Delivering innovation for PR19
Innovation will be the key to meeting many water sector goals after PR19, and many potential technological solutions are already out there, writes Andy Carter, director of IT, innovation & improvement at Morrison Utility Services
From population growth, climate change, tightening environmental standards, leakage reduction and changing customer expectations, the challenges facing the UK water sector are both diverse and significant.
The services that water asset owner companies provide are essential and, quite rightly, taken as a given. The water network infrastructure is generally hidden from view, often located under an increasingly saturated road network and in some cases, dates back over a century. Yet, and quite understandably, none of us want to endure the disruption that often, and almost inevitably, comes with the work required to maintain, repair or replace this essential infrastructure.
The imperative to drive innovation and improvement is clear. Innovation is one of four key themes within Ofwat’s Price Review 19 (PR19), which addresses the future challenges the water industry is facing. Ofwat is challenging companies to reduce leakage by 15 per cent as part of its PR19 methodology and earlier this year, the regulator’s director of customer engagement and outcomes, Jon Ashley, stated that it expects the strong leakage reduction challenges set in PR19 to promote greater innovation.
Progressive, forward-thinking utility service providers and supply chain partners clearly have an essential role to play in enabling the PR19 innovation agenda, supporting water company clients as they manage their physical assets, whilst balancing the demands of their customers and shareholders and of course, those of the regulator.
Things move fast. As consumer expectations continue to rise, service providers and supply chain partners need to work hard to seek new, innovative opportunities to trial, invest in and deploy across all aspects of their business. It’s not enough to simply provide the support that merely adds scale to the service provided by the client. More needs to be brought to the table.
Widening the net to look beyond the confines of the water sector is essential. Whilst technological progress and evolution has driven up customer expectations, paradoxically it is also helping us meet and exceed these rising demands and expectations.
Innovation can be delivered in many ways, from brand new technology such as exoskeletons through to the application of a technology that has been successfully applied in different sectors, such as augmented reality. Collaboration with academia, research bodies and solution providers from other sectors can offer fertile ground for innovation – providing new contexts and thinking around existing technologies, ways of working and processes that have been successfully applied elsewhere.
CREATING AN INNOVATION CULTURE
For a number of years now, Morrison Utility Services has implemented an ‘Innovation Portfolio’ approach, designed to deliver maximum benefit to individual clients at minimum cost and minimum risk but at maximum speed. Establishing and developing this ‘Portfolio’-led approach has leveraged the scale, diversity and scope of innovation across not only Morrison Utility Services, but also those of our fellow M Group Services divisions who deliver essential infrastructure across a range of sectors including rail, aviation, highways, telecommunications and data.
Over time, this Innovation Portfolio has been honed by our innovation team, led by Will Davies, to over 400 applicable and useable innovation projects – and continues to grow. However, it’s not just about the numbers. Establishing the Innovation Portfolio represents a wide-ranging resource for our clients and recognises that innovation isn’t always about brand new tools and technologies.
The Portfolio approach focuses on the full spectrum of our own and our clients’ operational and back-office activities and how we can manage the priorities across these areas for which we are jointly responsible.
From customer service and stakeholder management through to health, safety and wellbeing, streetworks, carbon management, risk reduction and delivery process efficiency, the Portfolio approach is demonstrating that innovation can take many shapes and forms.
SIX INNOVATIONS AT A GLANCE
SOFTWARE ROBOTICS: Human and robot collaboration
Software robotics will be an essential team member for many workplaces in the future and is currently being used to carry out and complete repetitive, but often vital, tasks with precision, reliability and efficiency. Flexible and easily configurable, with little complex coding, robotic automation can be deployed across many operational areas to streamline processes and make them faster and more efficient.
PREDICTIVE DATA & ANALYTICS: Using data to gain new insights
Identifying the potential to use data sources, initially designed for other purposes, can deliver new levels of insight. Our work in data analytics has already been recognised by Innovate UK in the form of an Intelligent Data Insights Innovation Award. The award was presented for a ‘big data’ leakage management solution that offers huge potential as a vital resource for water companies and for establishing a wider, common measure of consumption by customers.
SMART STREETWORKS DELIVERY: A new vision for planning street works operations
Many avoidable costs in excavations begin in the planning stage – a result of the numerous variables that can affect the start and progress of works. The OmniViz solution offers clear, smart streetworks planning, providing data intelligence through a range of relevant data sources (Google Street Map, Ordinance Survey and satellite views, meteorological and environmental data, traffic volume and flow information etc.) all of which is accessible via a single, intuitive interface. Currently being trialled on the MUS Yorkshire Water contract, key benefits include fewer non-compliance issues and costly work aborts, more accurate risk assessment and reduced customer disruption and inconvenience.
BESPOKE SOFTWARE & APPS: Far-reaching safety innovation
The safety of our people is a key priority. It is vital that any safety incidents and issues are reported efficiently and responded to quickly. Our Lone Worker App, developed by the MUS SHEQ and Intelligent Solutions teams, provides crucial safety measures for both operational and support staff working out of hours or in isolation. The app uses GPS/GPRS location tracking technology to enable supervisors, designated alarm respondents and our in-house Incident Line team to pinpoint a lone worker’s precise location following notification of an emergency situation.
SMART PLANT & FLEET SOLUTIONS: Fleet innovation for more sustainable utility highway reinstatement
Roadmender is a purpose-built, self-sustaining mobile asphalt unit that is paving the way for a smarter, more sustainable approach to utility highway reinstatement. Its operational advantages include faster closure of works and reduced disruption for the public and road users. Clients also benefit from the potential for reinstatement teams to undertake work at any time, including out of hours and public holidays, without the need to consider asphalt plant locations and opening times. Environmental benefits include reduced waste material and significantly reduced fuel usage and carbon emissions resulting from fewer journeys to and from asphalt plants.
ADVANCED DATA & ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Unmanned technology that is elevating manpower capabilities
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – drones – are already transforming operational practices. From asset inspections and surveys to the monitoring and assessment of both natural and man-made conditions, UAVs are delivering new levels of accuracy and predictive capacity. Real-time information can ensure that teams are equipped with the detailed technical and topographical data and imagery, as well as live feedback, to make swift and informed decisions. Fast, accurate and cost-effective, UAVs are now being deployed on major capital projects for pre-planning and monitoring progress and are enabling clients to design and commission surveys and projects direct from their desktops.
This article originally appeared in the December issue of WET News
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