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Rethinking the power of data

  • Posted on August 5, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 6 minutes
Power of data in the water industry

Data is widely recognised as one of the most valuable resources for business growth and operations. In this day and age, do you know any industries that fail to collect and use data? The water industry is no exception, and many water companies have access to a large amount of good quality insights. The problem is, they’re not always seizing the opportunity to maximise this data to the best of its abilities.

Although the sector feels that it is competing to hit Ofwat’s targets, what if the opposite were true? What if collaboration, data sharing and open data platforms could lead to businesses hitting targets across the board, more efficient infrastructure monitoring, better customer service and cost saving? This would ultimately help cement water as a trailblazing industry in innovative technologies, and this idea already has Ofwat’s backing – in 2021 they established a £200 million innovation fund to do just that.

In this blog, we break down how data sharing is possible in the water industry, and how you can use this to your advantage.

Open data: More than just a buzzword?
Data is essential for making informed business and budgeting decisions and gaining insight over your operations, but it can do a whole lot more. Open data is a way of making data freely available through an accessible universal system. It can help foster new partnerships and collaborations between water companies, so you can work together to hit sustainability goals, plan for the future and manage infrastructure.

There is also a huge opportunity for the water industry to use open data to offer their customers a better experience, which is a key Ofwat ODI and a friction point for many businesses. It’s not just about using efficient data collection to better understand your customers, but also to help make their lives easier. Weishaupt, a leading heating and solar equipment manufacturer, combined improved data collection with Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and access-anywhere cloud solutions to create a dedicated portal for their customers. The portal not only allowed Weishaupt to predict and prepare for service calls in advance, but also gave their customers access to their heating systems from anywhere in the world. Data and modern system technology transformed their customer relations and gave them an opportunity to expand customer-facing products in the future. There is no reason why a water company can’t create similar, intelligent system technology to help address PR complaints and hit Ofwat’s customer service targets. By sharing data amongst fellow water companies, businesses will be in a strong position to build a more comprehensive, resilient, and agile data infrastructure – which in turn means that they’ll have better insight into their operations and customer usage. There is scope to take data sharing further than the water industry too – an open data platform would allow smooth collaboration with other relevant industries, such as energy, to help support wider goals like the UK’s transition to net zero and help keep customer bills down.

Can shared data help you predict what’s next?
In trying to meet and exceed Ofwat’s targets, water companies are searching for solutions to the same problems. Even Ofwat recognises this and is encouraging businesses to work together to find efficient, industry-wide solutions. Through its partnership with the Open Data Institute, Ofwat is working to understand the benefits of open data and how it can help the water industry to overcome challenges in sustainability, customer satisfaction and cost savings. H2Open, a recently published discussion paper, sets out Ofwat’s intentions for open data usage and addresses the stakeholder interest in driving technological change, quickly.

On a deeper level, Ofwat is not only encouraging the use of open data because it is a great tool for innovation – they’re also aware that this could be the key to a more resilient industry. Data and analytics technologies have already contributed to a better future in other industries, and have allowed businesses to guarantee resilience for themselves, their industry and the planet. For example, SSE Renewables was able to ensure a sustainable future for local wildlife by using AI to capture 24/7 digital footage of puffins – allowing them to increase accuracy of bird counts and make wind farms safer for local wildlife.

It’s clear that the renewables industry is making headway with digital transformation, and the water industry already possess good quality data to follow suit. What is new to water is knowing how to harness this to predict and prepare for the future. AI and data analytics technologies can be widely applied for leakage and water detection and failures in below-ground assets, before these failures even occur. This is an opportunity for water companies to develop robust plans and become leaders in efficiency – and enjoy well-deserved praise from the public for dealing with issues quickly.

What problems could an open data platform present?
New technology requires new knowledge, so it’s vital that water companies develop operational, financial and sustainable resilience through better knowledge, training and research. Data can do this for you – as long as you know how to use it. Sharing knowledge is an important as sharing the data itself if an open data system is to work successfully, which is why our partner Microsoft predicts that developing ‘digital skills’ in the water industry will help set you apart from other industries. As water companies innovate and adopt AI, automation and machine learning technologies, derived from a high-quality open data platform, you’ll need to ensure that your employees know how to use these technologies effectively.

Similarly, harnessing a unified data-sharing system requires equal collaboration – so who leads the compliance? Without a national body leading the data standards and governance of an open data platform, it’s up to water companies to work on a non-competitive and cooperative system. The water industry has previously shown that it can be unified through its sector-wide pledge to be net zero by 2030 – there’s no reason why this unification can’t be a force for good once again.

Look to the leaders – and be the leader
An open data platform could be a powerful tool for the water industry and could be used to generate positive changes on industry-wide and business levels. It is exciting that the extent of data sharing’s use cases is yet to be determined – and that’s up to you. This is an opportunity for the water industry to lead a new era in data and collaboration – but it’s understandable that you may have reservations on making this transition. That’s why we’re here to guide you in best practises, from compliance to knowledge-sharing, training to implementation, so you can benefit from a more resilient and efficient industry.

At Avanade, we have proven, proof of concept (POC) solutions to help your business identify where and how you can collaborate to the wider sustainability and social goals of the water industry – so you can generate positive change for you, your customers and the world.

We’d love to hear from you about your plans to build a resilient business – and a resilient industry. Drop us an email or comment below to chat about your data-driven future.

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