It’s about solid delivery and reliable response

RPS Group is experiencing rapid expansion around the world. So, in a bid to discover the secret behind the success, WET News paid a visit to the managing director of its subsidiary, RPS Water.

“It’s a journey we’re on,” says Trevor Hoyle, managing director of RPS Group subsidiary RPS Water. That journey is to establish and maintain a sustainable business model.

Hoyle explains: “Historically, the industry has been very much about doing tasks for clients and providing people. We have changed that by adopting an approach based upon delivering results for clients and focusing on what they want to achieve.”

He continues: “In some cases, we’ve sat down with clients and said ‘there may be a more efficient way of going about things’.”

“This may mean a re-deployment of resources to become more effective but we’re happy with that because it means we’re developing a result-driven, sustainable business model. We’re not interesting in ripping our clients off, we want to look at 25 year horizons aligned with their longer-term business planning.”

Hoyle believes this approach is going down well in the industry.

Extra resources

A few years ago, RPS Water was in talks with a client. The working arrangement being proposed would have meant RPS Water was “incentivised” to just provide extra resources.

Hoyle says he was not prepared for that to happen because it would not have been in the best long-term interests of either party. Agreement was eventually reached where the incentive was to deliver the result and be more efficient.

RPS Water does have some performance contracts where it only gets paid for water saved. “We don’t get paid just for turning up,” says Hoyle. “We only get paid if we save water, which is quite exciting.”

He says these contracts are higher risk but can be successful.

So what is RPS Water all about? A large proportion of RPS Water’s activities are water networks related in terms of leakage, pressure management and meter verification work. “That’s a substantial number of field-based resources, across the whole of the UK,” says Hoyle.

A substantial part of the company’s operations comprises consultancy work for water as well as wastewater. This segment is split into two:

· Strategic consultancy, including asset investment planning and management. The company has recently worked with Ofwat looking at the “externalities” (social, carbon and environmental costs) involved in setting Economic Levels of Leakage.

· Design-related consultancy. This entails project management, design and supervision of clean-water and wastewater networks. Here, RPS Water has “quite a bit of work” with large civil-engineering contractors.

The remaining percentage of the company’s business relates to wastewater which carried out work in the UK and internationally. Hoyle says this activity started out as a flow and load surveys of sewerage systems.

Since Hoyle joined RPS Water more than four years ago, this operation has evolved into covering the end-to-end process of dealing with wastewater. Today, its services cover sewerage modelling, CCTV surveys, manhole surveys, flow and load surveys and design solutions.

RPS Water can also call on the services of its sister companies within RPS Group, such as Town and Country Planning, Environmental Assessment and Health & Safety Management. These, says Hoyle, are areas that RPS Water tends to “pull in from other areas of the group”.

He explains: “We have work on sourcing new water resources and are working in Ireland on the Dublin rehabilitation project.

“We’ve got some sizeable projects where we’ve put together the right people across the group to deliver them.”

RPS Water’s core activities have amassed a 40-50% share of the UK water market. Hoyle says: “It’s essential that we continue developing to maintain it.”

RPS Water is investing heavily in its business support functions – health and safety, environment and quality – and is on track for an accredited Integrated Management System (IMS) to be in place this year. “We currently have ISO 9001 for quality. We were accredited ISO 14001 for environment in February this year, and we’re aiming for ISO 18001 for health and safety later this year.”

Hoyle says: “There’s a clear business and economic driver for it. Once we’ve got the health and safety accreditation, we will pull all into the one IMS.”

Fewer suppliers

As the water industry develops and matures, water companies are seeking fewer and larger suppliers. They want to work with companies that have robust financial standing and good corporate governance.

“We’re finding that clients are starting to recognise and appreciate that. This has helped us stay in front of some of our competitors.”

In one form or another, RPS Water is working with all the water and sewerage companies – the ten in England in Wales together with Scottish Water and Northern Ireland Water. It also works with the majority of the “water-only” companies – Three Valleys, South East Water and Sutton and East Surrey Water for instance.

Elsewhere, its activities include sole supplier framework agreements carrying out a variety of roles.

Hoyle says: “We’ve got a presence with all of the major water companies, which we think is really important because we can continue to understand and respond to their business needs.

“Just going back a few years, we had one person working for a key client but we’ve now got 100 people working for them. That’s just by solid delivery and reliable response.”

He continues: “With our dedicated client base, we can’t afford to not perform.”

RPS Water has a big presence in operational support covering clean and wastewater network management. But Hoyle says it has “a smaller share” of the capital programme, although this is an area that he wants to target more in terms of providing the breadth of RPS services and value to clients.

Asset renewals

On the capital programme side, Hoyle believes investment will be more targeted to areas such as maintenance-driven asset renewals rather than the historical quality-driven programme.

“Rather than spending money renewing a whole area, targeted investment means you can get much more bang for your buck.

“We see the industry moving much more in that direction. The industry is going to become a lot more maintenance driven, which it has to a degree throughout AMP4, but that’s going to increase. That suits the way we do business because we’ve come from an operational background. We know what it means to have to operate and maintain these assets rather than just provide new ones.”

So what does the future hold for RPS Water? Since Hoyle has been there, RPS Water has grown organically and through acquisitions. He says the company is looking at acquisitions “in water, in other utility sectors and beyond”. It is also looking at strategic recruitment, bringing in people with expert knowledge and developing expert teams around them.

“We’re looking at becoming involved in other sectors via acquisition or recruitment.”

The move into other utility sectors is for two reasons, says Hoyle. Having a broader range of sectors will enable the company to be flexible in the event of switching political priorities and offer more opportunities for staff.

Also, over the years, RPS Water has developed a hybrid approach that, says Hoyle, “is unique”. And the feedback from water industry clients and contractors is that it is a refreshing approach.

The intention is to continue to develop a more complete offering in the water industry, taking what it is good at and doing that in other sectors.

“Then it’s potentially about doing the same thing in certain international markets.

We’re quite specific about which international markets we’re targeting “low risk and lucrative tends to be a good start”.

The company is in talks with companies with which it may joint venture, and potentially businesses to acquire in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada.

Hoyle concludes: “For us, it’s about strengthening our operational presence and increasing our presence on the capital programme overlaying both with our strategic consultancy. We want to be in all those areas.

“That’s not because we’re on a massive ego trip, it’s because we want to have the capability of doing the right thing, and delivering results for clients whatever their need is. If we’ve got all the skills in all the areas to be able to do that, they shouldn’t need to go anywhere else.”

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