Utility mapping solution digdat, turns 20 this year. To celebrate, company director Kevin Brown reflects back on the last two decades delivering online solutions to the utilities industry.
When digdat was born 20 years ago, not one of us anticipated how revolutionary a utilities mapping solution could be. Enabling better communication and improved customer service between utility companies and their customers is the name of the game. But digdat has gone on to evolve much further – providing a service where customers can report and upload any issues directly with their water supplier and a portal for the wholesale market to talk straight to their retail customers.
Whatever the application, the goal is the same: clear, accurate and timely updates.
digdat Utilities, where it all began…
Originally, digdat’s now unique technology was designed to solve a very specific problem – keeping people safe from asset strikes. Historical utilities mapping was just that – historical. Often out of date paper maps were kept in central locations, making them inaccessible and often inaccurate.
The initial brief for digdat services sounded simple – update all the Anglian Water information on its infrastructure and operational boundaries and instead of using paper maps, they would be uploaded onto the web.
The reality was a huge undertaking. Anglian Water alone has enough water pipeline to go to Australia and back again and enough sewer pipe to go around the world twice. But there were great efficiencies to be made not only in the accessibility of being able to look at maps from anywhere, but in the ability to more accurately dig a hole in the right place!
Throwback to 1999, when digdat started its journey. “Getting online” involved complicated configurations and while dial-up connections were slow and clunky, they were the only affordable way for people to access the web. There were no smart phones or tablets and digdat was the only online service of its kind in the UK. It’s hard to believe but we even provided paper copies of maps to customers, using large plotters and printers.
20 years on…
Fast forward 20 years and now, the technology world is in a completely different (cyber) space, with cloud services, high speed internet access and demands for 24/7 services on multiple devices. The digdat solution has seen many upgrades and developments to keep up to speed with industry changes and technological advances, but it continues to provide an essential service to utility companies throughout Great Britain and has expanded its services significantly.
Not only does digdat hold information about all the statutory boundaries for all water companies, but data for gas, electric, local council and communications utilities too.
Today, digdat Utilities has over 8,000 active users of the service, including 100 utilities, 400 local authorities and 500 contractors, providing 24/7 access to multi-utility underground assets. Over 3.5m maps are streamed, viewed and printed every year, and this is forecast to increase to over 5m per year in 2020.
After digdat Utilities, digdat Connect was the next service launched in 2013. A completely free solution to make life easier for anyone who needs to look up which utility companies and councils are responsible in a given area. The solution is simple and easy to use and has all the necessary links and contacts for users to be able to get in touch with relevant organisations in a timely fashion.
‘In Your Area’ Communication Service
In 2015, digdat identified an opportunity to help utility companies improve their customer communications and the ‘In Your Area’ service was born. ‘In Your Area’ is a hosted, white labelled information service that enables organisations to both send and receive real-time service notifications through a website. Fully integrated with messaging, emails and social media, it can reduce calls to customer services and improve customer engagement.
Last year alone, it was used to send over one million notifications, keeping customers informed on incidents relevant to them.
In 2019 the service is still advancing, with the addition of the “Report a Leak” functionality, which enables locations to be pinned and photos to be uploaded by customers. 2019 also saw the launch of the first ever fully bi-lingual version of the solution for Welsh Water.
digdat’s Retailer Notification Service
Most recently came the addition of the Retailer Notification Service (RNS). The system was devised alongside the opening of the water retail market.
RNS helps water wholesalers communicate with new water retailers regarding service issues. Using an intuitive online system, it provides a live view of disruptions or incidents that have the potential to impact non-household customers. It provides a structure to manage communication to and from retailers and enables a high volume of notifications to be effectively managed in one place, nationally. Two years on and 70% of all retailers in Great Britain have access to RNS with more coming online every day.
The next 20 years
digdat has seen a huge growth in demand for its services, particularly over the last five years. The focus on providing excellent customer service has really moved to the next level within the utility industry. As a result, water and energy companies are seeking out solutions to ensure they are communicating more effectively, accurately and efficiently with customers. Companies like Anglian Water – who have recently been voted number one in the water industry for customer service- are continually looking for new ways to keep improving their standards. The need to continually improve, evokes innovation which can only help propel customer service to a whole new level and digdat will continue to evolve to meet those needs in the future.