I’ve just returned from the ‘Digital Utilities 2019’ two-day event in Melbourne, where I joined over three hundred senior leaders from Australia’s major water and energy utilities, discussing how digital technology can make our organisations better places.
It was a real privilege to be invited as their only overseas speaker, to be among so many influential and inspirational people and to talk about Northumbrian Water’s journey to becoming the most digital water company in the world.
To travel all that way, to a country 32 times bigger than the UK, to talk about our water company in the North East of England, is just testament to the fact that our leading position, using digital technology to make our customers’ and our employees,’ lives better and easier, is recognised on a global stage.
When you think of digital, you probably think of computers and technology, which admittedly, don’t tend to mix too well with water. However, in this case, we’re able to provide an unrivalled customer experience using innovative technology, as well as smarter and more efficient working practices for our people.
My key note speech at the conference, focused on Northumbrian Water’s digital journey. I shared our Intelligent Asset Management (iam) programme, improving the data we have on our assets to be able to fix problems before they occur, and also our new customer billing system, which has reinvented the way we support and service our customers.
My greatest pleasure came from showing the delegates the amazing footage of our Innovation Festival, which for me, really sums up about how we innovate at Northumbrian Water. I still struggle to believe that over the last two years, we’ve had nearly 5,000 people join us at the five-day festival that we created and continue to lead on behalf of the UK water industry, working together to tackle societal and environmental challenges to make the world a better place.
I explained how our first festival was launched in 2017 and we’re doing it all again this year, making a total of 50-60 sprints ran over three years, with 76 real-life projects currently being progressed, from our digital twin modelling to simulate incident response during flooding, to our underground mapping, creating a fully detailed map of the network of pipes and wires beneath our feet.
It’s always great to swap notes with other experts and I loved being able to spend time with water and utility leaders in Australia, chatting about climate change and their work to protect water supplies, as well as what they’re doing to inspire young people into the sector.
It really struck home that even though our climates are very different, our populations are very different, and there’s a great big stretch of distance between us, we’ve all got the same thing in common – a commitment to using technology to make peoples’ lives better.
Our underground mapping might not reach quite as far as Australia, but we shouldn’t let that stop us when it comes to sharing information and ideas to reach our goals, and revolutionising all areas of the utility sector by embracing digital transformation.
By Nigel Watson
Information Services Director