22 June 2021 | Innovation | BY: XAIS Asset Management Ltd

New XAIS solution transforms contractor quality management

 

Poor defect repairs can damage reputations, undermine teamwork and ultimately reduce the life of important highway assets. So, XAIS worked with Rochdale Borough Council to create a quantitative mobile solution that improves inspections and enhances contractor relationships.

Rochdale Borough Council’s highways maintenance is delivered through a highways maintenance contract with a major contractor. Small scale pothole and safety repairs are carried out under a contractual model under which the contractor must repair a certain number of defects every year.

The existing long-term contract had an option to extend for a further period and, as part of the process of agreeing any such extension, Rochdale Borough Council reviewed the contractor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Anecdotal comments from members and incoming calls from the public suggested that a proportion of the repairs were not up to standard and the KPI analysis backed this up, with some issues emerging that needed to be addressed – the most important being that defect repairs were not being undertaken to specification.

A management challenge

Due to lack of resources, managing defect repair standards with the Council was very difficult – there weren’t enough people on the ground to check that every repair was being done to the expected standards and this impacted the Council in a number of ways.

Reputations were being damaged as members of the public complained about the Council’s approach and the contractor workmanship when repairs failed quickly. This had a knock-on effect internally with disagreements about contractor management and, most importantly, the network condition was deteriorating with asset lifecycles being shortened and funds being allocated to bring things back up to standard.

When deciding how best to tackle this challenge, Michael Aiken, Capital Programme and Design Manager at Rochdale Borough Council, turned to XAIS Asset Management – a long-term partner of the Council.

Michael explains: “We knew we had an issue and needed a solution. We needed something that could manage contractor KPIs – fitting into the scope of current and future contracts. Selfishly, I also wanted some flexibility. I wanted a solution that would not only cover pothole repair quality but be expanded to include data for other capital works programmes.

“Asset management was top of mind too. We needed a system that could document these repairs and, knowing the repair would last, we could make better decisions about future works programmes. Finally, because of the timescales involved, we needed a solution that was quick to implement. XAIS developed a system that ticked all of those boxes.”

Designing an effective mobile solution

In taking on the challenge, the first question the XAIS team examined was exactly what constituted a pass or a fail.

Richard Edwards, Chief Commercial Officer at XAIS Asset Management, explains: “Our initial investigations highlighted that there was a basic inspection process to assess a pass or a fail for the KPI. We knew that we could obtain more data – with opportunities to assess multiple patch attributes for a more informed decision-making process. We also agreed that a mobile solution was ideal for this challenge.”

After engaging with a materials expert, the team went through every possible attribute for a patch that could constitute a pass or a fail – covering both the material used and the workmanship.

In doing so, the team expanded the scope for data collection and were effectively future-proofing the solution by ensuring the system contained as much relevant information and visual evidence as possible.

Richard continues: “It’s important to recognise that this wasn’t about managing a relationship challenge between the Council and its contractor. Our role was very much about identifying a way to collect and use as much relevant data as possible to ensure better outcomes for everyone involved in the process.”

Bringing the solution to life

To design the mobile solution, the team created a process map that included a comprehensive list of questions that needed to be asked to understand the quality of the patch and collect other useful data such as the percentage of patching in a specific area.

The aim was to empower Rochdale Borough Council with a moveable failure threshold – which might incorporate a single attribute for instant failure or a mix of multiple attributes that combine for a failure. 

Once the process map was completed, the XAIS technical team transformed it into a visually engaging and simple to use interface to be used on a tablet – with check boxes, text areas, date selections and interactive map overlays – which the team onsite could work through step-by-step to pick out and understand every part of a patch.

The collected data was then seamlessly transferred into the Council’s XA© Asset Management System – with visualisation that allowed users to see the whole network and each one of the points where data had been collected with colour coding to indicate pass or fail.

Feedback and reporting

Having collected the data and compiled the initial reports it was time to share them with the contractor in question.

The data collected allowed XAIS to present scoring indices for the repair work undertaken. This in turn allowed Rochdale to not only understand a best to worst list of completed repair work but to also seek and highlight trends where workmanship met or did not meet specification. In essence, providing sound evidence of where an issue may lie and how best to tackle it.

Michael explains: “The initial report sharing was very interesting. Even though it’s a process that involves bad news, the reports were positively received by the contractor. The inspections are independent and unbiased so there’s little scope for argument. This is a black and white report with no hidden agendas. 

“As an added bonus for the contractor, thanks to the data visualisation, it is easy for them to identify pockets of substandard work on the network so they can look into retraining and upskilling of gangs as required. We can also filter the data in such a way to identify patterns of failures or defects to identify exactly what the issues are.”

An informed future

The patch inspection system has proven to be such a success that plans are in place to roll it out more widely. This will incorporate planned structural and preventative maintenance schemes in order to free up site engineer time and ensure a quality of workmanship which will guarantee the full lifecycle of the product is achieved.

Michael concludes: “It’s fair to say this project and system design has been a huge success. The turnaround time from initial discussions to having a live system onsite was very quick. More importantly, having presented the system internally we are committed to incorporating this system into any future contractor relationship that Rochdale Borough Council undertakes. It’s a win win for everyone and a big thank you to XAIS.”