Urban Utilities, SMEC and Jacobs – Enhanced Condition Assessment Program (ECAP)

1. Summary of the project, product, framework

Urban Utilities is South East Queensland’s largest water retail-distributor servicing more than 1.4 million residents across five local government areas, covering 14,384 km2 (Figure 1). Urban Utilities implemented a unique and progressive model for the condition assessment of their assets – the Enhanced Condition Assessment Program (ECAP). 

ECAP was initiated to undertake the condition assessment of critical assets, build asset data and advance asset management systems through a multiple-year partnership with two consultants (SMEC and Jacobs). An extended term and broad scope covering all asset classes is being used to drive long-term business outcomes through strong global networks and industry partnerships.

2 Description of project or framework addressing the assessment criteria

Started in 2015, the primary objective of the Enhanced Condition Assessment Program (ECAP) is to assist Urban Utilities to make better informed investment decisions through timely data driven analytics to maintain asset reliability.

What is unique about ECAP is that it encompasses the whole of the asset base and, because it is a program, it captures year on year learnings and improvements. The extended contact term (3+1+1 year) with SMEC and Jacobs is driving long-term business improvements through collaboration and strong partnerships. ECAP has demonstrated this approach can work effectively to improve asset data and progress asset management systems.

SMEC, Jacobs and Urban Utilities have collaborated to apply innovative approaches to field work, condition rating methodologies, information technology and data management (ICT solutions) to reduce condition assessment costs and maximise return on investment in relation to condition assessment activities. We did this by facilitating improved decision making around future field work, asset renewals planning and applying a risk-based asset management approach based on enhanced data capture aligned to Urban Utilities service needs.

The Program Management Approach

ECAP is managed through a Program Management Team (PMT) with representatives from Urban Utilities, SMEC and Jacobs. The PMT meets monthly to discuss program issues, governance, collaboration share and safety share.  An over-arching Program Governance Board (PGB) meets quarterly, consisting of executives from the three organisations to provide strategic direction to the PMT and ensure Urban Utilities strategic objectives are being met.  We reflect on the level of diversity in our ECAP team and it being a true reflection of Urban Utilities’ customers, helping us to understand and better meet customers’ needs. 

A key program management activity within ECAP is the collaborative development of an ‘Annual Forward Schedule’ (AFS) for the condition assessment activities to be undertaken in the following year.  A number of smarts have been developed to ensure the candidate activities selected for inclusion in the AFS offer value for money and reduced lifecycle cost to Urban Utilities.  We have developed risk models to ensure we pick the right assets that have the most potential to target and reduce Urban Utilities’ risk profile. We also aim for efficient investigation programs where, for example, investigations on particular pipe material cohorts can be bundled together to maximise buying power with the market and generate efficiencies in the mobilisation and deployment of condition assessment technology types. 

The ECAP team project managed and produced approximately 50 Asset/Equipment Lifecycle Plans, drawing upon their knowledge of Urban Utilities’ assets.  These plans provide a blueprint for the successful whole-of-life asset/equipment strategy, integrating all the requirements in each life-cycle phase and ensures assets are inspected no less frequently than prescribed values. Through our activities we are aligning to Urban Utilities’ overall asset management strategy and service requirements. 

Other key program approaches include:

  • Our innovation KPI – Each year of ECAP has exceed established target KPI scores. The innovation framework  allows for annual innovations to be jointly scored and developed with the sharing of innovation scores, further promoting the level of program collaboration, driving a strong innovation culture and improved outcomes.
  • Skills transfer plan – Skills transfer is tracked and recorded, including where we have supplied specialist resources to work in challenging ICT asset data tasks. 
  • Strong safety culture – The development of decision trees to determine if an asset entry is to be undertaken has protected team members by avoiding unnecessary confined space entries/working at heights.  Our condition assessment activities also identified numerous safety observations/remedial actions to help protect the public (e.g. at sewage pump station facilities in public parks) and Urban Utilities staff and contractors (proactively identifying unsafe reservoir roof structures through condition assessment).  We have also responded to urgent incidents/asset failures allowing the type of repairs to be determined and returned to service quickly. We also undertake root cause analyses to provide learnings about the failure mechanism given the access to the failure specimens for further scientific testing.

Innovative Approaches

Together, we have successfully implemented high resolution Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV), 360-degree cameras and remote CCTV technology to avoid numerous confined space entries and reservoir shut downs, saving thousands of dollars at each site and improving safety outcomes.  In addition, working closely with Urban Utilities and its construction and maintenance delivery partners has helped us to identify windows for rare opportunistic condition assessments which may reveal an asset in a “once in twenty” years state (e.g. during trunk main cut-ins or during dewatering of structures).  The opportunistic inspections have been highly successful to ECAP and present excellent value for money as the costs of access are saved as they are funded by the other activities. 

We have developed standardised and repeatable methodologies for condition assessment, condition rating and criticality.  These guide the implementation of proven techniques and test methods in a consistent manner to create accurate data sets, which are used in improvements to both the short and long-term maintenance planning and asset renewals plus feeding machine learning algorithms. The ECAP Condition Assessment Manual is presently being adopted across the wider Urban Utilities business to promote consistency across all condition assessment activities. It is aligned with the IPWEA’s PN7 and IIMM.  To date, we have also jointly developed reservoir shutdown plans, rehabilitation submission templates and asset condition profiling methodologies to streamline processes and drive efficiencies.

Benefit to Customers and Community

The ECAP program has created a number of benefits for Urban Utilities, its customers and the community. As well as improving value, increasing cost savings and safety, these include:

  • Water quality – A drinking water quality checklist which was developed and applied during the visual inspections of reservoirs to capture direct water quality risks, such as infiltration, pests or sedimentation; and
  • Continuity of supply – Both proactively managing assets to avoid failures and keeping water reservoirs online using ROV technology has enabled Urban Utilities to maintain continual supply of safe drinking water without disruption and ensured adequate fire protection water reserves. 
  • Prioritisation of maintenance and capital – ECAP has allowed Urban Utilities to prioritise its maintenance and capital programs based on risk and asset intelligence, driving better investment decisions and better value for money for customers across the lifecycle of the assets. 

3 Opinion as to specific contribution made by the nominated individual/team/organisation

Urban Utilities is the ECAP program owner and has provided the vision and overarching management to this unique program over the last five years.  The two ECAP consultants, SMEC and Jacobs, are working on a scope basis of ‘50/50’ split of the program, with equal sharing of workload to ensure completion of the annual forward schedule endorsed by Urban Utilities.  Together to date we have completed a scope of:

  • 333,604 m water mains
  • 92,783 m sewer rising mains
  • 309,598 m sewer gravity mains
  • 55 water reservoirs
  • 25 sewage treatment plants
  • 216 sewage pump stations
  • 107 water pump/booster stations
  • $167M renewals planned
  • 8,475 remedial actions identified
  • Over 200,000 manhours worked

The combined experience of this team was also recognised by the Water Services Association of Australian (WSAA) through our appointment to develop the WSAA Condition Assessment Guidelines for Mechanical and Electrical assets for to benefit the wider industry. 

In Year 5, SMEC and Jacobs together with Urban Utilities are completing a data improvement exercise designed to add significant detail to the Ellipse and GIS datasets stemming from the improvements already made during the ECAP program to ensure readiness for the Ellipse upgrade.  

A suite of lessons learned have been compiled by the PMT over the 5-year journey of ECAP and these will be presented at Ozwater20 for the benefit of others considering embarking on a condition assessment program. 

Image: Condition assessment of trunk water main in busy urban area

Members of the ECAP team have also undertaken an Asset Management Maturity assessment with Urban Utilities aligned with the best practice requirements of ISO55000 to identify areas of positive performance and areas for improvement. 

The level of collaboration between the ECAP parties has provided a significant benefit in terms of the capacity to deliver the ECAP workload, sharing safety insights and learnings to ensure greater and magnified awareness and ensure consistent approaches and outcomes in condition assessment and the resulting asset data.  The collaboration was recognised with ECAP being a finalist in the Consult Australia Program Collaboration award in 2018.  ECAP was also a finalist at the 2016 Consult Australia Awards and 2016 Engineering Excellence Awards.  SMEC and Urban Utilities won a high commendation in 2015 for the Preliminary Condition Assessment of Water Reservoirs in the Technological Innovation category.

ECAP is assisting Urban Utilities to achieve their Strategic Goal ‘Foundational Success’:

 “Deliver sustainable customer services through optimised planning and active asset management” by developing risk profiles across all asset classes and striving towards a 2024 target of “fully mitigating risks of service to critical customers and all other service risks reduced to acceptable levels”
(Urban Utilities 2024 Statement of Strategic Intent).

4 General Comments

ECAP has delivered a number of Australian firsts in the application of technologies to determine asset condition and assist with more accurate prediction of time to failure.  Never before have we been able to see ‘inside’ assets using non-destructive/non-service disruptive technology with the clarity now possible. These achievements have been selected for presentation at the Ozwater20 conference in Adelaide. 

By applying innovative ICT solutions, SMEC has been able to improve the efficiency of data capture, data management and assist Urban Utilities in building asset intelligence. For this project a customised cloud-hosted Asset Condition SQL Database, the SMEC Asset Manager (SAM) tool, was piloted and deployed. This system has streamlined data capture using web-enabled tablets and improved data storage and retrieval. It also provides a platform to apply innovative data analytics, degradation and scenario modelling to guide future asset management and investment decisions. We were able to provide live feedback to assessors onsite about the remaining life of the assets as the condition scores are entered, increasing the confidence level of the condition ratings.

A cloud-hosted activity tracking system called “Knack” was successfully implemented to track the status of the thousands of ECAP program activities.  This assisted in the consolidation of data for our program management dashboards showing activity status ‘value chain’ (work activities progressing through Urban Utilities Program Management Organisation (PMO) ‘gates’) and asset status (risk/criticality/condition) in Power BI.  For examples, please refer to the dashboard images in Appendix F, G and H.

For the first time Urban Utilities was able to undertake long range 30-year capital planning with the benefit of ECAP condition data. 

“I just wanted to convey my thanks for your continuing efforts to capture the assets and condition assessments electronically and load this data into our GIS and Ellipse system.  This year, for the first time, I was able to present (to the board) asset condition and risk profiles generated from ECAP data, and even pre-ECAP data. This heralds the arrival of a new era for Urban Utilities and shows that we are making great progress towards achieving our vision of data-enabled asset management. Keep up the great work.”  

Richard Hughes, Senior Strategic Asset Manager, Urban Utilities (19/10/17).

The ECAP program is helping Urban Utilities to ensure greater reliability of its assets now and into the future.

5  B. A.  Appendix

A. Bundamba Sewage Treatment Plant B. Condition assessment of trunk water main in busy urban area

C. Pipeline defects identified through ECAP being repaired while exposed to extend asset life

D. ST056 Boonah Sewage Treatment Plant during geotechnical investigations and condition assessment

E. ECAP Program Governance Board (PGB) and Program Management Team (PMT)

F. ECAP dashboard uses to easily communicate asset condition, criticality and risk to stakeholders


H. Value chain dashboards interrogate cloud-based databases to report on ECAP program status 

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