Water utilities face unprecedented challenges ranging from population growth and the changing climate, to regulatory pressures and delivering a better customer experience. All while being charged with adapting to technological advances and embracing digital transformation. In this article Kevin Doughty, Head of Utilities for Esri UK, explains how location technology is helping water companies across the UK transform their operations.

Kevin Doughty

Head of Utilities, Esri UK

The UK water industry is under tremendous pressure to improve the way it operates. While the 2019 price review (PR19) has a financial dimension to it, it also has a customer-centric focus. Ofwat has said it plans “to deliver PR19 in a way that is customer focused, long term and incentivises companies to innovate and be ambitious”.

Fortunately, water utilities have an incredibly powerful asset in their data: huge amounts of existing data, and data they constantly continue to generate. By embracing digital transformation, a business can turn large volumes of data into actionable information. Making that information available at the right time, in the right location, and in the right context, from a single version of the truth helps people to work together to collaborate, innovate, break down silos and deliver improved performance.

Digital innovation will be key to success and survival and location data and GIS (geographic information system) technology already plays a huge role enabling organisations build a connected workforce, modernise operational processes while delivering enhanced customer service.

Enhanced operational efficiencies

For those of us who have been working in the industry for many years it’s hard to believe that, until relatively recently, many organisations were still reliant on pen and paper in the field, to record assets.

Northumbrian Water presented at Esri UK’s Annual Conference back in May and shared how they are using location technology, as its primary field collection method, to circumvent traditionally slow-moving corporate development cycles and deliver high quality solutions, at a lower cost.

Clive Surman-Wells talked about how they were able to rapidly deploy ArcGIS Collector on iPhones, for use by field workers who are responsible for inspecting and verifying the position of wastewater assets and pipework. They reduced one 15-year mapping exercise down to three years and drastically reduced the costs of the exercise to £2million from the original budget of £10million, a fantastic example of how a forward-looking team has been able to deliver significantly enhanced operational efficiencies, with real-time data collection and analysis.

Exceptional customer service

Another key tenet of digital transformation is how having access to insight, based on the latest data and intelligence, can help to drive a more innovative approach to customer service.

Andy Nicholson, asset data manager at Wessex Water, explains it like this: “The more information you can provide, and the more engagement you can deliver, the more positive a customer is going to feel about your organisation. We can tell people on a live chat, for example, what’s happening in their local vicinity and when we will be working in their area next.”

It is this location-led approach that allows companies to take the information they hold and create a richer experience for customers.

“As a business we are constantly looking for new, creative ways to improve our customer communication and GIS gives us an ideal platform for innovation,” observes Andy.

Informing strategic decisions

Severn Trent Water is a good example of a water company that, since implementing a location technology solution, is using its data to make more informed strategic decisions about asset replacements. The company can also prevent potential asset failures from occurring and therefore avoid the added cost and inconvenience of emergency repairs.

When Northern Ireland Water selected Esri’s location platform as its new corporate GIS system, it didn’t just get all the functionality that the business needed. It also gained a suite of tools creating a ‘place of opportunity’ for improving its customers’ experience, reducing costs and removing inefficient processes. Call centre agents can deliver better customer service with immediate visibility of emerging situations. Engineers can design new water networks for developers, significantly faster with automated tools. And field-based teams can upload asset information direct to the Corporate Asset Register with mobile apps.

As Sara Venning, Chief Executive, says “Northern Ireland Water’s new corporate GIS, implemented using Esri technology, gives us the advantage of being able to swiftly deploy spatial solutions to aid decision-making.”

Where next?

Location technology is already helping water companies across the UK transform their operations. Ground-breaking GIS tools and techniques are empowering decision-makers to focus on the most effective customer-centric strategies and work with layers of data to uncover hidden insights and share them across the entire organisation.

Improving mission-critical operations gives companies the space to innovate. Already there is much discussion about how augmented reality and location can be combined so, for example, instead of having just a 2D map view, field workers in the future will be able to see the entire infrastructure around them, assets above and below ground. Embracing digital transformation is not only enabling the water industry to address today’s unprecedented challenges, but also invest in the future.

For more information: www.esriuk.com/water