CASE STUDIES AND VALUE OF RESEARCH
Seattle Public Utilities—An Asset Management Partnership
with Australia and New Zealand
Terry Martin, Seattle Public Utilities
In early 2002, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) began to learn of the impressive asset management (AM)-related results
achieved by many utilities located within the water and wastewater industry in Australia and New Zealand. At that
time, key SPU staff proactively sought to form a relationship with one particular utility, Hunter Water, as well as the
entire Australian water industry on a broader level. This relationship has evolved over time and has consisted of three
distinct phases, all of which have served to strengthen SPU’s AM foundation.
First, SPU, with the help of a USEPA grant, was initially given approval to move Kevin Young (of Hunter Water in
Newcastle, Australia) and his family, to Seattle for eight months to help launch SPU’s AM program and establish it
permanently within the utility. Kevin was a senior-level manager at the time and has since been promoted to serve
as Hunter Water’s managing director. During Kevin’s tenure in Seattle from the fall of 2002 through the spring
of 2003, an original AM group of five individuals was assembled, several AM-related optimization efforts were
instituted, and SPU’s AM Committee (AMC) was born. Importantly, the newly created AMC mandated that all
projects in excess $250,000 undergo an early benefit/cost analysis resulting in a formalized business case. Under
this new approach, business cases were developed and presented to SPU’s executive management team from which
approval was required for a particular project to proceed through design and eventual construction. Creating and
sustaining SPU’s AMC has reaped very high long-term rewards for SPU. The business case process has resulted in the
dual benefit of winnowing away many projects of low value while also increasing the value of others, which were in
due course approved by leadership.
Second, as SPU’s AM program began to mature, SPU strengthened its ties with the wider Australian utility sector.
This was most evident in SPU becoming the first North American utility to join the Water Services Association of
Australia (WSAA) during the summer of 2003 and eventually participating in WSAA’s initial benchmarking efforts in
2004. Participation in this process not only helped SPU gain important professional connections with many AM-savvy
Australian utilities, but also allowed SPU to learn more about specific weak points within the utility as pinpointed
by the benchmarking results. SPU has gained much from participation in WSAA benchmarking and continues to be
actively involved in these annual efforts.
Third, SPU began a deeper and longer term relationship with Hunter Water based on extensive, reciprocal, and
ongoing employee exchanges. These exchanges, which now typically occur on an annual basis, consist of each utility
noting a particular set of employee skills in the other utility and importing those skills for 6 to 10 months at a time. To
date under this reciprocal exchange program, SPU has helped Hunter Water by supplying two individual long-term
employee exchanges (one involving an IT manager/professional and the other involving a pump station manager/
maintenance specialist). Likewise, Hunter Water has helped SPU to a great extent by providing long-term help
involving AM managerial support, technical assistance, and AM-based field crew deployment support. In addition to
this arrangement, Hunter Water continues to provide on-call services, which in general consist of one or more Hunter
Water employees visiting Seattle each year for targeted mentoring, usually in two week-long stints. This task-specific
assistance has consisted of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), reliability-centered maintenance (RCM),
and “stage gates” project management concept support, as well as assistance on other AM-related topics.
As SPU’s AM journey enters its ninth year, the “Australian connection” continues to be at the forefront providing
valuable technical help as well as insight regarding the ever-evolving world of AM in the water and wastewater
industry. Continued emphasis on customer-centric outcomes, strategic AM plans, risk management, key performance
indicator (KPI) tracking, and maintenance strategy optimization are just a few examples of areas from which SPU has
benefited greatly from this continuing AM-centric relationship.