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A digital platform for all seasons

Having identified an opportunity to transform the way Scottish Water's operatives collect, view and edit asset-related data, the public utility is changing the way it works. From the company’s communications department, William Ancell reports

Scottish Water (SW) is a publicly owned company, answerable to the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland, which is responsible for providing 1.3B litres of drinking water and managing 840 million litres of wastewater on a daily basis for 2.4M households across the country. It employs 3,400 people and operates a network of thousands of assets – over 47,000km of water pipes, 50,000 km of sewer pipes, 297 water treatment works and 1,837 wastewater treatment works, pumping stations, sludge treatment centres and reservoirs.

Managing and maintaining all these assets is an immense task. Scottish Water relies on its experienced team of operatives to visit sites across Scotland and ensure that every asset is operating safely and in good working order.

Historically, most of the asset-related data that these operatives collect and manage has been held in paper files and stored on-site, but SW saw an opportunity to drive continuous improvement in its maintenance processes by digitising and centralising this vital information. The company’s digital platform project team worked with AMT-Sybex to move this vision forward by running a pilot across the country.

A solution was developed that uses rugged tablet devices and specialised software. For the first time, it gave operatives unprecedented access to corporate systems while they are working on-site. This ground-breaking solution will help Scottish Water harness the skills and knowledge of its water and wastewater operatives more effectively, significantly improve its asset records and ultimately enable a more proactive approach to asset management.

Digital platform

Sheila Campbell-Lloyd is Scottish Water’s operations regional manager for the North of Scotland, and a leading member of the company’s transformation team. Campbell-Lloyd’s vision was to deploy a digital platform that would give the field operatives access to information from central systems, and also enable them to input asset data directly into the company’s Ellipse asset management system.

“Other utilities companies deploy mobile solutions that send data from their central systems out to their operatives – but it’s only a one-way process,” she explains.

“My vision was to use the mobile devices to collect the data as well as giving the site operatives a more valuable role to play in the evolution of our asset management strategy.”

Scottish Water operatives often need to visit sites in remote locations where extremes of weather and a lack of mobile connectivity can be a problem. As a result, it was critical to deploy tablet devices that are resilient enough to cope with tough conditions.

It was also important to ensure that the devices would be able to work offline temporarily if a mobile signal was unavailable and to design a user interface that would be user-friendly and intuitive even in awkward environments.

“We worked closely with our IT partners on the pilot interface design, and it has been a great success – it looks and responds like a mobile app,” says Campbell-Lloyd. “Operatives cannot only interact with our corporate system Ellipse, but also for the first time access other systems. During the pilot the teams had access to telemetry data as well as email and our internal HR system and intranet.”

Should an operative visits a site where the Ellipse asset data is incomplete, and to ensure accuracy, they can use their device to update the asset inventory and record all the measurements and readings they collect during the inspection. The IT software then converts this activity log into a defined process to guide subsequent inspections at that site. This enables Scottish Water to ensure that its operatives gather the same information on each visit, and allows the company to trace trends and identify patterns in asset performance and reliability.

“As we gain a comprehensive record of all our assets and start to measure trends, we’ll be able to shift the emphasis from reactive repair to planned maintenance,” says Campbell-Lloyd. “By analysing the underlying causes of problems, we should be able to predict and prevent them before they occur.”

Planned maintenance

The pilot project covered locations from the North of Scotland to the South-west in order to test different conditions. The Scottish Water operatives who took part in the pilot were pleased with the performance of the solution: a post-project survey showed that 100% of them believed that the digital platform solution would improve data quality, and 80% thought it would enable them to avoid unnecessary site visits, saving time and travel costs.

“We knew it was vital to develop the solution with our operatives in the field, instead of imposing a solution on them,” comments Campbell-Lloyd.

“These are highly experienced professionals and we need to give them scope to use their expertise in a productive way, rather than just giving them a list of instructions to follow. Access to Ellipse and to the telemetry system gives them all the tools they need to diagnose on-site issues themselves; and access to email and other internal systems helps them become more involved in the business.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved so far in turning this vision into a reality; it has required a lot of drive and determination to move us forward from the pilot to the implementation stage. Already we can see how the digital platform will transform the way we manage our assets.”

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