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IT special: net benefits

In a bid to improve efficiency for AMP5, Thames Water has deployed an innovative service from software firm Business Collaborator for use throughout its supply chain.

AMP5 is the next iteration of the water industry’s five-year capital investment programme, starting in 2010. It will include a variety of major civil infrastructure work involving roads, water and sewage treatment plants and new quality control measures.

Thames Water will be tendering a significant number of its AMP5 contracts either as individual contracts or as programmes of work. With tenders ranging in value from £1M to £50M and as many as 125 contractors likely to win bids, the process for tendering and the subsequent delivery of the projects on time and to budget is highly complex.

As Britain’s largest water company, Thames Water considers IT to be an enormous enabler in the effective delivery of its services.

Eliminating wasteful practices

“Our focus is to reduce the number of systems we use, ensure that the ones we bet on truly reflect our working patterns and don’t require us to change processes that are tried and tested,” says Thames Water project manager Paul Meredith. “Software goes a long way to eliminating wasteful practices.”

“Our systems need to provide a framework that ultimately improves co-ordination.”

Paul Meredith, Thames Water

Meredith continues: “In projects where processes are not followed, decision making becomes difficult, leading to duplication of effort and that negatively impacts schedules. With such a large supply chain for AMP5, our systems need to provide a framework that reflects our best practice procedures, is open and intuitive enough for contractors to use and ultimately improves co-ordination.”

During AMP4, Thames Water used software from Business Collaborator (BC) as a project and document management repository.

This provided a flexible working environment, accessed via the internet, containing a range of tools to enable people and groups to work together more effectively within processes that reflected Thames Water’s capital delivery requirements. Within the system, information and knowledge was captured and a detailed log of events stored.

Access, visibility and clarity

The software is hosted by BC, which is also responsible for the hardware, support and security of the system, and this is provided as a service to Thames Water via the internet. This ensures that it is reliable, performs well at all times and that data is protected and accessible.

“The software provides us with access to all project information at the touch of a button, better visibility of the steps involved in the successful delivery of the project and the ability to identify clearly what elements work best, so that future projects can benefit,” says Meredith.

For AMP5, Thames Water has taken this one step further and is using an additional module, developed in conjunction with BC, to automate the tendering process before the projects actually start. The successful bidder will then be required to use BC’s system for the duration of the project to record all information and interactions made against a project task.

Learning from other industries

Meredith felt that there was much that Thames Water could learn from other industries, such as aviation, where e-tendering systems are more common.

“We are always looking at ways to reduce the costs and time involved in tendering. Documents often need amending in response to questions raised by bidders which can lead to huge document synchronisation and version control problems.

“Document assembly time alone has been reduced by five days per tender as nothing will need printing or burning to CD.”

Jamie Gardner, Thames Water

“Using the e-tendering solution developed by BC, all documentation and communications are managed in a secure location, providing a common structure for contract documents, automating notifications to the supply chain on updates and edits, restricting access when required and providing a full audit trail,” he says.

“Document assembly time alone has been reduced by five days per tender as nothing will need printing or burning to CD,” adds Thames Water head of capital procurement Jamie Gardner. “And this time saving is not just applicable for us but also for each bidder, giving them five days extra to work on their tender submission. We anticipate a reduction in our internal tender administration costs and these efficiencies have already been built into the final business plan submission for AMP5.”

Embracing new technology can improve a firm’s ability to compete for work on projects. With the use of tools like these now becoming a requirement of many large construction projects, it might not be long before the industry rolls over and embraces them.

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