors
“Water districts have SCADA systems. These systems are mission critical and control the delivery of water. The SCADA systems are highly specialized and are managed by a different team of engineers, not general business IT support. The two teams may work together if there’s a that needs troubleshooting. It’s super important that the business system doesn’t interrupt the delivery of water.”
Also, water districts usually have a governing Board of Directors of 5-7 people. Their job is to act in the best interest of the water district and the ratepayers (aka those who pay to use the water). They accomplish this by setting budgets based on their fiscal year.
“Decisions in water districts can take much more time than with private businesses. If Water District X needed a $150K IT project done ASAP, it would be nearly impossible for that project to start in the same fiscal year. Someone would have to go to the board and present their case for that particular initiative. There are no primary decision makers, so it goes to a vote and the ratepayers have a say too. This is unlike most business environments. Most businesses have one, maybe two, primary decision makers. If they need an IT project to fix something right now, the person in charge makes the call right then.”
How IT Support Keeps Water Districts on Target and Budget
Since water districts have a longer approval process, having an outsourced IT company’s guidance and support gives them a profound advantage.
Things come up – equipment breaks down, natural disasters hit, etc. Many things can happen that are out of anyone’s control. So, what happens if something breaks and replacements need to be made ASAP?
“One of the things we can do is provide temporary, or ‘loaner,’ equipment. For example, if the firewall goes down, a temporary one will keep them working in the meantime. With government regulations, they can only be down for so long, but they also have a long decision process. Having a temporary solution gives them a bit more time to work with their board and make the right decisions, instead of rushing or doing without.”
This proactive approach goes beyond quick fixes. It actually helps water districts strategically plan ahead. Because fiscal year budgets are mostly set in stone, knowing the needs of their environment ahead of time is important.
IT Planning for Fiscal Year Budgets
“Planning is so important for water districts and takes a considerable amount of time. That’s why it’s so valuable to have IT involvement beyond the day-to-day. Since they’re usually locked into a budget and can’t do things on the fly, we have to look at the big picture.
Replacement timing is factored in as well. For example, if hardware needs to be refreshed in the next five years, we’d get the numbers together now and note it for that fiscal year’s plan.
The proactive approach limits emergency situations. And keeps water districts on target with their budget and their time.
“We want to be proactive whenever possible, or at least warn them about issues that could arise before they happen. It is still their choice to act on the recommendations; we never force anything, but we want them to be aware.”
Top IT Support Need for Southern California Water Districts
Proactivity is the number one reason an IT support company can be your long-term best friend. But day-to-day, there is nothing more important to a water district than network connectivity.
“Network connectivity is critical. Water districts need to be able to talk to each other, but also to other machines and pump stations. And while another team handles the SCADA system, we still need to keep up the switches and workstations. The overall infrastructure is the biggest concern. Remember that without connectivity, work cannot be done and water flow may be impacted. That’s not to say other things aren’t important too. Security is ALWAYS necessary, backups as well, no matter what industry. But for water districts, infrastructure is a massive need.”
Infrastructure Health and Maintainance for Water Districts
Overall infrastructure health has to be checked on a weekly basis, at least. And the network should be monitored 24/7 to notify the IT team if problems come up, so they can be remedied as quickly as possible.
When looking at getting IT support for your water district, this is an essential component. Not just that there is a network checkup, but how often and how thoroughly. When you control the water for an entire community, it's better to have someone who checks their list twice like Santa Claus than not at all. In this case, process and repetition are key.
So, is IT support for water districts different? Yes and no. Some things may have a more critical need, like infrastructure health and proactive planning. But everyday IT things like security and email remain at the forefront, just like other organizations.
That being said, the right IT team is an important piece to water district success. Whether you have an internal IT department or an outsourced IT support team, (or a combination of both), you need a team that understands your unique needs, and how to make those things happen with your fiscal year and budget in mind.
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