UK water companies face the challenge of maintaining good quality of service to customers while dealing with ageing infrastructure and customer affordability challenges. The sector is exploring innovative technologies as an alternative to expensive brick-and-mortar options, including bringing intelligent digital technologies to the forefront.
Recent UK regulatory developments have changed the way water utility expenditures need to be accounted for, with the focus moving from CAPEX and OPEX to a total expenditure (TOTEX) assessment, effectively taking an asset life-cycle view of value. In addition, OFWAT, the industry regulator, will focus on customer outcomes rather than defined outputs.
While the water industry is currently investing heavily in operational technology, instruments, SCADA and data historians, there will be limited inherent value unless they can generate timely, actionable insights. Most water utilities’ operations still largely rely on after-the-fact information such as alarms and customer complaints, which undermines their ability to achieve shifting business goals.
The digital revolution is fundamentally changing the way businesses operate, and water utilities are no exception. Cloud computing, big data, the Internet of Things and other trends are increasing the speed and accuracy of decision making at all levels. The way technology solutions are being built and embedded into the business is also changing. For the first time, analytics can provide near-real-time frontline deep insight, making everything from operations to planning smarter than ever before.
A new analytics approach for UK water utilities
The promise of analytics is expansive: It can enable water utilities to understand and manage the performance of their assets as dynamic systems, helping them to transform decision making at every stage of the value chain.
The potential positive outcomes are extensive. Water utilities will be able to:
View asset performance and costs in real time, spotting risks and vulnerabilities before assets fail and customers are impacted.
Make proactive decisions to improve customer service and mitigate environmental risks.
Stay on top of the production cost of water 24/7.
Offer affordable operational options in place of expensive brick-and-mortar solutions.
Enhance responsiveness to customers.
Make the most of sensors and telemetry already embedded in network and plant assets.
In the United Kingdom, Thames Water is among the first to advance with the intelligent use of real-time data to efficiently monitor assets and deliver enhanced service to its customers. Accenture is working with Thames Water to leverage new analytics capabilities to enable more efficient water sourcing and remote asset monitoring. The resulting information and data will help Thames Water anticipate equipment failures and respond in near real time to critical situations, such as leaks and adverse weather events.
1. Water for Life, UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, December 2011, www.gov.uk.