Water utilities and entities have long interacted with service providers for the planning, delivery, operation and maintenance of capital infrastructure. These projects, to sustain capital, sustain services or meet growth needs, have historically been contracted in single transactional engagements.
However, there is now a growing trend towards long-term, and more integrated and collaborative, partnering in the sector for flexibility and agility in infrastructure outcomes with high levels of innovation and value for money. This is particularly the case when it comes to planning, refurbishment and renewal of their existing asset base to sustain their capital and sustain the services expected by customers and regulators.
At OzWater 2021, Aurecon hosted a workshop with industry on how the country’s water utilities are seeking to foster closer, more efficient working relationships through partnering.
Seven panellists from industry shared their experiences with partnering, and provided lessons learned for future partnerships. Workshop attendees unpacked the value, opportunities and risks behind the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of partnering, and explored what partnerships must do, should do, and must not do.
This paper presents a summary of the workshop outputs along with reflections from Aurecon on why and how strong partnerships can provide legacy benefits for utilities and their communities.
Over the course of the workshop, Aurecon observed that the water industry has a general desire to move along the relationship spectrum (Figure 1) to partnering (far right of Figure 1) – where integration is the platform for a ‘one-team’ approach with shared risk and alignment around outcomes.
In this section, we provide a thematic analysis of the drivers and legacy opportunities that long-term partnering may provide the industry, as a reflection of the workshop outputs.
Incentivised partnering contracts should measure performance against the benefits that customers receive, with fit-for-purpose infrastructure addressing their needs today and in the future.
A primary driver of efficiency and value in the water sector is accountability to customers and the community (Figure 2).
Utilities and industry partners are placing customers at the heart of their business; this is driving a focus on value for money and enhancing quality of life for them. To support this, decisions around catchments, water supply, innovation and efficiency are triggered by what impacts they have on customers:
A partnership has to be given the time, passion and energy it needs to flourish so that familiarity is built between parties. This is time dedicated to focusing on the culture, and development of the team, as this is vital given the engagement is no longer transactional.
With an integrated team, management attention must be paid to team health, the adoption of common values, and demonstration of the meaningful and positive behaviours expected in a combined organisation.
True partnering means that all partners can understand the whole system approach to the extent that’s necessary for their specific role, and can invest the time and innovation into how each carries out their part within these broader contexts.
This means a shift from short-term focus on time, cost and quality measured now on this project, to a broader, long-term focus on driving efficiency across the programmes of work, and measurement of outcomes, at a portfolio level. It also means efficiency is gained across the partnership – and the value chain.
Examples of current partnerships point to the ability to flex resourcing to adapt to scope development and changes, along with driving better outcomes on managing the ebbs and flows of resourcing requirements. This is in comparison to a transactional approach where labour is usually prescribed, and any changes attract variations.
Partnering will flourish when there is a sense of empowerment among all parties, transparency in communications, and the motivation to act a certain way – by building a culture of authenticity.
A key driver for entering into a partnership is to leverage complementary skillsets and diversity of thought as the project or programme scope is co-defined. It requires leadership. Common to the partnering approach is the desire for genuine, honest, open and transparent leadership. It is one of the hardest things to get right. Everyone should be empowered to show personal leadership regardless of their role.
There are two aspects to leaving a legacy that partnering can deliver. The first is the community legacy by contributing to sustainable, liveable and healthy places and spaces. The second is the legacy that partners leave for each other, and the industry, through building and sharing new knowledge, capability and ways of working.
Co-developing a legacy plan and setting the aspects to be achieved through the partnership can be a powerful way to embed the desired future state into day-to-day operations.
By promoting collaboration and focusing diverse skillsets on problem solving, partnering has the power to produce sustainable results with a systematic approach of integrated solutions rather than addressing issues in isolation.
Workshop participants were animated in their discussions around the legacy that partnerships leave, however there was one strong theme – start the way you mean to finish. This includes planning time for managers to invest in the relational aspects, and budgeting for the overheads to drive partnership behaviour.
Our reflection on this is to be open to trying out something entirely different, or implementing an innovative idea, as this will lower the barriers to getting started. Be responsive when things go wrong – partners need to be prepared to jump in and work together under this new framework.
Partnering also doesn’t need to be limited to a client and a service provider. All parties connected to the partnership should be involved in working towards the long-term common goals of the partnership. This is a true reflection of a ‘one-team’ culture.
In creating these environments, the partnering approach delivers on creating value-for-money, a greater customer and community focus, as well as a legacy for the community and the organisations involved.
What we have learned by exploring the benefits and the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of partnering in the water sector is that there is a significant shift taking place in our industry that is leading to service improvements and leaving a lasting legacy for customers.
Thank you to the Australian Water Association for providing the platform at OzWater 21 to explore this industry opportunity further. We invite you to discover more of our Water partnerships – whole of system thinking and to engage with our team on your feedback and ideas.
This is a conversation that the water sector will continue to collaboratively explore as we meet the challenges of population increase and ensuring network resilience.
Julian Briggs is Aurecon’s Design Director for Water and Wastewater Treatment, with more than 20 years of industry experience. His focus is working with clients and partners on process design and modelling of wastewater plants, nutrient removal and membrane bioreactors. He is passionate about providing clients with effective solutions that optimise use of assets and resources, with a balanced consideration of competing drivers.
Dr Robert Holmes is Aurecon’s People and Change Leader. He is a trusted advisor, keynote speaker, researcher and performance coach who integrates the latest in neuroscience to teams in partnerships and projects. Think culture change, high performing teams and organisational transformation. His focus is helping people to work at full potential, achieving high performance, restoring balance and building resilience.
Kevin Werksman is Aurecon’s Global Water Leader, responsible for leading global water teams to imagine and co-discover solutions with community to solve water challenges and create the world people want to live in. One drop is all it takes to create a ripple, and he encourages teams to be bold, lead the conversation, and together with clients and partners, make a real impact.
Lisa Currie is Aurecon’s Client Leader for Sydney Water. She has worked in the Australian water industry for more than 20 years. With qualifications in both engineering and business administration, Lisa has held a variety of technical, project delivery and management roles in both the private and public sector. Her experience spans from drinking water, wastewater and recycled water process engineering, project delivery and operations, to water strategy and policy development, water sensitive urban design, sustainability, advocacy for regulatory reform and organisational change management. Lisa is passionate about creating more sustainable, climate resilient and liveable places through water sensitive urban design and integrated water cycle management.
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