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Data ‘like oil' for water companies

Data is an incredibly valuable resource for water companies, who must use it in the right way to harness it to the best advantage, experts told the WWT Smart Water Networks conference yesterday.

WWT's Smart Water Networks conference in progressWWT's Smart Water Networks conference in progress

The conference heard from speakers about the importance of data governance and confidentiality, and the problem of making sure that key operational staff are given the data they require to make a difference to the business.

“We are now in a world where data is the new oil – it is a valuable asset that can create tremendous value when used correctly,” said Natalie Jakomis, head of data and chief statistician at Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. She said that the company’s vision is to better exploit data across the organisation, through a series of analytics projects that make up its WISER (Water Information Strategy Enterprise Roadmap) strategy. These projects have seen data used to predict levels of bacteria in service reservoirs, and predict failure in pumps based on their energy use, for example.

While the projects are separate they have to have a core process in place for how data is handled and who it goes to. “We had to get the data governance in place first – otherwise we would just end up with siloed data from all of our different systems,” said Jakomis.

The conference also heard about ‘data hack’ and ‘data dive’ events held by Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water in which data was made available to external experts, suppliers and data enthusiasts to derive patterns and come up with potential business improvements based on the insight.

“Data is the new raw material of the 21st century, and like coal or oil, it’s something that can be mined for profit,” said Dr Matt Hill, Environmental Lead Advisor at Yorkshire Water. “There are benefits to both the owners and the users of data… the more we can open it out to others, the more chance there is of getting something that can help us.”

Yorkshire Water held its first ‘data dive’ event in July 2015, using metering and logging data from its network; to allay concerns over data confidentiality, metering data was made available at the postcode district level rather than for individual postcodes or properties. Participants were asked to come up with imaginative methods based on the data to help achieve reductions in water consumption of up to 5ML/day, with the winning ideas and prototypes put forward to the company’s procurement and innovation colleagues to explore further.

One exciting area of development is that when water company data is opened up, third parties can use it to create apps which present information in a useful way to the public: for example, Yorkshire Water has made information on its current roadworks available, which has allowed travel apps to make use of it to warn motorists, says Hill.

There is great potential for data from treatment works to be opened up as well, although water companies are understandably more cautious in this area, he added.

WWT’s Smart Water Networks conference was held in Birmingham on March 21st and sponsored by Grundfos and Virgin Media Business.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Data, IT & Communications
Tags: Data , business , Yorkshire Water

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