Inter-utility performance comparison is needed in the water and sanitation sector, because the sector offers limited scope for direct competition. Firms operating in competitive markets are under constant pressure to out perform each other. Water utilities are often sheltered from this pressure, and it frequently shows: some utilities are on a sustained improvement track, but many others keep falling further behind best practice. This matters, because a well-run water utility is essential to people’s lives. Only the most efficient, financially viable utilities are able to respond to urban growth, connect the poor, and improve wastewater disposal practices.
The objective of IBNET is to support access to comparative information that will help to promote best practice among water supply and sanitation providers worldwide and eventually will provide consumers with access to high quality, and affordable water supply and sanitation services. By providing access to comparative information key stakeholders will get the information to do their jobs better:
- Utility managers and employees can identify areas for improvement, adopt realistic targets and—not least—convince authorities of the need for change;
- Governments can monitor and adjust sector policies and programs;
- Regulators can ensure that customers get value, and providers have incentives to perform;
- Customer groups and NGOs can exercise “voice” in an informed way;
- International aid agencies and advisers can identify what works, advise their clients accordingly and back the advice with convincing “before-after” and “with-without” stories;
- Private investors can identify viable markets and opportunities for creating value.
Utility stakeholders routinely search for information about the performance of their utility, and that of comparator organizations, both nationally and internationally. Unfortunately such information is not routinely available – not because of a lack of interest, but more because of a lack of a common framework within which to communicate and share the information effectively.
The International Benchmarking Network for Water and Sanitation Utilities (IBNET) is an initiative to encourage water and sanitation utilities to compile and share a set of core cost and performance indicators, and thus meet the needs of the various stakeholders. It sets forth a common set of data definitions; a minimum set of core indicators, and provides software to allow easy data collection and calculation of the indicators, while it also provides resources to analyze data and present results. Sharing of results is critical to successful performance comparisons (benchmarking).