Completing the data jigsaw

With reference to work undertaken with Scottish Water, RPS Water Services discusses tools to transform existing corporate data into valuable integrated asset management information

Since the inception of public water and sewerage systems our engineering forefathers, and the public bodies they worked for, have had a significant influence upon the nation's health.

But these, and other public services such as schooling, which we regard as 'rights', are costly to maintain. Maintenance, it has been observed, is the 'management of deterioration', and the problem is the public does not always want to pay a premium for adequate maintenance, leading to arguments centred on taxation and idealistic standards of service.

Different models are being used for the provision of water services, private sector in England and Wales, public ownership in Scotland. Regulators benchmark and constrain both to make efficiency savings in operations, capital maintenance and capital investment.

In parallel with the efficiency question is the question of public interest. Public interest, once guarded by public-spirited politicians and civil servants, is increasingly articulated in regulation and law. The European Union has been particularly influential here.

On the European political level, despite the different stages of development and governance, there seems to be little dispute about the general ambition across the European water sector to provide:

  • adequate coverage,
  • cost-effective utilisation of scarce resources,
  • full cost recovery,
  • compliance with environmental and quality standards.
In terms of realising this ambition the water sector must compete with other sectors and strive for:
  • transparency - otherwise new parties or financiers would shy away,
  • reliability - otherwise private initiatives would dry up for a long time,
  • clarity - otherwise no favourable conditions could be offered to the customers,
  • robustness - which is essential for investments with terms over five-ten years.

Water utilities, public and private, have a track record for the successful deployment of functional corporate systems to deliver water quality, billing, customer related-management and cost recording. These have been used to good effect to manage each functional area, but more often than not with insufficient granularity to link to anything other than broad asset groupings or types.

For a water utility to deliver its strategic plan in respect of its infrastructure assets it must use to best effect its human, financial and information assets. Data, in a practical and helpful format, is not always available or timely. Asset managers in particular cannot obtain level of service information and customer feedback, linked to the assets, in order to make informed decisions. A systematic approach to integrated data, to convert it into accessible and digestible information, is needed.

Increasing pressure, notably from regulators, has led the water companies to set up basic methodologies - the Common Framework for Capital Maintenance Planning and distribution, operation and maintenance strategies (DOMS) - to assist in the asset management process.

Additional challenges are being identified through the transposition of the Water Framework Directive into national law, particularly in respect of spatial planning and strategic assessment.

The success or otherwise of the implementation of the Common Framework for Capital Maintenance relies upon a set of representative and reliable historical observations or information about operational and asset performance, and the consequential level of service provided to customers and cost to the utility. DOMS strat-egies also rely upon an understanding of what can go wrong in a water supply system, and where, so appropriate mitigating operation and short-term maintenance can be deployed.

These are all facets of asset management, demanding a more quantitative, diligent, risk-based and systematic approach. Furthermore, there has been demand from the wider utility industry to provide some sort of coherence to asset management and this is being met in the development of an asset management Publicly Available Specification (PAS) - a reference document for asset management rather than a British or ISO standard.

The PAS seeks to install asset management on a quality management system footing, for example, BS 9001:2000. In addition to providing a platform for good operational decision-taking within set policy and strategy constraints, it lends itself to the examination of these policies and strategies for improvement, while helping demonstrate conformance to others. Perform Spatial Plus is an asset management reporting and analysis tool RPS Water Services has configured to serve water infrastructure asset management.

Its primary aim is to collate existing corporate data from selected sources and turn it into more valuable integrated asset management information. This is achieved through geo-spatial and asset related referencing, which is vital where a utility is heavily dependent on the stewardship and performance of its assets for the delivery of service to customers. Perform Spatial Plus is an enhanced version of the Perform reporting software, which was adopted by the former East and West of Scotland Water Authorities. Perform Spatial Plus builds upon the functionality of Perform while its implementation on an Oracle platform allows fuller integration with Scottish Water's (SW) corporate systems. This allows data from GIS, customer contact, water quality and telemetry systems to be integrated.

An important enhancement is the addition of a spatial viewing and analysis facility through the Strumap geo-spatial viewer. This allows data to be viewed spatially, providing an immediate understanding of the location of poor performance in the network. The software allows analysts to monitor and understand asset performance through a number of key elements:

  • Operational Browser - a portal to view virtually 'live' customer service and asset performance information in a graphical, tabular and spatial format, for example, water quality failures, bursts, customer contacts and net flows. Operational Browser's prime function is to provide the integrated platform upon which operational performance analysts can examine and question 'cause and effect'. It helps promote optimum control of networks and supports a due diligence approach.
  • Configurable Performance Reporting - allows more detailed analysis and reporting of historical customer service and asset performance data from DMA to water operational zone level. These can be augmented by reference to policy and standards thresholds as defined by SW and by simple exception reporting for low and high-level assets.
  • Asset Features Database - holds detailed asset information for meters, pumps and control valves. The database also provides a spatial location and photographic record of feature and installation to allow for easy on-site identification.
  • Leakage Analysis and Reporting - a tool containing data verification and current burst losses and leakage analysis and reporting that will assist SW's tactical leakage analysts to drive down and keep leakage at business policy levels.
The benefits of the new software include:
  • faster access to asset information,
  • asset performance transparency,
  • development of a clear understanding of impact on level of service,
  • development of an understanding of capital maintenance and operational expenditure,
  • a common standard for reporting,
  • the ability to 'drill down' behind high-level reports.

Perform Spatial Plus has been installed in Fife and will soon be available in Glasgow, with roll out to the rest of Scotland due for completion at the end of November 2004. The system will be available on the desktops of 100 SW staff and provides a customised management reporting framework based on a robust corporate platform. Customers and their representatives have laid down great challenges upon water utilities, articulating the challenges through such things as DOMS and the need for a Common Framework for Capital Maintenance. Asset managers need to respond.

They require access to information from other parts of the business about asset performance and the consequences of failure upon costs and customer satisfaction, but which they cannot see at the granularity and scale they seek. The old model of disparate functional corporate systems is unsatisfactory because it makes it difficult to quickly and regularly assimilate and understand what is happening at the individual asset level, where the solutions tend to lie.

IT must and can respond to this, but clear specification of the systems must reside with the asset managers. IT cannot, however, deliver on its own. Solutions lie in the effective use of personnel, practical management processes and adequate financial investment. Scottish Water anticipates Perform Spatial Plus will be a significant move in the right direction in this regard.



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