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SUEZ and Lendlease join with SA Water to service Adelaide area

The start of July 2021 marked the beginning of an exciting new journey for SA Water, with the utility welcoming two new metropolitan service delivery partners to continue supplying reliable water services to its 1.2 million Adelaide customers.

SUEZ is now operating five of SA Water’s water treatment plants and five wastewater treatment plants, and Lendlease is taking carriage of more than 9000 kilometres of water mains and 7500 kilometres of sewer mains.

SA Water Customer and Commercial General Manager Kerry Rowlands said the establishment of these new partnerships follows a long and detailed operating assessment, and reflects the utility’s dedication to ensuring excellence in service provision moving into the future.

“This is a very significant step for SA Water. In context, we are talking about the metropolitan area of Adelaide. There’s around 1.2 million people serviced through this contract alliance. It’s around $100 million per year, with a workforce of around 400 people. It’s a big deal,” she said.

“This transition has been about three years in the making. In 2018, we started by determining what we want our future operating model to look like. We assessed whether we wanted to continue with our existing alliance, or if we wanted to look at new operating models.

“We identified that our customers’ expectations had changed significantly and that our strategy had evolved.”

SA Water assessed a variety of different operating model options through its review, Rowlands said.

“Those options included continuing with our existing arrangement, creating an in-sourced alliance, retaining an outsourced alliance, looking at managing contractors, and also taking a really close look at the services that we are partnering for,” she said.

“We had a subcommittee of our board established and we worked very closely with them to refine those options down to a preferred model, which was a fit-for-purpose operating model for the work that we are doing.

“We decided to separate production and treatment into an alliance where we could draw innovation and expertise from across the sector into our business. Add then, for field services, which are more reactionary and scheduled responsive works, into a managing contractor arrangement.”

Building partnerships

SA Water Adelaide Service Delivery Senior Manager Mark Lewis said that once the utility had decided on its preferred bidders, the next step was to work out how these partnership arrangements were going to be connected.

“Both arrangements with SUEZ and Lendlease are collaborative contracts. We are working very closely together. There are a lot of interfaces that exist between the two arrangements and with SA Water,” he said.

“As the plan has always been to work closely with our partners, we started by developing a collaborative charter. This defines the values and behaviours we wanted to work towards during the transition period, but also into service delivery.

“Given the size and scale of the transition, the process has been quite complex. We’ve had a transition manager working with us on how we structure the transition program. We have a lot of different work streams and each of them has an SA Water, Lendlease and SUEZ lead so that we could all work together and make sure we are delivering in a consistent way.”

SA Water has focused on ensuring all teams are not only aligned to the collaborative charter, but also aligned to delivery functions, Lewis said.

“Another important step for us was to bring those teams together in-house at SA Water. Very early on we co-located our teams and started to build those relationships from the ground up in a joint working environment,” he said.

“We’ve created a really strong sense of partnership by taking this approach, which we are now seeing play out into service delivery. These relationships are key to our success. It’s all about strong relationships.”

In terms of meeting customer expectations, Rowlands said service offerings from a whole array of organisations have increased significantly, which means that SA Water customers now expect more from water service providers, too.

“We have found that our customers want to be informed, they want to know what is going on with their services provision and they want access to this information quickly,” she said.

“We have had to change our technology platform and the way that we are working so that we can provide real-time information to our customers.

“Furthermore, if there is a service disruption, our alliance partner is required to turn up quickly and fix the problem. Our customers want someone present, they want to talk to someone about how the problem will be rectified and they want to know what is going on.”

Trust and transparency

And while SA Water aims to meet the changing expectations of its customers, Rowlands said building trust is key to the approach the utility is taking, particularly in relation to the new partnerships it has now established.

“Our aim isn’t to prove to our customers that we are good at what we do. Our aim is more fundamental. We want to build trust,” she said.

“When something goes wrong, we need to show up, own the problem and make it right. This type of transparency builds trust, and with trust comes value.”

In order to foster this trust, the SUEZ and Lendlease service delivery teams have been incorporated under the SA Water brand, Lewis said.

“We have embraced our new partners under our brand. There is no separate brand identity for these new teams, they are all present in the community as SA Water brand ambassadors,” he said.

“From a customer perspective, it doesn't matter that the service is being fixed by Lendlease, or that their water is being treated by SUEZ, these partners are now part of our SA Water family.

We have really embraced our partners to help drive that customer focus.”