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The old should compliment the new

January 17, 2008

It’s always a pleasure to spend time in the field. Today I was out and about in water production and distribution talking to people about the time it takes to acquire deep knowledge. One common theme from all of the people I met has occurred in similar projects elsewhere. You can have all the process maps and automation you want, but nothing substitutes for knowing the job through experience and there is still a place for manual records. Even if a water treatment plant has more or less identical processes and equipment, even a well qualified engineer would not trust himself to manage it until he had walked the site, and worked there for some months. A field engineer has kept the old inspector reports from the pre-technology days. Handwritten in the main, they contain usable knowledge that should be seen as complimentary to GIS and other like systems. Especially when things are going wrong. I saw someone prevent water being cut off from a set of houses, not through following process, but by “feeling something was not right” as he started to move a valve.

Nothing new here by the way, I have seen variations of all the above in utility companies around the world. It is also true that you learn far more by following people on the job than through interviews. The final point (before I go to bed) is the passion that people in the field have for customers and their job if they have committed a large part of their lives to it.

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