Articles & Case Studies

The Catalyst for Change

Posted: Thursday 20th October 2011

Northumbrian Water Limited (NWL) serves a population of 2.6 million people in the north east of England with water and sewerage services and 1.8 million in the south east of England where it provides water services trading as Essex & Suffolk Water. In total, it manages around 36,000 km of linear assets.

Historically, Northumbrian Water Limited used Excel-based tools to manage data and information about the network. This had limited uses for planning; focusing mainly on the number of historic events and only providing very basic predictions for the future, as opposed to actually modelling how assets might perform under certain circumstances.

In 2002, the imminent introduction of the CFCMP framework and recent changes to Ofwat’s Capital Maintenance Expenditure Planning Framework meant that the company needed to improve its planning capabilities. As Nikki Walsh, Asset Manager at Northumbrian Water Limited, explains, “Compliance with the framework was essential to help drive the company forward, as it sought operational efficiencies and an improvement in planning, whilst demonstrating best practice to the industry regulators.”

Mrs Walsh continues, “Finding a solution to support the process of understanding system behaviour in order to build and communicate asset investment plans was essential, but at the time, there wasn’t much on the market to help us achieve our goals. Although SEAMS’ WiLCO solution was relatively new in 2002, it was certainly the most advanced system on the market, and showed huge potential to help Northumbrian Water Limited manage performance of its asset base into the future with timely investment interventions.” Piloted in Northumbrian Water Limited’s water management business, it was eventually rolled out to the waste water management side of the business in 2007, following several years of development to meet the company’s initial requirements.

An Evolving Solution to Meet Changing Needs

Initially, Northumbrian Water Limited worked incredibly closely with SEAMS to produce a system that dealt with its specific problems. Mrs Walsh comments: “With a lot of software vendors, there is not always the opportunity to work hand in hand to create a system that meets an organisation’s requirements. Over the last nine years we have worked closely with SEAMS to continually develop and improve the modelling software and its performance models. We have achieved this by the use of larger sets of data across the whole of the network. The approach includes the full integration of results with the prioritisation of scheme delivery on the ground and the addition of a leakage module. Once the WiLCO solution met with our initial demands we looked to see what else we could get from it, how it could be developed, how planning models can be made more robust, and what other tools and techniques can be included within it.”

SEAMS has also worked with Northumbrian Water Limited to link WiLCO to other tools the company uses, including InfoNet, an asset and data management system for the water industry and Netbase, a water distribution management system. Mrs Walsh adds, “It’s much more than just a supplier relationship and one that SEAMS benefits from as a developer as much as we benefit from the insight we are provided with to identify opportunities and drive efficiencies.”

Strategic Asset Management

Northumbrian Water Limited put into WiLCO the organisation’s base data in terms of asset inventory, the performance of those assets, the types of interventions and situations where the company would need to intervene. From these inputs the company receives a modelled output of an optimised intervention programme based on the condition of the assets and how they are performing to produce a whole-life cost solution across what is a very large asset set.

The models are examined at both a strategic level, to give insight on a higher-level of overall budgets and interventions required, and a deployment level, to give a more localised picture to the management team. Mrs Walsh adds, “We use WiLCO on the water distribution mains and gravity sewers, providing the company with the level of insight required to make decisions on service targets, and then use the planning model to rationalise the best interventions at optimal cost for the customer.”

WiLCO is run within the asset planning department of the company, from where the outputs are disseminated to the relevant areas – feeding investment and strategy planners with the information needed to make informed decisions.

Performance Models

For the planning of interventions and investment in Northumbrian Water Limited’s potable mains, an approach has been developed with SEAMS using performance models that link pipe bursts, leakage and interruptions to supply to the actual condition and deterioration rate of the network. Mrs Walsh explains, “The model enables us to produce a long term 25 year plan to achieve the company’s strategic direction statement objectives. Over 20,000km of potable mains are modeled, with over 5,000 bursts and 3,000 interruptions to supply per annum.”

“We also use the model to plan interventions and investment in our sewer network, using performance models that link collapses, blockages and flooding to the actual condition and deterioration rate of the sewer network. Around 16,000km of sewers are modeled, with around 3,000 blockages and 60 collapses per year.”

The effect of climate change has also been modeled to assess possible future interventions required – an industry leading approach to the management of assets. The model establishes relationships between network failure rates and network characteristics, assessing how the service provided by Northumbrian Water Limited’s asset base will change through time, as the pipe network ages. The model can ensure that customer service levels do not deteriorate by determining the correct level of investment.

Mrs Walsh states, “The model ensures service targets are met over time with appropriate levels of investment, as without such investment, services will deteriorate. The software is used in our ‘business as usual’ planning process and the model outputs inform our annual and five year investment plans.”


As Ofwat and the water industry’s various regulatory frameworks evolve, so does Northumbrian Water Limited’s ability to comply. As Mrs Walsh concludes, “The key objective behind WiLCO’s deployment at the outset was to generate the most economic, efficient and transparent plans possible, to ensure the business is doing all it needs for its stakeholders and to comply with regulatory requirements. WiLCO provides us with the flexibility to continue to develop and enhance our investment planning approach whilst achieving service targets at the least cost to the customer. To this day, it continues to meet and exceed our expectations and the relationship fostered over the last nine years is one we value highly.”

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