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United Utilities invests in robots to monitor network

United Utilities has announced that it has become the first water company in the UK to use Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

The North-West water company has invested in 10 robots from software producer Blue Prism and worked with partners Deloitte to monitor its network for faults that could disrupt supply at peak times.

The software robots monitor signals and alerts from the water network and automatically inform engineers to issues so that they can locate them and more efficiently fix them before they affect customers.

The system will also streamline many of the company’s processes, enabling it to respond more efficiently to customers.

Beyond fault detection, UU is already investigating a range of other purposes, including: 

  • Helping to monitor reservoir levels, and water pressure in the network.
  • Significantly speeding up free home meter applications.
  • Introducing text messaging appointment reminders for customers.
  • Scheduling of daily domestic water samples from houses, to ensure the company continues to meet compliance obligations.

William Hewish, Chief Information Officer at United Utilities, said: “Installing the software represented a significant investment in modernising UU’s water and wastewater network, which would result in many benefits to its customers and is an important part of our digital strategy.

“Ofwat has talked about the water industry being an analogue industry operating in a digital world. We have listened to what they had to say and this is just one of the investments we are making in our strategy to become a digital company in a digital world.

“We’re proud to become the first water company in the UK to introduce robots into our systems that can efficiently monitor our entire network at peak times, ensuring our customers benefit from the best possible service we can provide.

“The software will enable us to respond much more quickly to problems in the network, which will reduce incidence of breaks in supply and other issues that cause inconvenience to our customers.

“There are a host of different things that we can use the robots for to help us to provide an even better service, which is great news for the seven million customers we serve.”

RPA is a process where mundane, repetitive and boring tasks are undertaken by robots, freeing up people to work on more complicated jobs that keep the network running more efficiently.

Louise Beardmore, Customer Services and People Director at United Utilities, said: “Robotics provides us with lots of opportunities to automate tasks and activities that will make us more efficient at what we do and that’s better for everyone.

“What’s more it allows the great people we employ more time to focus on delivering great customer service.”

Martin Flood, EVP of Global Sales at Blue Prism, said: “Driving a true digital transformation requires more than merely automating or streamlining processes. United Utilities is integrating our Digital Workforce, with help from our partners at Deloitte, to improve operational efficiencies and enhance customer service, while not comprising on governance, security and compliance.”

Duncan Barnes, Energy & Resources sector lead for Deloitte Digital in the UK, said: "The start of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is seeing increasing levels of automation of business processes, and ultimately the application of artificial intelligence to business decisions. The application of RPA and other digital technologies will radically transform the effectiveness of organisations that adopt them, with many of our clients already seeing the benefits of this.

"It’s great to see United Utilities stepping forward to be part of this change – a clear signal to those who doubt the ability of the privatised water industry to invest in innovation. The new ground that this particular programme is breaking is in automating processes linked to the ‘OT’ (Operational Technology) network, as well as the IT network – and so driving the IT/OT integration agenda too. I’m delighted that Deloitte have been able to support them."

Author: Robin Hackett, Deputy Editor, WWT and WET News
Topic: Innovation
Tags: United Utilities , robotics

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