With COVID-19 and the Australian bushfires putting unprecedented pressure on the economy, leaders have been forced to rethink how they share data and streamline workflows – leading to an inspiring new approach to collaboration.
In late 2019, bushfires ravaged more than 70% of Bega Valley Shire Council’s total land area — it was the worst hit shire council in NSW requiring an unparalleled recovery effort.
Crews needed to be dispatched to broad-ranging areas to assess and repair damaged fire hydrants, water supply services, water mains, pipes and sewerage – all while ensuring they steered clear of the moving fire front and avoided the many road closures.
Bega Valley Shire Council’s GIS Manager, Kellie Grady, said Council had recently replaced its diverse asset management systems with a centralised platform that allowed Kellie and her team to disseminate accurate and authoritative data across the whole organisation.
“We were constantly coordinating between first responders and our field crews, sharing data on asbestos contaminated damaged buildings, the moving fire front, wind, road closures and providing live updates to support the recovery efforts,” Ms Grady said.
It was all hands-on-deck. Time was of the essence, resources were scarce and had to be deployed where they were needed the most.
Council’s team was also spending a considerable amount of time managing and responding to Dial Before You Dig (DBYD) enquiries which had spiked as a result of the fires — from one or two a day to nearly 100.
“The volume of enquiries had increased in the recovery and our existing system involved a manual process and occupied the time of staff that needed to be directed to supporting the recovery efforts,” she explained. “It was unsustainable, so we needed to find a way to streamline the process.”
The answer was found in SmarterWX Automate – an automation platform that uses geospatial technology to seamlessly share data and facilitate automatic responses to queries.
Council worked closely with the SmarterWX development team to deploy the solution in just 36 hours, meaning DBYD responses could be completely automated – freeing up its staff to support the recovery efforts.
“Being able to automate the response system took that workload completely off our shoulders during an extremely busy period of Rapid Damage Assessment and Repair,” Ms Grady said.
Gary Johnson, Chief Innovation Officer for Boustead Geospatial Technologies, said the efforts of Bega Valley Shire Council’s team – and their ability to quickly adapt their systems and processes to take advantage of the SmarterWX workflows – was inspiring.
“We understood the value of the Council’s scarce resources in this emergency response situation, and our first goal was to help them deploy their resources in the most efficient way possible in an extremely busy period of rapid damage assessment and repair,” said Mr Johnson.
“Secondly, to support the coordination of relief efforts, we implemented a portal that would help them overlay and visualise their asset information to support effective and systematic approaches to their assessment and repair operations. The team were very impressive in the way they saw the opportunity to improve traditional workflows, and mobilise quickly to implement the change at a time when every second counted.”
A paradigm shift in inter-organisation collaboration
In the case of Bega Valley Shire, using technology to enable seamless collaboration, more effective resource deployment and open communication between multiple stakeholder groups proved essential in helping Council respond to a rapidly evolving situation.
But outside of crises, Mr Johnson says the solution could also deliver longer-term value in improving collaboration across business as usual areas as well.
“Picture this: a road near your home is being resurfaced and just a few days after work has been completed, it’s dug up again to lay down a new water main,” he said.
“That’s something many of us have experienced. The inconvenience is not just to commuters and ratepayers, but the poor planning of these capital works projects also negatively impacts utility asset design, management and traffic.
“The question many of us have is: why wasn’t the water main installed before the road was resurfaced?
“The answer is invariably because the work is carried out by two separate entities who work independently of each other. And the solution to this lies in using technology to improve collaboration.”
A central point of truth for all organisations
Sydney Water – one of Australia’s largest water and wastewater service providers — took a similar approach to enabling seamless collaboration for their $50 million water main renewal program as Bega Valley Shire.
Working with the NSW Streets Opening Coordination Council (SOCC), Sydney Water used the SmarterWX platform to create iWORCS™, a scalable Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that acts as a real-time repository of capital works plans across the city.
iWORCS enables varying stakeholder groups to coordinate the planning and scheduling of capital works projects, minimise the cost of roadworks and address community concerns over disruption caused by repeat roadworks.
Michael Bell, Esri Australia’s National SmarterWX Consultant, said that by leveraging the technology, Sydney Water ultimately put a stop to unnecessary repeat roadworks, underground maintenance or repairs made in the same location by creating a central point of truth where planned works were visualised across multiple organisations in real-time.
“Over a period of 15 months, working with nine local councils, Sydney Water identified several opportunities and savings through sharing the cost of road surfacing and better timing of works,” said Mr Bell.
Rethinking traditional processes on a national scale
Outcomes such as these have seen the SmarterWX platform quickly gain traction across the country. In fact, an agreement made this year with Dial Before You Dig Victoria and Tasmania gave more than 250 organisations in the DBYD member network access to SmarterWX Automate.
Using Automate, a local government authority will receive a notification of a dig scheduled close to a council-owned asset and have the ability to seamlessly send automated responses – all from the one system.
This removes the process of manually responding to DBYD user enquiries and provides a single service solution for asset-owning members. This is expected to deliver significant time savings on more than 10,000 utility notifications for works that are received every day.
DBYD Vic/Tas Chief Executive Officer, Ben Howell, said the introduction of SmarterWX technology into the DBYD portfolio has improved the user experience by providing an almost instant response to queries across its entire membership base.
“This technology presents a new, smarter way forward for asset protection and damage prevention – and we are proud to be the first Dial Before You Dig entity in Australia to provide our members with access to a market-leading solution that makes it easier for them to operate and provides an exceptional user experience,” said Mr Howell.
“Dial Before You Dig Victoria and Tasmania continues to see significant growth and the introduction of SmarterWX software will further increase the availability and adoption of our service as we continue to work towards our goal of zero damage, zero harm.”
Mr Bell said the same benefits can be applied across other industries and projects — from supporting state and federal agencies to coordinate large-scale response efforts around crises such as COVID-19 to enabling smaller utilities and councils to deliver better services to their communities.
“While SmarterWX was built to facilitate collaboration and to support asset management workflows, we’ve seen an expansion of the definition of assets — from the typical assets like pipes and cables to include parks, trees and birds,” said Mr Bell.
“We’ve worked with councils that needed to coordinate planned works in designated conservation areas in a way that would protect the biodiversity of the flora and fauna – all while facilitating the completion of these asset maintenance projects,” he adds.
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