Sustaining Saudi Arabia’s water supplies

Keeping SWCC running at optimal performance involves a major information technology program

Tags: Enterprise Asset ManagementInfor ( Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC)Saudi Arabia
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Sustaining Saudi Arabia’s water supplies Saline Water Conversion Corporation has a number of different projects underway as part of its e-transformation program, says Al-Khedher. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  February 25, 2015

The rapid development of the Gulf region has been driven by several factors — the wealth brought by oil and the strength of leadership shown by the rulers stand out – but growth has also been achieved in spite of a lack of one vital resource — water. While fresh water may not be naturally available in large quantities on the Arabian Peninsula, the boom in population, industry and economic activity would not be possible without a supply of water. To support this demand, the Gulf has had to adopt technologies to manage the sources of fresh water that it has, and to create new sources such as desalination.

Saudi Arabia’s Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), officially founded in 1974, is one of the leaders in the field of desalination, with a network of 27 desalination plants around the Kingdom, along with 19 transmission systems and over five thousand kilometres of pipeline, along with power plants required to power the process. The government-owned corporation today produces 3.15 million cubic meters of fresh water and 3,355 megawatts of electricity every day. SWCC has also become a major centre of research and development of desalination technologies.

Abdullah Al-Khedher, e-Transformation Program Director, Saline Water Conversion Corporation, pointed out the importance of the corporation for Saudi Arabia: “In terms of importance, the corporation is a major player in this industry, we are the largest producer globally [of desalinated water], we do about 20% of global production. Country-wide we produce 60% of the water produced in the country, and we are the second largest electrical producer.”

Producing such large volumes of water and power is no mean feat, requiring an extensive, complex base of industrial plants. The technology used in desalination is also very intensive, involving sensitive machinery, high temperatures, and high pressure. To keep SWCC and its complex plant running requires a robust regular maintenance program and good management of assets, but developing and managing such a program has taken time.

For a long time, SWCC was reliant on an in-house asset management system. With the growth of the corporation however, the in-house solution became outdated. The solution had a number of drawbacks, such as no effective equipment history for the assets, poor estimating accuracy, no way of integrating budget management into the system, no way of carrying out predictive maintenance, and a heavy reliance on paperwork, along with rising support costs. Different plants were also applying different maintenance programs, with no consistency of process or practice.

The corporation began an assessment of enterprise asset management solutions to find a replacement. The requirements for the system were that it could integrate with other operational and financial management systems, and that it would provide automated procedures, real-time evaluation, management, decision support, and self-improvement, at a low total cost of ownership.

Through the assessment process, SWCC selected a solution from Datastream, which was subsequently acquired by Infor, with the solution renamed as Infor EAM. The Infor solution won out because it was the right fit in terms of size, right fit for the utilities sector and cost of implementation.

The initial deployment, at SWCC’s Khobar plant, was carried out by SWCC’s staff and Infor, and was soon managing a huge number of assets for the corporation.

Al-Khedher explained: “The first implementation in 2003, at that time it was the largest and fastest implementation outside the US, we had done the whole implementation in three months, and at that time it was 110,000 items, all tagged, with the details of the equipment, the maintenance program. Now there are more than half a million tag numbers in the system.

“It is an asset-intensive company - that is why we use EAM. The asset value of the corporation is around $25-30 billion dollars.”

The corporation was keen to develop its own inhouse team to manage the solution, and invested in building internal capacity. The corporation created a core team of five functional and technical personnel, with a project manager, who rolled out Infor EAM to the rest of the corporation’s plants. The web-enabled capabilities of the Infor solution was another important factor in selecting the solution, because it allowed the corporation to connect all plants to a single central database in Riyadh, with a single instance of the application running all plants. Although each plant has its own maintenance requirements, the single instance has enabled SWCC to create standard practices for its maintenance teams, Al-Khedher said.

“The company was suffering from using different maintenance systems at different plants, so one of the things we standardised was the processes. All maintenance managers are now talking the same language, that is a very important issue for us,” he said. “Today, after a decade of implementation, everything comes from Infor. People are appointed, they are trained and they adopt Infor [practices].

While the corporation has focused on implementing basic functionality for each plant, with a support team at each plant, it has also constantly upgraded the solution, and is now positioned to play a central role in a corporation-wide transformation ahead of potential privatisation. At the end of 2011, a new Governor was appointed for SWCC, Dr Abdulrahman Al-Ibrahim, and he has implemented a program to transform the corporation, including a an Electronic Transformation Program, e-TP to implement global best practice and create end to end processes which will link the full value chain starting from the R&D, planning, projects, through to production and transmission.

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