A $5 billion infrastructure network, 20,000km of water and sewerage mains and 1.4 million customers distributed across South East Queensland: you could safely say location is at the heart of Queensland Urban Utilities’ (QUU) operations. Driven by a commitment to operational and customer service excellence and innovation, QUU has taken its spatial capability to the next level with the development of the award­-winning portal, Q­Hub.

By ingeniously combining data from a range of disparate legacy systems into a common operating picture, Q­Hub has united and focused the organisation.

From operations personnel, to field workers, to the customer service team, each QUU employee now has access to the same comprehensive, real­time view of the entire network.

QUU Chief Information Officer (CIO) Nina Du Thaler has been central to the innovation’s development and implementation. Over several months, Ms Du Thaler and members of her team worked with Australia’s leading Geographic Information Systems (GIS) company Esri Australia to develop Q­Hub.

Such was Q­Hub’s success, Ms Du Thaler was named iTnews’ Utilities/Media CIO of the Year, edging out several highly­rated contemporaries to win the award, including those involved with the Telstra Air wi­fi network and a $20 million asset management system replacement at Melbourne Water.

Rightly, Ms Du Thaler is proud of the spatial ‘awakening’ the technology has brought to Australia’s fourth largest water distributor.

“There is no doubt that Q­Hub has bound the organisation together,” Ms Du Thaler said. “Understanding location and accessing a pictorial representation of what’s happening in our business is always very powerful.

“Spatial has been part of our world since QUU’s beginning, but until Q­Hub’s implementation we hadn’t really harnessed its full potential to drive innovation and decision­making, particularly at an operational and customer service level.

“The power of Q­Hub lies in being able to bring together different information sources via an integration hub, to provide a single spatial representation that many areas of the organisation can view at the same time.

20141015AR_0306V1“Whether it’s a field worker using their tablet to view a map of the network, a control room operator coordinating the activities of a maintenance crew in the field, or our customer contact personnel delivering emergency update information; they are all able to speak the same language.”

Ms Du Thaler said significant improvements in operational efficiency and customer service are at the top of the list of Q­Hub’s successful outcomes.

“By viewing information spatially, we can draw out inferences in data and enquire in ways we were never able to using spreadsheets and tables,” Ms Du Thaler said.

“For example, Q­Hub allows staff to visualise hotspots in the network: areas where there are multiple jobs affecting multiple customers, indicating a potentially wider issue that requires further action. They can then also see where the closest and most suitable crew is – based on proximity, skill sets and equipment on board – and dispatch them efficiently.

“In some instances, our customers experience water outages when parts of the network are turned off for repairs. Previously, because we could not be certain which customers would be affected, our staff would have to doorknock the entire street or even suburb. Now our operators can use Q­Hub to trace back from the impacted asset that has been switched off and identify the exact customers that need to be notified.

“Similarly, for planned work, we can proactively contact customers and explain what needs to be done and how they’ll be affected.”

Ms Du Thaler said having information available in real­time was crucial to Q­Hub’s success.

“In the past there could have been a 24­hour or even week­long lag between events in the field and details becoming widely accessible back in the office.

“Now this information arrives in real­time. Our contact centre has instantaneous access and can again communicate with affected customers immediately.”

Esri Australia Utilities specialist Chris Hogan said Q­Hub helped Ms Du Thaler address a core headache for many CIOs: how to ensure legacy systems don’t weigh down company growth.

“Utilities typically have a number of separate legacy systems for areas such as operations, planning and asset management,” Mr Hogan said.

“For CIOs that can present problems, particularly if these systems become outdated or incompatible as the business grows.

“However, using spatial technology as an integration platform allows organisations to bypass those concerns. Rather than simply replace the systems, they can weave them into a new spatial environment. It is a different approach but a highly successful and far easier one.”

Mr Hogan said a similar approach by QUU illustrated their commitment to innovation and commercial sustainability.

“QUU is at the forefront of a shift among water utilities – away from traditional system architectures to more integrated and responsive programs backed by real­time, spatial technology.

“What QUU has done with Q­Hub is truly innovative. They have shown how the key element of location can provide a platform for staff across the enterprise to access and share information.”

Ms Du Thaler said QUU’s staff are also becoming increasingly engaged with the spatial environment.

“To extend enablement and capabilities in an organisation requires a balance of push and pull. At times, my ICT team is educating staff and promoting technologies. At other times staff are pulling us to do more,” Ms Du Thaler said.

“The exciting thing about Q­Hub is that it has created an awakening within the organisation. Our staff, many of them non­traditional spatial users, can now see its value. We are getting a strong buy­in and being challenged about where to go next with spatial.

Certainly 3D capabilities, both for training and identifying issues in the network, are high on the agenda.

“We also have plans of applying both historic and current spatial data in a more strategic planning forum, to see what it tells us about the way we support and maintain the network.

“So, while Q­Hub is driving better decision­making in our everyday operations today, it could also play a key role in planning new infrastructure and organising and delivering services to our customers in the future.” 

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