People in the North East of England might soon be turning to artificial intelligence (AI) for the latest information from their water company.

Northumbrian Water is working on developing an AI solution that would allow its customers to simply ask Amazon′s Alexa for information on their bills and meter readings, details of any supply issues in their area, and to even report an issue with their water or sewerage services.


The company started development of the "skill" - Alexa′s version of an app - following its first Innovation Festival in July 2017, when it worked with other organisations and members of the public to delve into tomorrow′s world.


In a design sprint led by Northumbrian Water and CGI Group, ideas were generated in an effort to help companies understand and deliver services in a way that fits with how people will want to live and work in the future.


The development process has been led by a small team including 19-year-old Mark Ireland, from South Shields, who is working towards a Degree Apprenticeship in Digital and Technology Solutions with Northumbrian Water and the University of Sunderland.


Mark said: "We are starting to move towards a world where voice controlled artificial intelligence takes over from what are now seen as traditional apps and it′s exciting to think that, by the end of the year, our customers may be able to simply ask Alexa for information about their water and sewerage services.


"We′ve built our prototype and are now preparing to make this a reality, and then look at what more we can do to make life simpler for our customers. And what′s easier than simply asking a device next to you for the information you need? There′s no need to log on, or even pick up the phone."


Nigel Watson, Group Director of Information Services, said: "When we decided to run our first Innovation Festival, we wanted to look at the future and address the way people are likely to live their lives. Increasingly, we are seeing people integrate AI into their homes to do all sorts of things, so why not get the latest information on their bills or service?


"It′s fantastic that we′ve had Mark at the forefront of the development of our Alexa skill. Our Apprentices across the business bring fresh thinking and perspectives to many of the issues that we face, and they are the new generation of customers who we hope will be with us for decades to come."