With its vision to excel in satisfying the Hong Kong public need for quality water supply services, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) of the HKSAR Government provides safe and reliable potable water to Hong Kong’s some 7.5 million inhabitants and supplies seawater for toilet flushing to about 85% of the population. As one of the top energy users and asset-intensive government departments in Hong Kong, WSD is mindful of the critical responsibility of being energy efficient and of practising good asset stewardship.
In 2014, WSD was the first government department to build an energy management system certified to ISO 50001. On the asset management front, WSD strives to pursue world-class performance in the management of its waterworks assets by actively adopting the international standard for asset management systems, ISO 55001. ISO 55001 provides the framework for an asset management system to help manage the lifecycle of assets in a structured, best practice approach to optimise their performance and minimise the cost and failure risks over their life cycles.
The largest waterworks asset management system (AMS) in Hong Kong with a wide spectrum of assets
WSD manages a substantial number of waterworks assets encompassing a wide spectrum, including 28 impounding reservoirs (such as irrigation reservoirs and settlement basins), 20 water treatment works, 178 freshwater service reservoirs, 54 saltwater service reservoirs, 151 freshwater pumping stations/ houses, 35 saltwater pumping stations/houses, 7 combined freshwater and saltwater pumping stations/houses, as well as approximately 85,000 mechanical & electrical (M&E) assets.
In 2017, WSD conducted an assessment of its current asset management practices against the requirements of the ISO standard to identify the capability gaps in order to develop a department-wide AMS in compliance with ISO 55001.
Starting from January 2019, WSD has reviewed, developed and implemented an AMS for the planning, design, construction, project management, operation, maintenance, replacement and disposal of the major waterworks assets and associated M&E equipment, which include:
- impounding reservoirs;
- freshwater and saltwater service reservoirs;
- slopes and retaining walls;
- raw water pumping stations;
- fresh/salt/combined water pumping stations/houses;
- water treatment works;
- water tunnels (including portals, shafts and towers);
- barracks, staff quarters; and
- water selling kiosks.
Under the project, a system implementation plan was worked out together with key milestones for developing and maintaining the AMS. One of the key tasks was to build a clear alignment or line of sight between the organisational strategic plan and activities. This was done by adjusting the departmental strategic objectives for different classes or types of assets to meet the expected customer service level. Given the myriad of asset classes with different levels of criticality, WSD has applied a vast array of risk-based management strategies ranging from continuous condition monitoring for critical assets to time-based or usage-based maintenance strategies for less critical assets. An essential part of the system implementation also involved embedding these strategies systemically into the new AMS with appropriately timed key performance indicators (KPIs).
Less is more: developing and preparing a lean AMS documentation
A conventional way of setting up a new management system is to develop and compile a completely new set of management system documents required by the ISO standard.
For a large works department such as WSD, a new management system usually comes with countless documents and instructions. Breaking with convention, five working groups comprising members from four operational regions, M&E Maintenance Division and relevant divisions/ sections were formed to provide valuable input in establishing the relevant AMS documents. A series of AMS document development and facilitation workshops was conducted to make good use of the existing documents and instructions, successfully compiling minimal AMS documents to meet the ISO 55001 certification requirements.
Less is more: Simplified documentation
New AMS mitigates risks due to COVID-19
Apart from meeting the stringent requirements of the ISO standard, WSD has faced a variety of expected and unexpected challenges during the establishment of the largest waterworks AMS in Hong Kong. These challenges include the impacts caused by COVID-19, the complexity of existing management system documents and instructions, and difficulties in managing some of the century-old waterworks assets.
WSD, as an asset-intensive utility, has implemented a series of measures to mitigate the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19, such as work delays, work-from-home arrangements and disruption of supply chains. Among these challenges, several have drawn particular attention because they might increase the potential risk of asset failure. These include the postponement of scheduled independent inspections by overseas reservoir safety specialists for impounding and service reservoirs, reduced manning levels to ensure staff keep socially distanced and maintenance or inspection work delays.
WSD’s uncompromising principle is that essential maintenance of critical waterworks assets cannot be unduly deferred otherwise the operation of waterworks might be compromised. With the new ISO 55001 compliant AMS, WSD is able to mitigate and minimise the impact of COVID-19. The AMS helps identify potential risks and prioritise the necessary work to optimise resource allocation through managing asset risks. Despite all the challenges, WSD has responded decisively to maintain reliable water supply services and deploy necessary resources to achieve most of the asset management objectives on time. Also, to rationalise the postponement of independent inspections by overseas specialists due to COVID-19, WSD promptly mobilised an in-house Reservoir Safety Team to conduct an additional risk assessment for reservoirs. Additionally, for some service reservoirs, WSD has arranged specialists to conduct remote inspections through visual images and videos.
Identifying areas for improvement and tackling challenges in managing century-old waterworks assets
In the development and facilitation workshops, working group members provided valuable input and identified areas for improvement to further strengthen the current asset management practices. Through this bottom-up approach, working group members across regions and relevant divisions/sections worked seamlessly and enthusiastically to share valuable experience in their fields, exploring every possibility and establishing improvement action plans. Members tackled challenges in managing the century-old waterworks assets, including applying performance and risk assessment instead of walkthrough inspection for some inaccessible service reservoirs and water tunnels.
Committing to optimising asset management
In addition to promulgating the Asset Management Policy by the Director of Water Supplies, WSD’s Senior Management has set up an Asset Management Steering Committee, underscoring their strong commitment to asset management. The committee is chaired by the Deputy Director of Water Supplies who steers and oversees the development, implementation, maintenance and continual improvement of the AMS in WSD.
Adopting a comprehensive life cycle approach in the AMS
With the implementation of ISO 55001, WSD takes a comprehensive life cycle approach for the planning, design, construction, project management, operation, maintenance, replacement and disposal of waterworks assets and associated M&E equipment. WSD makes optimised decisions to meet future demands, ensuring sustainability and improving operational reliability and efficiency. Also, WSD aims to minimise the risks of failure while maintaining service levels and allocating resources and priorities for the various works required on the waterworks assets according to risk analysis. Pursuing every opportunity for continuous improvement, WSD has assessed various improvement options based on the life cycle approach including establishing a strategic asset management plan and a long-term improvement plan.
Incorporating existing best practices of asset management
Over the years, WSD has progressively built up a solid foundation for asset management by putting in place the essential components of an AMS such as comprehensive asset inventory, regular asset condition assessment and replacement, and a risk management system. In addition, WSD has implemented a host of international asset management best practices by drawing on the experience of leading overseas water utilities. This has played a significant part in the smooth ISO certification within a short timeframe.
Using Reliability Centred Maintenance (RCM) as an example, WSD has conducted RCM studies since 2008 forselected M&E assets among major water treatment works and pumping stations/houses to analyse the failure modes and causes of assets to determine the most cost-effective and targeted maintenance strategies and techniques to minimise the risks and impact of asset failure.
The scope of the asset management system includes, among others, water treatment works and impounding reservoirs around Hong Kong
An outstanding achievement
In December 2020, the AMS was successfully awarded its ISO 55001 certificate as planned, due to the tremendous effort and enthusiastic participation by WSD staff at all levels combined with the professional service offered by WSD’s Consultant Team. WSD has demonstrated its commitment to attaining world-class performance in asset management and delivery of quality water supply services by the certification to ISO 55001 standard of the most complex AMS in Hong Kong with a wide spectrum of assets.
The new AMS has raised WSD’s asset management capability to the next level and has helped instil an asset management culture among its staff. WSD will continue to make every effort to enhance its asset management performance. The valuable lessons gained from the ISO certification process form a strong foundation for extending the ongoing AMS endeavour to cover the remaining waterworks assets, which include more than 8,300 km of underground water mains and some 350,000 valves and hydrants.
The authors would like to thank the working groups, colleagues from various regions, divisions and sections of WSD, and TQM Consultants Co. Limited for their efforts on this project. The zero non-conformance accomplishment in the certification audit as well as the reduced AMS documentation of the project are a result of the valuable concerted efforts of all involved parties.
About the authors
- Ir Dr Aaron Tong is the Managing Director and Principal Consultant of TQM Consultants Co. Limited.
- Ir P H Cho is the Chief Engineer (E&M) of WSD.
- Miss Oni Pang is the Consultant of TQM Consultants Co. Limited.