Welsh Water gets WISER about the data challenge facing water utilities

Smart water utilities


Water utilities face a challenge of dealing with ever-increasing volumes of data. UK water utility Welsh Water is implementing a programme known as WISER to totally overhaul its approach to data, featuring numerous work packages across nine business segments known as data domains. Keith Hayward heard about progress with the programme from the company’s data governance manager, Ben Evans, who will be speaking at the forthcoming SMi Smart Water Systems event in April.

The Norman Keep, Cardiff Castle, Wales. © Billy Stock / Shutterstock
The Norman Keep, Cardiff Castle, Wales. © Billy Stock / Shutterstock

Water utilities face a challenge of dealing with ever-increasing volumes of data. At the same time, this presents opportunities. This is why UK water utility Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water has launched a programme known as WISER – the Welsh Water Information Strategy Enterprise Roadmap. ‘It is a programme where we are continuing efforts to embed a data-driven culture at Welsh Water,’ says Ben Evans, the company’s data governance manager. ‘The current data landscape at Welsh Water is in effect under total transformation,’ he adds.

‘The driver for the strategy in its first instance was just the sheer volume of data that we had at Welsh Water,’ says Evans. ‘We have got quite a vast landscape of IT applications that collect that data, that hold data, and the ability for the business to manipulate and use that data was becoming quite a problem.’

Welsh Water initially engaged consultancy Capgemini around 18 months ago to help develop the programme. In essence, it brought with it experience of working in other sectors also based on operational activities delivering a product and where data can support that activity. Evans says that the utility knew it had a lot of data and knew it should be making better use of it. The consultancy helped in particular in bringing clarity and identifying achievable goals. ‘That is where the expertise of the consultancy firms can really help you,’ he notes.


A focus on work streams

The resulting WISER programme is based around nine segments of the business known as data domains. ‘The core aims were to deliver a series of work streams across an identified set of data domains,’ says Evans.

The utility took over running the WISER programme about a year ago, which was around the time Evans joined it, and the data team has been built up since then. The aim is to contribute both to strategic decision making in the utility, as well as to provide support to the various operational activities, such as leakage and billing.

Evans heads a team that includes business analysts – a title chosen to reflect the role of people who are data analysts contributing to strategic decision making. ‘They are providing the evidence [for] those decisions to be made,’ he says.

The data domains include ‘customer’, ‘assets’ – relating to plant and equipment, and ‘financial’ – relating to financial data, reporting and regulation, explains Evans. ‘Essentially the key targets at the beginning of this piece of work were to identify those domains, identify the leads for those domains, and to begin work streams based on a criticality assessment that we carried out to start working,’ he says.


A year of progress

Work has begun on four of the nine data domains – the customer, asset and financial domains, as well as the water quality domain covering the company’s sampling activity. These four were selected for attention first following a prioritisation exercise. ‘We looked at the current data maturity in each of those domains, and gave some priority scorings to understand which ones to kick off first,’ says Evans. He explains that there are 24 work packages in each of the domains, and that the utility has worked through around one third of the packages in the open domains. ‘It is quite a significant programme of work, with an awful lot to do,’ he adds.

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