A project to streamline data flow and capture has allowed Unitywater to establish a central location for asset information, accessible in real-time by staff across the organisation.

The Mobile Field Office is a cloud-based application that has been fully integrated into Unitywater’s systems since July 2017. Its users include field staff and supervisors, Network Control Room, Contact Centre and asset managers.

Unitywater provides water and sewerage services to the Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast and Noosa regions of South East Queensland. Its 5223 square kilometre service area includes around 6000km of water mains and 5800km of sewerage mains servicing 765,000 residents. In 2018, Unitywater field crews attended to 27,544 customer-initiated work orders across 26,516 assets.

The utility has used IBM Maximo as its Enterprise Asset Management System since the business was created in 2010. This platform was recognised in August 2017 by Gartner as best in breed. However, a series of earlier customisations meant complex on-premises infrastructure was costly to maintain and business systems were separate to, or poorly integrated with, Maximo.

Unitywater Acting Executive Manager Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions, Amanda Creevey, said workers previously had to contend with out-of-date information.

“Our people responsible for maintaining our water and sewerage networks faced real challenges as they were required to use multiple disparate systems to do even the simplest of tasks,” Ms Creevey said.

“For example, they couldn’t access as-constructed information or work history. They could access a mapping system, but it was a point-in-time representation of the network and the information could have been up to a year old.”

Ms Creevey said ICT staff had to contend with managing and maintaining multiple products which required field crews to attend the office for troubleshooting and upgrades. Migrating the business to cloud-based solutions has increased efficiency and reduced costs.

Rethinking business processes and data management

The Mobile Field Office Project addressed the limitations of Unitywater’s system by completely rethinking it. The project carefully examined and addressed in detail all field work and business processes before streamlining and simplifying how the Network Operations Team identified and prioritised work, and how work was dispatched to the field.

The project also streamlined how the field crews collected data and accessed corporate systems and data relevant to the job at hand, and how back office teams such as Asset Management, Water Quality and Customer Service analysed data, reported data and informed customers of job progress.

“The reappraisal of work and business processes removed complex integrations and data duplication,” Ms Creevey said.

“It made way for the integration of disparate business processes into one work management process.”

With a clear plan for revised processes and data management, the project team removed all earlier customisations of Maximo and added the user interface EZMaxMobile. Additional integrations with ESRI ArcGIS (enterprise mapping) and Objective ECM (drawing management) complemented the core capabilities of EZMaxMobile. Adding tailored risk assessment capabilities ensured one system was sufficient to fully support workers in the field.

This approach enabled more of the core capabilities of IBM Maximo by simplifying the user interface and adopting a structured approach to guide the field user through the job.

It simplified the data collection process and ensured structured data was available in real time for users across the business to analyse and monitor.

“The project successfully removed the barriers to operational efficiency and took the brake off innovation and further enhancement,” Ms Creevey said.

“It has enabled data-driven decision making across the organisation, allowing the asset management team to better focus their investment in renewals and to target key assets for maintenance optimisation.”

Paving the way for future enhancements

The Mobile Field Office project was delivered in partnership with Clarita, an IBM partner and EzMaxMobile Australian distributor, and as such provides a cost-effective and sustainable foundation for Unitywater’s digital utility future.

The costs of maintaining the software are significantly lower than previous. Savings were achieved in hosting costs, licence costs and storage costs as over 500,000 duplicate records were removed from corporate systems.

“After we released the Mobile Field Office, around 180 suggestions were received from staff through our Brightidea portal, an online innovation and ideas platform,” Ms Creevey said.

“Many of these were incorporated in our August 2018 Asset Management Information System (AMIS) Optimisation Roadmap, which provides a framework to guide asset management system enhancement and investment over the next three years in alignment with our Corporate Strategic Plan (CSP) and Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP).

“We’re really proud of our achievements to date and are now embarking on the next round of system enhancements.

“These are aimed at delivering a better business through increased use of automation, integration with SCADA and IoT devices, and embracing the digital twin concept to visualise our assets in real time.

“The Mobile Field Office has significantly enhanced our ability to collect and generate data, and our goal is to be able to predict the maintenance needs of our assets and understand asset health in real time by 2021. By understanding our networks better, we can use this information to deliver a better service to our customers.”

Chris is a publishing veteran, having launched more than ten magazines over the course of his career. As the Publisher of Utility, his role today is more hands-off, but every now and then he likes to jump back on the tools and flex his wordsmithing muscles.

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