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UX/Service Design case study for Sydney Water

Web Applications (Backflow & RAS)

The Company

Sydney Water is a New South Wales Government–owned statutory corporation that provides drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services to 5+ million people in Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains regions.

Founded in 1882, they are the largest water management organisation in Australia, employing over 2,500 full-time and contract staff.

The Project

This project involved the replacement of two existing applications. Both applications included customer and staff portals:

1. Backflow Prevention

  • Backflow prevention allows Sydney Water to eliminate the risk of drinking water contamination by dangerous pollutants produced by businesses.
  • At risk Businesses must install a Backflow containment device that is tested annually by certified Backflow plumbers.
  • The plumbers submit their test results to Sydney Water via the Backflow customer portal.

2. RAS (Retail Ancillary Services)

  • RAS provided Property Link brokers with access to property documents such as Section 66, 88g, SSD, SLP, BAS, BOS, and SMR.
  • It also provided NSW Office of Fair Trading users access to property information for vetting plumber applications.

My role

I was the UX lead for the project as part of a very large (20+), multi-disciplinary team. I was very fortunate to work alongside an extremely competent and experienced BA, and our collaboration, together with an adaptive and progressive dev team, was key to the successful outcome of the project.

The Problem

Both applications were extremely old and obviously suffered from response time and security issues. But other, more user-centric issues were revealed during the HCD research. These issues affected both users and business stakeholders.

  • The usability of the Backflow app was so bad, users were frequently contacting the call centre for assistance, and repeatedly skipping a crucial part of the test lodgement process.
  • The Backflow app was primarily needed for field work, but was not mobile friendly, and so presented serious usability issues for customers and audit staff.
  • For RAS, one of the biggest problems was the lack of input validations that resulted in many Broker document requests failing and going into an exception queue.

The impact

The inaccurate information being entered into the Backflow system by external users had to be manually rectified by Sydney Water staff that, together with the handling of the call centre inquiries, were resulting in significant costs for the business unit.

RAS was seeing 70,000 exceptions annually requiring manual fixes involving 3 full-time Sydney Water staff, and equally time consuming work-arounds for the external users.

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A Backflow prevention device being tested by a plumber

Quick Check app screen. Part of the old RAS system

Sample of document accessed by the property brokers

A particularly confusing part of the old Backflow app

Contextual interview with a member of the Sydney Water Backflow support team

Contextual interview with the head of the Sydney Water Backflow Audit team

The old app was not mobile-friendly, so the Audit team members struggled with glare when trying to use it on-site on their laptops

Contextual interview with an Infotrack property broker staff member (manager)

A whiteboard created to map out the test submission part of the Backflow user journey

One of the 114 interactive prototype pages created for the project

The Process

Discovery phase activities

  • SME interviews and workshops
  • Contextual enquiries with users (staff and customers)
  • Online surveys on multiple website pages
  • Email survey of the backflow plumbers
  • Google Analytics reports
  • Call centre data analysis
  • Presentations (with embedded video clips) to business stakeholders (PowerPoint)
  • Service blueprint development (Visio)
  • Business value/user pain point mapping matrices (Excel)

The HCD (Human Centred Design) activities at the start of the process (pre-COVID), included contextual enquiries (interviews with users in their normal work environment), with end users, SMEs and support staff.

These sessions were videoed and analysed to get a deep understanding of the products and the user journeys, and to identify and highlight user pain points.

The findings from these sessions were synthesised and presented back to the SMEs and the product owner to keep them abreast of the pain points discovered, and to validate our conclusions.

The data was then distilled into several service blueprints illustrating where those pain points occurred in the various user journeys.

5 website surveys and 1 email survey were also launched.

Overall 30 hours of videos were recorded and 50+ pain points were identified.

The pain points were weighted in collaboration with Business, and analysed to ensure business requirements were met, and the most significant the pain points would be addressed.

1 of the 5 current-state service blueprint documents created

1 of the 5 Business value/User pain point matrices created

Discovery phase outcomes

As a result of the research activities our Business stakeholders were able to validate their requirements, ensuring the future experience would maximise customer satisfaction, and achieve the business goals.

Many features were added into the product backlog (and a few removed), to refine the product development roadmap.

Our research highlighted that one requirement in particular (input validation), that business thought had been already been included, had somehow been left out.

Delivery phase activities

During this stage, Agile methodology was employed in conjunction with Lean UX and n-2 elaboration. This involved BA & UX collaboration in storyboarding and story mapping, two sprints ahead of the sprint delivery team.

HCD outcomes from the discovery phase were workshopped with Business to define the user journeys and create the initial low-fidelity prototypes and refine the final prototypes.

Delivery phase outcomes

  • Low-fidelity prototyping
  • Business workshops to refine stories and create high-fidelity prototypes
  • Tech grooming with finalised prototypes
  • 10 pre-sprint usability testing sessions were conducted with customers, using high-fidelity fully interactive prototypes
  • 114 interactive prototype pages were created, many having up to 18 sub-screens

The final products

The two applications were extremely complex, involving the integration of multiple platforms (including SAP), and dozens of APIs.

Fortunately, my background in web development, and other previous large projects, enabled me to understand these complexities, and promote the HCD aspects in a authoritative way to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Budget and time constraints combined with the COVID restrictions to increase the difficulties in completing the project. But the team pulled together incredibly well, despite these, to bring to fruition a successful project.

The final applications are clean, intuitive, mobile-friendly interfaces that meet all of the user and business needs.

Unfortunately, the same budget constraints mean I won't be around to do the post-production user testing, but I have full confidence in the final product achieving it's goals.


"The HCD input on this project resulted in an easy to use, intuitive product that will reduce support calls, and save us money."

Tegan Van de Linden
Key Business stakeholder/SME - RAS/Backflow
Sydney Water


"Arran’s UX and interpersonal communication skills were crucial, and the user interviews provided much needed intel that we have drawn upon again and again throughout the project design. His HCD approach resulted in an easier journey for the customer/user, reduced the change management impact, and improved user acceptance.

Arran played an instrumental role in securing HCD’s use in future Sydney Water IT projects. It’s a win/win for both the users and the business."

Matt Edwards
Key Business stakeholder/SME - RAS/Backflow
Sydney Water


"Arran demonstrates a strong customer and business centric approach to Human Centered Design/User Experience discovery and recommendations. His work on this project has positively influenced project scope and customer experience benefits."

Greg Staveley
Product Owner - RAS/Backflow
Sydney Water

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