Welsh Water has a network of over 26,500km of water mains suppling 3 million customers in parts of Wales and Hereford with over 800 million litres of drinking water every day. While most of the infrastructure serves customers well, with some parts of the network are over 100 years old, and a number of areas made up of unlined iron mains, Welsh Water has embarked on a major refurbishment scheme to improve the performance of water mains and provide a more reliable water supply for their customers.

As the only not-for-profit utility company in Britain, it is essential that any investment carried out by Welsh Water brings with it the biggest benefit possible for its customers. With this in mind the Zonal Study Programme was created to identify and address some of the main issues affecting the performance of their network by identifying worst performing areas, or ‘zones’.

The Zonal Programme is a cycle of continuous improvement centred on a Zonal Study and delivered through a collaborative approach across the clean water, capital and support functions of Welsh Water. It is a risk-based customer led success process that focuses on cost, customer and compliance to deliver the best performance and value for money for customers and the business. The programme of work is targeted against poor performance for key measures of success, specifically customer acceptability.

Analysis of performance data across Welsh Water operating areas over a three year period revealed that 75% of the poor performance of the business could be attributed to 30% of its Water Quality Zones. A £130 million programme over the current AMP, will invest in many of these zones and ensure over one million customers benefit from improved water quality and reliability of supply.

Using the Zonal Study approach provides geographical packages of work that allows for efficient scheme planning, procurement, early engagement of capital contractors and proactive customer engagement. Following capital intervention, a Zonal Care Plan is produced to enable effective asset maintenance and ensure long term optimal performance.

The Zonal Study approach allows Welsh Water to conduct a root cause analysis of systematic issues and prioritise investment. It examines over 1000 files of corporate information, often held in different business systems, ranging from customer contacts to asset information and deterioration factors. Data analysis simplifies the relationship between cause and effect of incidents over time.

Delivery of solutions is conducted in a source to tap approach, working with the flow of the water to enable the best possible results. The techniques used are most suited to reducing the customer impact and cost to the business.

Not all of the capital investment can be delivered at once nor can it all be delivered in the same geographical area. The team determined the delivery programme through a balance of the need for capital investment, the capacity of business functions to support the volume of work and disruption to customers. Therefore the delivery programme is based on completing 1 large or 2 small zones per operational area per year. Enabling colleagues in Welsh Water’s 6 operational areas to balance reactive and planned work more effectively. Business functions are also able to allocate resources to the programmes of work earlier.

Targeting of areas that most impact the service Welsh Water provides, enables the organisation to be more effective with the finances and assets entrusted to it by its customers. This marks a step change from previous approaches.

It is not only Welsh Water as a company that benefit from using the Zonal Study approach, as this process of investment planning also benefits their customers. The method ensures a reduced disruption over the AMP Period as all investment takes place in one year. Previously Welsh Water may have been working throughout the area across multiple years closing roads and disrupting the supply. The lessons learned to minimise disruption through Zonal Study will also benefit any emergency work too.

Using this approach also ensures better customer engagement with the process; with customers being aware of what work is being carried out in their area, the benefit it will bring and how it will impact on them.

The bespoke communications strategy for the Zonal Study programme by Welsh Water acknowledges that a variety of techniques are necessary to communicate with the range of customers they serve. Taking into account the varied demographic areas covered by the zones, the strategy uses a number of different communications techniques and tools to reach different customers. These include bespoke animations for online and social media, online targeted advertising, local advertising such as on buses, stakeholder site visits, direct mail, media relations, local school engagement. It also includes the use of dedicated customer information vans and customer engagement officers to visit areas where work is taking place to ensure customers are fully informed.

Consistent branding across working sites within communities also ensure customers see a joined up approach and sites are easily recognised as improvement work to their local drinking water network.

The Zonal Study approach has ensured Welsh Water has an improved understanding of how their network operates and improved both the quality of its hydraulic models and corporate data. This has led to better knowledge transfer and reduced customer disruption through efficiency in design of all scheme types. This is because the models enable the company to test multiple design scenarios to understand the network impact without operating the network.

The success of the Zonal Studies has resulted in Welsh Water completing more hydraulic modelling in 2015/16 than was completed in the previous decade. The total modelled distance is now just under 20,000km; an equivalent distance of half way around the Equator. As part of the studies, over 2500 pressure loggers were deployed during this timeframe and over 1500 developments assessed to support growth throughout the company’s operating area reducing the work required by the Hydraulic Modelling Team by 7 working years. This has also resulted in a better customer service for their in-house Developer Services team, now ranked best in the industry, and allowing early investment in growth schemes.

The studies have identified service reservoirs and water pumping stations for abandonment and have enabled the optimisation, downsizing and rationalisation of trunk main systems across its zones. This will also lead to thousands of pounds worth of potential energy savings through more efficient and effective system operation.

The process has also resulted in improved incident management through the contingency assessment, which allows Welsh Water to understand how they can supply customers during an incident. It has also reduced time required by all stakeholders to generate investment as the study is targeted, provides a detailed root cause analysis and a suite of schemes to satisfy both the Capital delivery process and regulatory targets.

As a company driven by customer led success, the Zonal Study approach puts customer at the heart of its work and ensures the investment by Welsh Water brings with it benefits to the customers and the service the company provides for its customers.