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Digitisation: Opportunity not a threat


Australia’s booming population growth has created a need for new water infrastructure and more maintenance on existing assets to cater for the increased demand. With so many projects underway it’s essential that they are managed properly on all levels and contractors are competent and compliant with legislation and safety requirements, meaning efficiency is key.

With such a high number of water infrastructure projects currently underway across Australia, and with most being geographically spread out, particularly in NSW, there are a greater number of different types of contractors required to do all maintenance and project management work, as well as many larger projects that have been broken down into smaller ones.

This means utilities and contractors need to know who’s doing what, and where, at all times to ensure everything runs efficiently and all risks are reduced.

In its recent report Reforming Urban Water: A national pathway, Infrastructure Australia outlined ‘Meeting the needs of a growing population’ as one of the main challenges facing the urban water sector.

The report, released in late 2017, said that to deal with population growth and the strain it’s causing on current water infrastructure, water services must take advantage of ‘shifts in technology and processes’.

The report states that technology can be an enabler of change in urban water and that “greater access to real-time information could hold benefits for customers and suppliers.”

It’s this ‘real-time information’ that helps manage large projects when there are many different contractors and moving pieces, but for contractors and utilities to have access to real-time information they must have digitised systems in place, as paper-based systems don’t allow for this.

Digital systems increase efficiency

Digitising paper-based processes helps support collaboration and communication across projects; create efficiencies across an organisation as it removes manual admin tasks; and allows for projects to have auto-generated notifications which supports asset maintenance.

FiNAO is a solutions provider that works with organisations to digitise their paper-based forms and processes by creating an online system offering automatically generated notifications, predetermined automated workflow and real-time reporting.

FiNAO Director, Terry Down, said the main thing contractors are looking for in water infrastructure projects is to know what’s happening where, so they can make informed decisions. This real-time reporting feature is a point of difference of FiNAO’s systems.

“Traditionally, through paper-based systems, there were delays in getting information to the right people, but our online management systems ensure clients on all levels are getting the information that they need in real time,” Mr Down said.

“This allows for real-time planning so clients know what’s going on right now on their sites and they can plan for this afternoon, this evening, tomorrow, the next day and so on. It also allows them to measure progress, as well as reduce admin time by around 60 per cent, as they now only need to enter data once. Clients can then spend more time doing the jobs they need to, rather than admin tasks.

“The other challenge that we’re helping to combat is ensuring contractors and supervisors are competent and compliant the whole time. Previously, if someone became noncompliant there could have been a lag between the expiry of something and the client knowing. Now they know in advance and can make necessary changes.”

Not digitising operations using online systems runs the risk of having outdated and incorrect information on projects which can cause problems on site. Real-time reporting makes projects more efficient, which in turn supports the overwhelming number of water infrastructure developments and maintenance projects across the country.

“As soon as you generate a report and hand it out within an organisation, it can become out of date. Whereas, if you give people a URL with the report, when they click it they get the real-time information. Things change rapidly and businesses need to have the correct information at all times in order to make the right decisions,” Mr Down said.

Planning staff resources and unlocking value

A fully automated system also helps organisations unlock more value from their assets by generating automated notifications and reminders when maintenance is required based on the data entered and specific business requirements. This can ultimately lead to better services at lower costs.

FiNAO’s online management systems are different because they are off-the-shelf solutions that have been customised, so businesses can create a system that is directly tailored to their specific needs and one that can grow and adapt as the business grows and their needs change.

“With our systems, we’re able to generate reminders for maintenance and services in real-time so asset managers don’t have to be continuing checking spreadsheets and manual systems – it’s a completely automated process from start to finish.

“It also allows you to get the right people involved at the right time and ensures they are available. You can book people in and you know what they can do over the forthcoming period. Even with high-risk work, you know what compliant people you have so you can then plan and schedule that work for the future.

“For example, we have created systems for Sydney Water that plan their resource and activity over the next four to six months. So a manager asks, ‘What resources do I have for this activity in the next six months?’ and can see exactly what they’ve got planned out, which allows them to better plan ahead for managing assets, resources, and the work that needs to be done,” Mr Down said.

FiNAO has two major systems in place at Sydney Water: the Delivery Management Data Portal and the SWConnect system.

Sydney Water’s Delivery Management team delivers most of Sydney Water’s capital investment program so they have to ensure projects are delivered safely, on time and within budget, and with minimal impact on the community and environment. To do this, the team needs to manage hundreds of project sites. The Delivery Management Data Portal custom system allows Sydney Water to on-board hundreds of staff and projects and using the system, work is allocated and managed as part of a collaborative contracting model.

The online system tracks and manages the progress of multiple construction projects (of various values) in line with GC21 contract conditions utilising accredited management systems compliant with ISO 9001- 14001/AS4801 and Australian Federal Government Safety Commission accreditation scheme.

“Whether you’re a big company like Sydney Water or you’re just trying to meet your legislation and safety requirements, you need to be able to collaborate and communicate with your people. Our systems allows this at all levels, so businesses can explain what’s going on, particularly to people like the unions and the board. Digitisation allows this to happen very quickly.”