Steps to unlocking water data capability

Ruth Clarke
Ruth Clarke

The water sector has made good progress with digitisation – the capturing of data for storage and processing – writes Ruth Clarke, head of digital, Xylem UK and Ireland.

This large-scale analogue-to-digital conversion means there is certainly no shortage of data within utilities. The challenge is embedding digital technologies in everyday operations to unlock this data and improve outcomes – the process of digitalisation.

UK water companies are at different stages in their digitalisation journeys. Smart platforms, which bring lots of data together in near real-time to provide additional insights for operational teams, in particular present valuable opportunities for growth and innovation.

While no two projects will ever be the same, there are common challenges which can be addressed by taking the following steps:

Company-wide digital strategy

Digital transformation of the sector is still at the early stages and will stretch far beyond the current asset management plan (AMP) period. A company-wide digital strategy should look at the bigger picture, setting out a clear longer-term journey.

The plan should encourage a consistent approach. Running projects on an ad-hoc basis can mean the same steps are repeated, especially around the organisation of data. An effective strategy should remove repetition, helping facilitate faster adoption of digital solutions, while incurring less cost.

Clear project definition

Everyone involved in the project should be working towards the same goals. Digitalisation projects can involve several departments such as IT, data owners, asset managers, geographic information system (GIS) teams and hydraulic modellers, who should all understand what is required and what success looks like.

A well laid-out project scope, with milestones and responsibilities, will keep the project on track. It will also ensure the project does not drift, which can occur if it is taken in a direction different to the original scope.

That is not to say that things cannot change. Inevitably they will. But keep in mind what the project is trying to achieve at this stage. Objectives can always expand later, once the project has proved what it set out to prove.

Current digital maturity

Is the appropriate data available at the right time and in a useable format to those who need it? Are there clear data owners who can facilitate?

Does the IT policy enable easy access to that data? If a project is to move forward successfully, the answer to all these questions must be yes.

Stakeholder buy-in

All teams integral to the delivery of a project should be engaged and supportive of its vision and timeline. If a data owner cannot provide the required data before a deadline, for example, the timeline will slip, and the project may stall.

Buy-in from the platform’s end-users is just as important, but often overlooked. Does the project team understand the real challenges the end-users are facing?

For teams working under pressure, such as control room operators, any new process should make day-to-day tasks simpler and more efficient. An understanding of how end-users work and what they would see as a process improvement is essential before a new platform is embedded.

Input from all parties will pave the way for a successful adoption and ensure the investment delivers real value for all.

Solution flexibility

Once in place, a new platform will run more efficiently if the end-users are able to make certain adjustments themselves – such as to the way data is presented or how it is being interrogated. Having this capability means companies do not have to wait for a supplier to make necessary changes on their behalf, they can do it themselves without delay.

Recognising the need for flexibility, Xylem’s integrated software and analytics platform, Xylem Vue powered by GoAigua, was designed to be vendor-agnostic, and can capture water and wastewater data from any source. This enables the platform to provide a 360-degree view of the status for all processes and infrastructure across the entire water-cycle.

Digitalisation now spans every aspect of the water sector and there are success stories in many areas, including smart metering and leakage reduction. In line with AMP8 priorities, I expect focus to shift to platforms that help reduce combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges and pollution events.

Now is the time for water companies to undertake a thorough appraisal of where they are – operationally and digitally – and where they want to be, making sure all stakeholders are engaged and ready to support the transition. The process of unlocking the full capability of water company data can then move forward at pace.

SourceXylem

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