Pounce on technology with PuMA

Avtar Jirh, commercial director with responsibility for IT at Purac looks at how the company and its clients have grasped IT and used it to enhance project management capabilities

Managing projects in the construction and contracting business can be difficult and demanding. Today's utility providers have a higher fixed asset base than other industries yet are expected to increase margins and efficiency while decreasing costs to maintain accountability to the regulator and customers. The management and control of these assets is vital and this applies especially within strategic partnering arrangements, where savings can be achieved by managing projects more effectively through continuous improvement and the application of new ways of working.

Information management has become more challenging due to rising customer service standards and more stringent environmental and health and safety requirements. The volume of data is also growing and becoming more inter-related. Project management is now a vital key to the success or failure of a project.

Maintaining accurate and consistent information, keeping control of costs and resources is therefore of paramount importance. As a result, water industry managers are looking to new technologies to provide solutions that can aid performance and profitability. It is against this backdrop the creative application of IT is a major benefit for contractors and clients alike.


IT development at Purac began in the mid 1990s and to date has resulted in improved project management and overall control of the business, providing both itself and client with surety of out-turn.

The implementation of an Oracle database system with Purac's in-house developers was the start of the company's development of IT, which aimed to produce a bespoke suite of business management systems rather than relying on off-the-peg software packages. This initial development work led to the creation of PuMA, a unique, integrated project management system developed by construction professionals to provide a no surprises environment for both Purac and its clients.

PuMA was developed because at the time there was nothing available industry-wide that fitted exactly with Purac's requirements. Its modular system covers procurement, project management, risk management, expediting and financial reporting.

The system provides real-time information on committed and actual costs and allows for better information management on projects. Information via PuMA is made available at all project sites and on part-nering schemes for clients at their offices. Since its origins, PuMA has developed with continuous improvement to provide clients with an open book approach and trans-parency of costs. This is a key requirement for Purac's clients and allows the build-up of trust between contractor and client.


PuMA interfaces with proprietary packages like P3e, Autolant, and in particular Coins, an industry-standard accounts package that has been integrated with PuMA, providing real-time, actual costs.

Its IT based systems also facilitate training and integration of new personnel. Purac is currently developing a new module for PuMA, the Integrated Engineering System (IES). This is an ongoing development by Purac, which essentially links AutoCad through a customised pipework and instrument diagram (P&ID) interface (AutoPlant) to the Oracle database and integrates into the existing system via plant requisitions.

Once drawn on the P&ID, an item has a unique identity, generating from the database engineering data sheets, procurement and engineering schedules, right down to plant label details. Changes in quantity, design and/or specification are automatically updated throughout the system and cross-checked with associated items for conflict. The objective of the IES is to significantly reduce the number of hours needed to deliver a project. While still in development, the way it manages and controls the engineering database by providing up-to-date information and archive documentation has led to fewer mishaps in the engineering process, distilling out the human error factor.

The current focus of development is to now integrate engineering data with project activities (including procurement and planning) to achieve a position where the project engineer can ask questions like "how much of the equipment shown on this P&ID has been requisitioned or delivered to site or commissioned?" The quality of documentation and information available to the project teams has improved drastically because suppliers will be able to directly input current data into the system. Rework at site and non-conformances have reduced resulting in time and money savings, which in turn can be passed on to the client.

Finally, a unique amalgam of in-house process systems and IT expertise resulted in the development of interactive, technical, electronic manuals known as PURACtive, an electronic O&M manual.

Paper-based O&M systems have many disadvantages - records and files can be lost and updating and/or modifying can be problematic. They are also time-consuming to produce and the end product can take up valuable storage space. PURACtive incorporates a wide variety of information, both graphical and text-based, which is accessed through a web browser and can be distributed on a CD-Rom or via a web browser.

This way, information becomes easier to retrieve, less prone to wear and tear and much less unwieldy. It also ensures the right people within the client organisation have access to the right data at the point it is needed, eliminating the need to search through several manuals and thus reducing the number of errors and inconsistencies. This whole approach offers real added-value to clients for both new and existing works. IT plays a vital role within Purac, not just to its engineering and project management capability, but to support the business's wider strategic goals as a whole, underpinning all it does.

effective it systems

Good IT infrastructure and effective systems free-up staff to concentrate on what they do best - in this case manage large, complex, process engineering projects - rather than spending time and effort on administrative tasks.

While a highly complex system behind the scenes, PuMA is easy and simple-to-use and is undoubtedly a vital tool in day-to-day project management. The key to PuMA is its ability for clients to gain an accurate overview of the status of their projects, especially as part of a partnering or framework agreement.

Access is provided from his or her desktop, allowing the financial status of projects - either singularly or partnering - in real-time. PuMA is transparent, the numbers are what they are so there are no surprises at the end of a contract. It also shows the client that risks are being managed cost-effectively too. Giving a client's perspective Stephen Cockbill, team chair for the partnership that exists between South Staffordshire Water and Purac, said: "The transparency of the PuMA database has proved an excellent tool in the development of the working relations between us in allowing continuous monitoring and clear audit trails from the preparation of target costs through to final accounts.

"South Staffordshire Water has also used Purac's database in formulating costs during the AMP4 preparations, which has allowed a degree of certainty on pricing that could not be obtained by other routes." It is envisaged the system will continue to be suited to Purac's engineering needs and client or contractor relationships in terms of control, efficiency and savings as well in AMP4 as it has been in AMP3 - and South Staffordshire Water's experience of the system is evidence of that.

However, while it offers the same level of transparency for AMP4, Purac continues to improve and develop PuMA, particularly with the needs of clients and staff in mind, and in response to new and ever-changing technology. Purac is currently extending the system to offer a new method of deployment in the form of thin-client technology to allow greater and easier access through a web browser.

Additional developments include further integration of IES with PuMA and the launch of a new cash flow module. Commercial interest has also been shown in PuMA, with the IES module having potential for use in facilities management and the PURACtive manuals are expected to open doors in other industries for both Purac and the benefit of new clients in the future. Purac is also looking at e-procurement interface packages within the supply chain to deliver procurement cost benefits to its clients. This requires a detailed evaluation process of the supply chain capability, so the firm is able to respond quickly and effectively in the future.



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