In a bid to ensure uninterrupted and quality water supply, the Malaysian government, in 2005, privatised water supply services in certain regions of the country. It appointed Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (SYABAS) to manage water supply distribution services in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Putrajaya. SYABAS was given the responsibility to supply water to over 10 million consumers.
Today, the company serves over 2 million domestic, commercial and industrial consumers. While 85 per cent of its total consumer base comprises domestic consumers, industrial and commercial consumers make up the remaining 15 per cent. Over the years, in addition to water supply, SYABAS has also been focusing on improving customer services. It has collected and digitised data regarding its main trunks, pipeline network and reservoirs. This has enabled the company to accurately assess the assets that need to be replaced. The company has also launched several information technology (IT)-enabled systems to better manage its infrastructure and address consumer grievances.
SYABAS aims to provide uninterrupted water supply to its consumers. The company performs periodic maintenance of its infrastructure and assets, replaces ageing pipes and water meters, offers customer services and promotes consumer awareness on water-related issues.
The company operates and maintains a 27,420 km long water pipeline network. The pipelines on the network are made of mild steel, ductile iron, asbestos cement, high density polyethylene, unplasticised polyvinyl chloride and cast iron, all ranging from 100 mm to 2,200 mm in diameter. Further, a total of 1,565 service reservoirs, tower reservoirs and suction tanks are operated by SYABAS. It owns 638 booster pumping stations, besides operating and maintaining 138,759 valves along its network, with diameters in the range of 100 mm to 2,200 mm. SYABAS strives to maintain a minimum residual gauged pressure of 10 metres in rural settings and 22 metres for urban agglomerations at the point of connection during peak water flows.
Ever since the privatisation of water supply in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Putrajaya, SYABAS has undertaken various measures for water management. For instance, it has assisted the state government to take over Perbadanan Urus Air Selangor Berhad’s debt worth RM 2.4 billion. Perbadanan Urus Air Selangor Berhad provided water in these three regions before SYABAS. The company has also undertaken steps to reduce the quantum of non-revenue water in the state, recorded at 42.78 per cent of the total water supplied in January 2005. Further, it has replaced 6,000 km of old pipeline networks and cleaned about 1,100 reservoirs in the region.
Ensuring water quality
SYABAS gives utmost importance to the quality of water supplied. It regularly engages in the inspection and cleaning of service reservoirs, reticulation pipe cleaning and water quality monitoring.
The company also focuses on addressing water quality issues raised by consumers. Prior to the privatisation of water provisioning in 2005, there was no proper system for customer grievance redressal. This was mainly owing to inadequate staff and equipment, and lack of funding to address consumer issues. After taking over operations, SYABAS developed a procedure to respond to consumer complaints regarding water quality within an hour. Till December 2016, the company has managed to respond to 95.8 per cent of all complaints within an hour.
In order to further improve the quality of water distributed to its consumers, SYABAS has implemented an integrated water quality improvement master plan in 2017. As a result, the company has recorded a significant reduction in water quality violations at 1,100 water sampling stations. These stations are located at various water treatment plant outlets, balancing reservoir outlets, service reservoirs and distribution mains.
In 2011, SYABAS and the Ministry of Health, Government of Malaysia, also undertook a water quality assessment study. According to the report, the supply of water in the concerned regions recorded 99.47 per cent compliance with the national standard for drinking water quality, with zero violations for microbiological parameters.
Adopting new technologies
The company has adopted several new technologies to enhance its overall efficiency levels. At the same time, it has developed IT-enabled systems to meet the increasing consumer demand for lower turnaround time for grievance redressal.
SYABAS has also developed a computerised and integrated framework called SYABAS Water Information Management System to enhance efficiencies in its work processes. Further, five management systems have been developed to be used across SYABAS’s departments and verticals. These include the supporting system process (used in the finance, administration, legal, human resource, procurement, technology, and research and development management departments); process management system (for programme, project and contract management); core business process system (used in supply, operations and maintenance, billing and collections, development plan approval, and customer services); quality management system (for training and client charter compliance management); and product information system (on distribution infrastructure assets).
SYABAS has also undertaken centralised and digital mapping of its physical assets. It has implemented a geographic information system (GIS)-based-mapping and registration system for its water distribution assets. As of December 2016, about 23,800 km of pipelines, 72,000 valves and 2,000 structures (such as reservoirs and booster pump stations) have been recorded in the company’s GIS system. GIS mapping has enabled the company to improve efficiency in its operations and better manage the water distribution system. Further, the database thus compiled has assisted SYABAS to plan and expand its water supply system. It has facilitated the maintenance of asset inventories as well asset management. Besides, the company is in the process of installing a supervisory control and data acquisition system at its operations command centre. It will enable the tracking of water flows and water pressure at each node. The system will also allow the company to record the level of water in storage reservoirs across its network.
SYABAS has also invested in active leak detection technology. It has procured equipment such as ground microphones, leak noise correlator, leak noise logger with SMS features, integrated digital logging, correlating system and insertion probes. The technology has enabled the water provider to reduce water losses on its network in a cost-
efficient manner. The use of the SMS data logger has enabled the company to record water flow and pressure data, and convey the compiled data via SMS to host stations for monitoring purposes.
Focus on customer satisfaction
SYABAS also operates a customer services department for providing solutions to issues raised by the public. The department comprises several units. For instance, the PUSPEL (Pusat Perkhidmatan Pelanggan) contact centre is a round-the-clock customer care unit. At the same time, the department also has an industrial consumer unit, which is dedicated to addressing the needs of SYABAS’s industrial and commercial consumers. On the other hand, YAKIN or Unit Informasi and Kerjasama Pelanggan focuses on catering to the requirements of its domestic consumers. This unit functions in a unique way, with YAKIN officials working at the grassroots level and interacting with community leaders to better understand the problems faced by residential water supply consumers.
SYABAS also operates a counter service, which is a unit under the PUSPEL contact centre. The service manages all the company’s counters within Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. It streamlines all service counter operations and ensures that the problems of its walk-in customers are dealt with efficiently. Besides these initiatives, SYABAS operates a repository of customer data. The customer database management allows the company to assess the behavioural trends of its customers. Based on the observed trends, it is able to provide differentiated experience to its customers.
The company has also launched a mobile application, called mySYABAS, for providing information on water services and addressing customer complaints. The application includes features such as a water disruption calendar, which lists out information on all scheduled and unscheduled water disruptions. A water rationing calendar is also provided on the application whenever the state government declares scheduled water rationing.
The application’s eComplaint feature allows consumers to register complaints on water-related issues with the company. Further, bill information and official press releases of the company are provided to consumers through the application.
Privatising water supply in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Putrajaya has significantly improved the quality of the services extended to customers in these areas. SYABAS not only focuses on providing good quality water to consumers, but also lays stress on ensuring customer satisfaction. Going forward, the company can set an example for other governments considering privatising their water supply services.