Alan Titchall and Ruth Le Pla ask Tim Gibson, the executive general manager Citycare Water, about the council-owned company’s national maintenance division that was formed in 2010. The cornerstone of the division’s success to date has been its three waters maintenance business that has ‘quietly’ taken some 60 percent of the local authority contract base for three waters maintenance in this sector.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a qualified engineer with over 30 years’ experience in the construction and infrastructure maintenance industries. I joined Citycare in early 2006 as general manager – Northern Region and then was given overall responsibility for Citycare’s National Maintenance Division when the business had a bit of a restructure in 2010.
I’m passionate about all things techy and extremely passionate about the people I work with and for. The more deeply involved I have become with New Zealand’s three waters challenges, the more excited I have been about Citycare being a part of the solution to those challenges.
Tell us about Citycare and its business.
Citycare Group is owned by Christchurch City Council but we have been operating in Auckland and other regions around the country for over a decade now. The business has just been through a significant transformation to push our focus on the key market sectors we operate in: water, property and civil.
Our main focus is on long-term asset management and optimisation but, in spite of being council-owned, even in Christchurch we are treated no differently to any other contractors and we need to compete on the same commercial and service terms as, for example a Downer or a Fulton Hogan.
Citycare Water itself has over 500 full-time employees spread across the country, with major depots in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin.
We carry out a range of three waters maintenance services depending on the make-up of each regional contract.
Citycare Property and Citycare Civil are each similar-sized operations and their focus is in property and open spaces maintenance, and civil construction and roading maintenance respectively.
Can you provide some detail of the three waters work?
We currently maintain over 19,000 kilometres of piping networks. So we estimate about 1.5 million people are served by the networks we are looking after for the four key metropolitan councils – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin – as well as in areas like Banks Peninsula, Hawkes Bay, New Plymouth, Masterton, South Wairarapa, Timaru and Waikato District.
It’s probably the metro / regional blend of our business that puts us in a strong, you might even say unique, position. We’re keen not just to be seen as another contractor but to be part of the nation’s conversation about three waters.
In Auckland, we manage the maintenance and asset optimisation requirements for the southern network, on behalf of Watercare. If there is a burst water main or blocked sewer, for example, we are the guys who go in and fix it. But we work closely with all our clients to make sure there is a strong balance between the proactive and reactive maintenance of the assets.
We collect an enormous amount of data on our customers’ assets too, which helps both us and them with planning and forecasting to stay on top of the network challenges.
We have a similar relationship with Wellington Water and with other clients around the country and we are also starting to grow our construction business in Auckland, having enjoyed strong success in that area in Christchurch through our inclusion in the SCIRT alliance.
We maintained Christchurch City Council’s network before the earthquake, so as soon as the quake hit, we were directly involved in the initial response. We provided hundreds of people and 30 to 40 tankers around the city supplying water. We’ve been a part of the Christchurch fabric from the initial first-response, through its recovery and then into the rebuild.
You say you’re keen for Citycare Water to be seen not just as another contractor but “as part of the nation’s conversation about three waters”. How do you envisage the big picture for the nation’s three waters in, say, five years’ time?
In five years’ time, the big challenges for the water asset owners in this country will not have changed significantly. The age of the assets, the water quality and network resilience will still present the biggest issues.
But what I do expect to have changed by then is how we approach solutions to those challenges. New ‘disruptive’ technologies will have been introduced and will be doing just that – disrupting the norm.
Meanwhile, I’m convinced there will be new, more collaborative solutions to funding – perhaps even the contractors taking on some of the risks, for more of the rewards.
Use of the metadata being collected on water assets will change exponentially and only the companies able to utilise that data to help optimise the assets will still be around.
How will Citycare Water change its own business to reflect those changes?
We’ve already started. This year has seen a transformational change for the business and we’re really excited about what we can offer, how well placed we are to look at national as well as regional solutions and where we are currently at in the technology and innovation process.
Do you provide specific innovative technologies?
There are lots, but if I could single out two areas where we think we have a technology solution that puts us into a better space than many of our competitors, it would be our proprietary Event Manager technology and our major shareholding in a water treatment specialist business called Apex Environmental.
Event Manager is just a data-collecting beast. We have over 3000 current users, all able to use the technology to help manage their asset data, tasks and events in real time, as well as being used by our teams in the field for workflow management, data collection and electronic time sheeting.
Apex is a treatment plant design / build company run by two exceptionally smart design engineers who are always looking to bring new and useful technologies into the country.
Any other innovations?
Data is foundational to understanding pressures on networks, the likely timing and cost of future investment, and expected future service needs.
The right kind of data (such as maintenance trends, spend patterns and event correlations) needs to be collected in a consistent and comparable way so that infrastructure condition and performance can be meaningfully compared and benchmarked. That enables infrastructure providers to better understand network interdependencies and critical service pinch-points.
This article was first published in the November 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.