Guest Post: Northern Gas Networks on Using Automation to Group Linear Assets

April 21, 2022 Ian Coates

A common problem for those managing large networks of linear assets is ensuring that all urgent and future work required in a specific area is being considered. Doing so helps minimize service outages and reduce costs by ensuring the work makes efficient use of time, labor, and equipment.

One can easily understand the increased costs to companies and impact to services when crews are constantly sent out to replace small sections of pipe. A better option is to plan a one-time project to repair a larger section—creating only a single instance of customer disruption. Understanding when these combinations should occur is the real challenge.

In January 2022, the Copperleaf® PIPES (Pipeline Investment Planning Excellence Summit) working group* enjoyed a presentation from Ian Coates, Asset Strategy Lead at Northern Gas Networks (NGN), who led a discussion on the value of Rules-based Grouping—a new capability within Copperleaf Asset™ that allows users to apply configurable rules to automate the process of bundling project work. In this article, Ian shares a recap of the discussion and highlights the benefits of Rules-based Grouping at NGN.


In September 2020, NGN initiated the second phase of our Copperleaf implementation. The scope was expanded to include new requirements, including regulatory asset risk reporting, long-term strategic planning functionality, and advancements in short- and medium-term investment planning capability. One specific area of new functionality was the installation of the linear bundling feature, called Rules-Based Grouping.

I kicked off the January session with a short presentation and demo of Rules-based Grouping, which was followed by a roundtable discussion on various aspects and capabilities of the software. The following topics were discussed:

  • The need for a bundling tool to support the development and assessment of large volumes of distribution mains-based projects
  • The challenges associated with previous methods of project creation and assessment
  • The process to set up the asset registry for Rules-based Grouping in the Copperleaf system, including extracting pipe data from our GIS
  • The performance of the bundling capability, in terms of the validity and speed of the results
  • Next steps we’re considering to further improve the results as we begin to deploy these projects in short- and medium-term plans
  • A short demonstration of the Rules-based Grouping feature, including a view of the additional asset fields for connectivity data and the rule set used for early bundling runs

The presentation and demo stimulated a lot of questions and input from attendees. The main points of the discussion focused on how asset groups can be viewed in Copperleaf Asset as well as pushed to a GIS for visual analysis, and how these bundles can be further evaluated using Copperleaf’s predictive analytics capability where their costs and risks can also be considered in the analysis.

Overall, we’re very pleased with the value of Rules-based Grouping. It makes sense to group similar assets or areas of assets together to be more efficient in our work. Having software that can perform the groupings creates a very effective process by considering many aspects of an intervention.


Rules-Based Grouping was released with version 21.1 of the Copperleaf Decision Analytics Solution and is a significant innovation within Copperleaf Asset. By automating the grouping process with predefined rules for groups, this functionality saves time and ensures planners create realistic projects that target related assets. This results in time and cost savings for field teams and planners and, importantly, a reduction in service outages. This new feature also strengthens ties between Copperleaf Asset and Copperleaf Portfolio™, allowing users to define groups in Asset that can carry over to Portfolio, so that interventions on groups of related assets can be planned at the same time.

*PIPES is a working group made up of peers in the natural gas and water industries from North America and the UK, as well as members of the Copperleaf product team. If you’re a Copperleaf client interested in participating in the PIPES working group, please contact community@copperleaf.com.

About the Author

Ian Coates

Ian Coates is the Asset Strategy Lead at Northern Gas Networks (NGN), a gas distribution company serving over 2.7 million homes and businesses in the north of England.

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