Most landscape irrigation contractors and system owners recognize there is a fair amount of maintenance required on their systems. There could be a need to charge and activate the systems at the beginning of the watering season, as well as a need to close and possibly winterize at the end of the season. Throughout the watering season, there could be ongoing maintenance required to repair common components, and the list of possible repairs and maintenance typically increases as the system ages. This type of system maintenance can typically be very reactionary, which is one of the primary differences between maintenance and proactive system management.
The concept of landscape irrigation management has been in play for a while, although recently it has become more and more understood and embraced in our industry. I like to point toward the Irrigation Association’s 2014 Landscape Irrigation Best Management Practices wherein Section 2, the BMP for water management is defined:
To conserve and protect available water resources, management of the irrigation system will optimize the efficient use of water to maintain a healthy and functional landscape with optimal irrigation system performance. This entails careful and active management of the system and adherence to all applicable watering limitations within the jurisdictional area. Management includes active irrigation system maintenance, scheduling, monitoring, and evaluation of water use, landscape health and appearance.
What this really means is that by actively managing the amount of water being applied and the system performance, we can achieve significant water savings and a very healthy landscape. The key here is that this needs to be part of a cycle that includes monitoring, evaluating the system, reacting, and then making the necessary changes or fine tuning to get the best results.
The BMPs then address the actual process of water management giving detailed guidelines for the needed communication and accountability for those involved in the process, the maintenance on the system, the targeted water use for the landscape, as well as the scheduling, monitoring and standards for evaluation. It is pretty much a roadmap for anyone considering or involved in providing this type of service.
One of the most visible opportunities is the need for upgrading to a connected controller platform to be able to remotely monitor system performance and tweak the watering and maintenance schedule as needed.
This is important because it creates many opportunities for our industry beyond the typical maintenance of a landscape irrigation system. Because of the skills needed for higher level system management, technicians have more space to grow with appropriate training. This process also builds loyalty with clients as they become more closely involved in the management process and results. System renovations and upgrades become more necessary because there is a cause and effect that makes it easier for system owners to approve needed changes. One of the most visible opportunities is the need for upgrading to a connected controller platform to be able to remotely monitor system performance and tweak the watering and maintenance schedule as needed. This also creates an operations management benefit, as most system activities tend to be planned and proactive as opposed to the traditional reactive strategies that are commonly used now.
Where are the challenges? Most are like launching any new business, as irrigation management services feel like a new business. Developing a marketing plan for irrigation management services that encompasses all the four Ps (those being price, product, place and promotion) is a lot of work, especially if there is a very successful irrigation service business already in place. There needs to be a mindset change with your team and how they approach your irrigation clients that may be different than in the past. There will probably be a lot of ongoing training involved to develop more irrigation management and equally important sales skills. There will be pushback from customers who don’t understand or care, and it will take effort for them to see the need and benefits.
The industry is maturing and changing. Systems are getting older, and landscapes are growing. While maintenance on systems is and will always be very important, proactive water management services are becoming more the norm and for good reason. The amount of water we have available to use in the landscape is becoming scarcer and these services are part of the solution. Being proactive now in refining your service offering will pay benefits to your business in the years ahead.