Blacktown City Council

Blacktown City Council recognised by Local Government Excellence Awards

Blacktown City Council recognised by Local Government Excellence Awards

Our friends at Blacktown City Council have recently been recognised for their outstanding efforts towards innovative service delivery. The Council has recently received ‘Highly Commended’ status in the ‘Service Delivery Initiative – Population Over 60,000’ category of the Local Government Excellence Awards for 2020 for the Blacktown City Council VAPAR Pilot Project we partnered on in 2019.

According to the Awards, the ‘Service Delivery Initiative’ category recognises ‘initiatives that demonstrate best practice (outstanding action), or the pursuit of excellence in the delivery of a service(s) to the community or a specified target market that is able to be continued on an ongoing basis.’

The Local Government Excellence Awards highlighted that Blacktown City Council’s embrace of innovative technology (that’s where VAPAR comes in) to improve service delivery was pivotal in their achievement of ‘Highly Commended’ status.

About the Pilot Project

As part of their review of Asset Management Strategy and Support Services in 2018-2019, the Council’s Better Practice Review (BPR) Program identified the management of drainage infrastructure as a key area for practice improvement, especially considering Blacktown’s projected population rise to 560,000 by 2050.

Specifically, Council were interested in engaging a technology which allowed them to better utilise data to drive the planning and decision-making for its Asset Management Plans. Due to their labour-intensive nature, visual pipe inspections had not previously formed part of the data collected for asset management condition assessments. Instead, Council had relied on ‘estimated useful life projections’ in its asset management plans for pipes.

This is where our partnership with Blacktown City Council began – a trial inspection of 3km of pipe CCTV footage, with a view to finding a solution to proactively manage the Council’s 1,160km of pipe infrastructure and make data-driven decisions moving forward. Finding a viable solution to this challenge was something that Council’s Asset Planning Engineers had been keen to tackle for some time.

By project end, the Pilot Project had demonstrated an overall success rate of 84.6% in the identification of pipe defects. Most importantly, Council had taken steps to adopt a technology-based approach to their service delivery, allowing them to inform Drainage Asset Management Plans with standardised asset condition data.

What made Blacktown City Council stand out from their peers?

By seeking a technological solution to address a key area for practice improvement highlighted by the BPR Program, Blacktown City Council were able to greatly improve their service delivery, creating a proactive approach which utilised data to drive decision-making.

Even more crucially, Blacktown City Council were able to implement this change whilst also circumventing weeks of labour resources that would have been normally required (hooray for automation!).

The Local Government Excellence Awards highlighted that Blacktown City Council’s Pilot Project with VAPAR was an excellent example of how Blacktown City Council is embracing emerging technology as a mechanism for improving service delivery. The Awards felt that the Council’s partnership with VAPAR represented a great example of how councils can harness start-up technology companies to address complex asset management challenges.

So…Congratulations to the Blacktown City Council team!

Naturally, the team at VAPAR is enormously excited that our partners at Blacktown City Council have been recognised for their efforts; we feel that this recognition is a fantastic payoff to an organisation which walks the walk on their commitment to ‘Building the Best’ Council in Australia.

As such, we’d like to congratulate everyone from the Council who was involved in the Pilot Project, and commend the Council for their innovative and proactive approach in making data-driven decisions to make the delivery of asset management as effective as possible.


VAPAR and United Utilities collaborate on efficiency project and gear up for Phase 2

VAPAR and United Utilities collaborate on efficiency project and gear up for Phase 2

In September 2019, VAPAR became one of 8 companies who were selected by United Utilities to take part in their second Innovation Lab, facilitated by L Marks, an investment and innovation advisory firm. United Utilities are one of the biggest water companies in the UK – for some context, their network size is roughly 3 times the size of Sydney Water which is arguably one of the largest water utilities in the southern hemisphere.

Over 100 ideas were submitted to take part in United Utilities’ second innovation lab, with only 8 making it through the selection process from the ideas phase to the innovation lab. The other 7 companies who were selected to take part were:

The lab was structured as 10 weeks with the opportunity to co-locate in the United Utilities offices in Warrington to get to know the business units, use cases and processes in as much detail as was needed to provide value add solutions. To make the most out of this opportunity, VAPAR CTO, Michelle Aguilar, attended the lab for the full duration. Since this was United Utilities’ second innovation lab, they had buy-in from all stakeholders up front. Prior to the lab commencing, the United Utilities innovation leads had undertaken a significant amount of ground work, understanding who could be impacted, which key staff members should be involved, and how much time might be needed from the staff to make the lab as successful as possible for each team. The day the lab commenced, there was a 2 hour project meeting held to raise all concerns, voice desired outcomes, potential blockers and to ensure the assembled team were the right people to be involved. Meetings were set up with people on the ground to explain how the existing process works within the multiple business units, and also the contractors they work with. We were able to go out on site with UU contractors on multiple occasions which provided the opportunity for us to map out the processes undertaken end to end and understand where potential efficiencies could be found. We delivered a report based on these findings to the UU Transformation team on how the end to end process works and what actions could be taken to improve it. This report also detailed how VAPAR’s automated defect detection system could be integrated to provide objective third party assessments in a fast, scalable, centralised way to benefit both UU and their contractors. United Utilities provided VAPAR with a significant dataset to prove and improve the accuracy of VAPAR’s automated defect detection system. This huge volume of data provided us with the opportunity to develop and test ways in which the dataset could be curated in a scalable manner, and used to validate the accuracy of our system in accordance with the UK standard, the MSCC (Manual of Sewer Condition Classification), written by the WRc ( United Utilities facilitated a meeting for VAPAR with Peter Henley from the WRc to discuss the need for a way to accredit software like ours to the MSCC. Since the lab, United Utilities has taken the lead on driving the industry towards software accreditation to the standard, and VAPAR and WRc have worked together to develop such a specification. VAPAR had originally defined AI models to align with the Australian standard (WSA-05), and has since aligned its model outputs with the MSCC (UK standard) among others.

Through this process, VAPAR were able to make improvements to the AI models augmented by UU’s CCTV footage, gain insights on model performance across different datasets, achieve alignment with multiple standards, identify and understand several additional business use cases for the system, understand where our platform could fit into the end to end processes, and what additional capabilities we needed to add to streamline usage. VAPAR are now pleased to announce we will be continuing to work with United Utilities! Phase 2 of the Innovation Lab project is due to kick off in May and will be focused around:

  • Integrations to streamline process flow and optimise scheduling
  • Usability to increase visibility of data and improve process experience
  • Speed to provide quicker turnaround in multiple business units and keep customers happy
  • Accuracy and further granularity in defect classifications to improve data insights

Want to know more?

Want to discuss your requirements? New features are being planned now so please get in touch to get them into the next major release.

Read more about case study with the United Utilities here.


Round 2: Smart Cities and Suburbs Program

Round 2: Smart Cities and Suburbs Program

“While technology is important, it’s what we do with it that truly matters” – Muhammad Yunus

Smart City photo
Picture of a modern city

There is a lot to be said about the way smart technology can be implemented in our public sector, and just as much about the efforts to do so. It’s a bold move, without doubt, for government organisations to invest public money into the emerging smart technologies, and many have been shown to provide a lot of meaningful value back to the taxpayer.

The City of Darwin, for example, is implementing “city-scale smart infrastructure, including smart services (lighting, parking, wifi) integrated through an open IoT platform. This smart technology will contribute to city rejuvenation and, together with open data, will help to stimulate new partnerships and business growth, creating new job opportunities and helping to combat social and safety challenges”. This is one of 49 federal government initiatives funded as part of Round 1 of the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program where the local government agency or body has 2 years to bring their smart initiative to life – meaningfully.

At VAPAR, technology is applied for a deliberate, value creating purpose. We streamline resource intensive workflows relating to asset management using machine learning so that employees are more responsive to critical tasks. For example, AIMI (Artificial Intelligence Maintenance Inspection) software allows local government and water authorities to manage the visual inspection data from their ageing assets through an automated defect review system. In other words, AIMI watches the backlog of CCTV inspection footage and automatically outputs a condition report that meets infrastructure reporting requirements, in a variety of accessible formats. In this way, engineers and operators are freed up to address more critical tasks in the delivery and operational plans whilst meeting their OLG Special Schedule 7 or Financial Reporting requirements. Check out a quick demo here.

Applications are open for Round 2 of the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program from 5 May, 2018 to 2 July, 2018.

Talk to VAPAR today about how we can support your Round 2 Application to implement your smart vision for the community you support.