By Kevin Young, Managing Director, Sydney Water
Any water utility which isn’t in the digital utilities space is not going to be relevant in the future. Here, Kevin Young shares his thoughts about how water utilities can embrace the challenges we face as the industry rapidly evolves.
Sydney Water, like other water utilities around the world, has traditionally been driven by an engineering focus.
In Sydney Water’s case, this focus has certainly changed over recent times, and now, the customer is as the heart of our decision making.
The world is changing rapidly with huge improvements in technology. The first iPhone only came onto the market in June 2007.
Sydney Water has adapted to this rapid change in technology, by utilising already developed technologies to incorporate into our business practices, and by conducting our own research and development, often in collaboration with other utilities and universities across the world.
When Sydney Water’s existing Integrated Instrumentation Control Automation and Telemetry System (IICATS) was set up in the 1990s, it was the largest water utility supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) project undertaken in Australia.
With the continuing advances in the development of sophisticated stateoftheart instruments and devices, smart technology creates a more powerful and flexible tool for system operation, incident management and more importantly, provides superior service to our customers.
Sydney Water’s smart programs
“Smart technology” doesn’t have to be purely about our systems. We are using smart programs to improve customer experience via social networks, self-service opportunities and new billing formats.
We are promoting customer engagement from the inside out, by driving efficiency improvements across our business.
The expanded use of social media allows our customers to have their say on a whole range of issues. It also allows us as a business to be connected to our customers in real time.
We have used social media successfully over the past 12 months to change behaviour through our “keep wet wipes out of pipes” education campaign.
Sydney Water has initiated Customer Experience Design to better understand our customers’ needs, expectations and their pain points.
This research is being conducted using leading edge techniques such as human centred design, with the outcomes informing and enabling our Corporate Strategy.
In an effort to provide better value for our customers, we are constantly searching for new ways to reduce operating costs, while continuing to provide a reliable and efficient service. Something as simple as scheduling our pumps to run outside peak energy times has created significant cost reduction.
Two staff members working on the coalface at our sewer pumps developed an auto flush cleaning system of sewer wet wells, utilising our existing IICATS SCADA system to automatically instigate the auto flushing process.
This has created significant improvements in safety, operation efficiencies and decreases in operational costs of millions of dollars per year.
Sydney Water has also created “Tap In”, which provides a vastly improved online service for trade and professional customers with the convenience of 24/7 access, eliminating the requirement of the customer to visit an agent in person.
Sydney Water has also been involved in a leading international collaboration of data driven, intelligent failure prediction of critical water pipes.
This has significantly benefited the way we manage our critical water pipes, to achieve smart investment and to improve services to our customers.
Sydney Water, along with its partners in the Sewer Corrosion and Odour Research program (SCORe), won the Global Grand Award at the International Water Association’s (IWA) 2014 Project Innovation Awards.
The research on the optimal management of sewer corrosion and odour has helped water utilities across Australia and the world manage odour and corrosion issues within sewer systems.
Battery technology which can be installed below ground in the field for a range of applications, from pressure and flow monitoring to sewer overflow monitoring and sewer quality monitoring, has saved millions of dollars in civil infrastructure, as well as providing a customer benefit by removing the need to install infrastructure outside their property.
Smarter Scheduling NSW (iWORCS) provides councils and utilities with the ability to share their planned street and public space work programs to allow better coordination of work programs between all parties.
Sharing utility and council planned street works will improve the coordination of work, minimise disruption and inconvenience to customers, and reduce the cost of projects through sharing restoration and related costs.
I see a digital water utility as one having an effective digital ecosystem, where there are meaningful connections between the business, its employees, its customers, its community, its products and its assets, which means mass connectivity for the future.
There are three drivers that will really change the game plan in the digital space for water utilities: Social democratisation – where social media growth is providing power to the people to have their say as to how they want their water industry to perform, and to articulate their concerns about problems that occur.
The Internet of Things – the typical house will have 20 to 30 things connected to the internet in the future, creating the need for the water industry to change dramatically over the next five to ten years. There will be a world where virtually every component of the water industry will have connections.
All valves and hydrants and pumps will come with smart chips, Bluetooth and WiFi, which will enable all of the various components to talk to each other. Huge increases in computing power will allow rapid integration and growth in smart technology.
Any water utility which isn’t in the digital utilities space is not going to be relevant in the future. Success will be predicated by meaningful connectivity between the different elements.
Sydney Water’s success is going to be about our customers. Understanding their needs, getting their insights and making great decisions based on that.
The productivity push in the future will be based on the mass connectivity of our assets and our business.
As a water industry, we need to look at the quick wins we can achieve in the digital space, and we need to look at longer term plans which outline the differences that digital utilities can make.
We need to provide value generation and greater benefits to our customers. To do so effectively will assist us to control our destiny as an industry.