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Delivering telecommunications in SA

Simon Blom, Head of Energy Infrastructure for Enerven recently announced that the Project Delivery Team for a significant national telecommunications project had been awarded the, 'Remote SA', bundle of work, which will see the team begin works in Ceduna, Coober Pedy, Port Lincoln, Roxby Downs and Tumby Bay early next year.

With the change in federal government introducing a host of changes nationally to this project, we met with Simon Blom, to find out how the landscape has changed, what some of the challenges have been, and the successes they're experiencing as the project continues to move forward.

"The old master agreement is now complete, which was a design and construct contract", Simon told us. "There has been a change in the clients technology, so we've gone from a design and construct, to a construct-only contract.

"The client has effectively moved away from fibre to the premise, to fibre to the node technology. So we're now building a different type of telecommunications network, which has seen quite a significant shift in the skill sets within the project delivery unit. We no longer require the full design capability and have reduced our fibre requirement, as there's much less fibre, but a whole new copper component to the project that didn't exist before. In addition to managing the fibre capability, Rob Coleman [Engineering Manager] has built up a rather significant copper workforce".

Simon told us that they had to negotiate out of the existing contract and reapply for a new contract with the change in government. "Nationally everyone now works under the same master agreement", he said. "Part of the change in the direction of the project was there would be at least two delivery partners in each state. They tendered to a select group Australia-wide, so we were competing nationally for this contract".

The project Delivery team successfully won the new contract, with Fulton Hogan announced as the other delivery partner in South Australia. "We're predominantly doing the north of SA, while they're predominantly doing the south. The whole project is managed geographically", Simon said.

"While the transition to the new contract was quite challenging, we're in a really good space with the client. We're recognised as having some of the best quality in the nation, and very high safety standards, which we're regularly audited on.

"We submit for completion on each bundle of work, and we're one of the only delivery partners to have gone through this process with zero non-conformances; which is very unusual. We've also completed some of the fastest builds in Australia, and some of the most remote builds [Tennant Creek]. Despite being one of the last delivery partners to be signed up to the new contract as we had a tail of work on the old contract, we were then the first delivery partner to complete a build in Australia.

"We've had quite a few firsts under our belt, which is great; and it's a real credit to the team. Only recently we're one of the first delivery partners in Australia to construct a pillar retrofit solution which is part of a new technology that the client is working on".

The client gives out work bundles in six month instalments, with the next six months of work based on the team's performance over the last quarter, explained Simon. "There is a lot of pressure to be performing well on a quarterly basis; you can't drop the ball and expect to catch up later", he said. "As it stands, we're performing above average nationally".

The current work bundle is North of Adelaide, including Kadina, Port Pirie, and Wallaroo. "Later this year, we'll have 25 different work fronts open at the same time; which is a significant amount of work", Simon said.

To help delivery partners recruit and train copper workers, the client developed a national advertising and recruiting scheme. "It's been quite a challenge for the project nationally as copper skills have been diminishing over the last decade; especially with the strategy of copper networks being replaced by fibre", Simon said. "With the change in the clients technology, these skills are now very important.

While we originally expected recruiting skilled people to be difficult, but we've been able to recruit trainee and experienced copper jointers without having to rely heavily on the national advertising and recruiting scheme".

With the transition from the old contract to the new, the team moved back to Station Place. "We were based at Greenhill Road for a couple of years, but when the design component was essentially removed, we didn't need the space anymore", Simon said. "Being remote had its own challenges, so it's been a good move".

"We're doing other work with the LiDAR equipment for other customers", he said. "For example, we've worked on the new tram line in Melbourne, mapped a cemetery, and have done some work with the Victorian government and BHP. We've got some skills in that area and at some point, it will be very useful for the rest of the business as well".

"Thanks to the continued great work by the entire delivery team, we are well placed to keep delivering project outcomes to our client".