“We want business decisions to be based on science rather than be just budget driven,” says Amey associate director Charles Oldham.
He leads a 100-strong team from a variety of backgrounds that analyses a raft of data to maximise the effectiveness of Amey’s operations teams.
Amey’s Consulting business must be doing something right as it doubled the size of the Strategic Consulting and Technology Team (SCT) in 2016 and Oldham has been asked to double it again next year.
“At the moment there is as much work as we can employ people to handle,” he says.
Amey’s Consulting team works collaboratively across the business to deliver a “whole lifecycle” approach to asset management. This system was piloted in the UK rail sector, where the firm is responsible for the performance of a huge swathe of infrastructure.
One such arrangement has Amey looking after the reliability of 250 train sets, 101 stations and various tunnels, tracks and other elements on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines of London’s Tube network since 2003.
“When we started this work, we could see that there was room to improve the performance of the assets,” says Amey rail director Lee Jones. “Going through those difficult days to improve reliability we found there was only so much you could do through traditional methods. We brought in an asset management system that gave us a lot of data on what was failing, when and for how long.”
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Amey’s team was brought in to analyse the information and plan a way forward.
“By 2014 we had reduced lost customer hours by 70% from 2003,” says Jones. “Failures per million car kilometres were down by almost 90%.”
Oldham explains how the unit works.
“We look at a train with thousands of parts and monitor, detect and predict asset behaviour, for example what will fail next, using data from sensors and human input, and putting it into Amey-developed real time predictive analytics software,” he says.
The team works alongside the operational business in various sectors including rail, highways, utilities and aviation.
“At Heathrow we supported the masterplanning for new infrastructure using an asset model we created to allow the airport to see the impacts of new terminals and runways on cost over 50 years, based on what is actually happening in the airport,” says Oldham.
“At Severn Trent Water we are looking at water quality issues and getting insight into why problems are occurring, by combining data streams such as complaints, call outs, location and weather.” Amey believes the way it combines its consultancy and operations teams offers major benefits to customers.
“We do the analysis and the hands-on work,” says Jones.
“We help clients and major asset owners to better plan for, understand and improve the value of their assets so they perform better, so their risks are managed more effectively and regulators are kept happy.”
Oldham believes a key strength is the wide breadth of skills and diversity within the company.
“The engineer does not have the digital tools and the analyst does not have the knowledge of our infrastructure but if you bring the two together, the lights go on,” he says.
Jones says something of a positive skills cycle now exists at the firm.
“We have recruited a diverse mix of people with different attitudes to get this offering together, and now people are choosing to join Amey because of what we’re doing.”
The firm’s approach has also won it business far and wide. After a handful of deals in Qatar, it has recently won work in Australia and with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the United States.
“We have won a contract with Sydney Trains for operational delivery as well as data and analytics,” says Oldham. “One will lead to the other.
“We will support the customer in making performance improvements, on rolling stock and infrastructure assets. My team will look at data for patterns, Jones will look at the way the assets are managed and we’ll bring the two together to identify opportunities to improve.”
Amey expects the market for data-based, life-cycle asset management consultancy, combined with operational delivery, to continue growing.
“In the last five years there has been an increase in pressure both from reduced client budgets and increased customer expectations,” says Oldham. “That creates a burning platform.
“There is also now the availability of data and the increased capability to deal with it – we are doing a lot of our work on the Cloud because traditional computers are not powerful enough. So there is somewhere to go from the platform. That is the coincidence that has led to the growth of our team.”
Getting the right people into the fast-growing Consulting team is a challenge in itself.
“When I’m interviewing, I need to see high analytical skills and also the human skills to translate the data into relevant information for our teams on the ground, working across different infrastructure projects,” says Oldham.
He is aiming for the very best talent.
“We are recruiting people from Imperial College London, Oxford and Cambridge universities and Harvard,” says Oldham. “They have decided to do this rather than financial analysis, because it is connected to reality and they can see how they are making a difference to the infrastructure we all use, every day.”
But Oldham is open-minded about what fields staff come from.
“We want analytical skills, curiosity and energy. I am probably the only person in the team with a traditional civil engineering background . We have mathematicians, an astrophysicist and an ancient historian who persuaded me that was an analytical skill. I believed him and he’s come up trumps.”
Oldham may be happy to employ non-engineers but he ensures they all gain an understanding of the world they are analysing.
“We insist that all the theoretical staff go out and look at a railway track every year so they understand, for example, that it is easy to trip over rail and hard to walk along ballast,” he says.
Improvements identified by the team include changing the maintenance schedule of escalators in Tube stations to reflect a finding that the physical length of the asset was more relevant to its failure time than the amount of time it had been running.
Oldham is looking ahead at other opportunities to improve operational efficiency for Amey’s clients.
- Produced in association with Amey