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.

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.

Curious to see how permitting software works, and learn what it can do for your organization? Talk to a Klir specialist.