Anglian Water opens floodgates for external data

The water company has overhauled its data systems to efficiently manage and share information to benefit staff, customers, partners and regulators

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A decade ago, Anglian Water was wary about sharing information with third parties, particularly the regulators. But the utility firm has since undergone a radical change in thinking.

The water firm now shares data with councils, engineering contractors, industry partners, suppliers and customers, and even actively collaborates with the regulators.

It takes the view that being open with data creates opportunities to make processes more efficient, and helps to drive down project costs and timeframes.

Also, by tracking social data created by customers, Anglian Water can spot water consumption and other trends and solve leakage and drainage problems more quickly.

To harness external data feeds more efficiently, however, the business first had to get its own house in order. Anglian Water has just finished a company-wide, two-year enterprise content management (EC M) programme, overhauling its internal data systems.

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A common taxonomy

This data management project introduced a common taxonomy to standardise Anglian Water’s unstructured data – namely 10 million internal documents and forms – and put them into a central repository, along with its structured SAP , GIS (geographic information system) and telemetry (automated equipment monitoring) data.

The information architecture is based on OpenText Content Server, integrated into SAP , Sharepoint and the other core business and technical systems. The idea was to bring together structured and unstructured information and give personnel in different departments a single portal-based view of all the documents and forms they need to do their jobs, says Rachel Butler, ECM programme manager for Anglian Water Services. To start with, Butler’s team of six information professionals looked at the different types of documents in the organisation, along with policies, procedures, templates and forms. At that point, there were 10 million documents on the system, 40% to 60% of which were duplications.

Around 80% of these documents were at least a year old. The corporate intranet had 39,000 pages, a high proportion of which were isolated and unused, with many broken hyperlinks. The team spent time with each business unit, discussing their processes and how they could benefit from the new system. “This was about giving our employees back wasted time looking for information, duplicating it, or picking up the phone,” says Butler. Anglian Water estimates that the business was wasting 4,000 hours a week looking for documents.

This led to the information department defining the new taxonomy and implementing the new EC M platform. Human resources, IS and health and safety were the first departments to migrate to the system, followed by the others. Meanwhile, the ECM team began to move all supplier, customer and employee documentation to the central repository, tagging it with relevant metadata and making it accessible through a single portal.

 By centralising the documents, Anglian Water also created auditable processes for all workflows, which helps with regulatory and compliance requirements

The ECM implementation brought some immediate benefits, not least of which was the ability to find information much faster than before. By centralising the documents, the business also created auditable processes for all workflows, which helps with regulatory and compliance requirements.

The next part of the information strategy is to move from ECM to enterprise information management (EIM), which involves making all the documents, as well as multiple data types, easy to integrate and find; incorporating external data feeds; and enabling external users to access the data that is appropriate for them, says Butler.

Combining internal and external feeds

“We are at the start of the EIM journey and all of our templates and forms are now on a workflow,” says Butler. “We can look at BPM [business process management] and the lifecycle of those forms, and there’s a lot we can do with the secure platform we now have in place.”

For example, one current project is to collate all the documentation, policies and workflows used by engineering contractors, so they can access it all on their mobile devices while on the road. “It means everyone is looking at the same information, which reduces risk and aids compliance,” adds Butler.

Anglian Water’s Operational Management Centre (OMC) is another major beneficiary of the new systems. The OMC is a state-of-the-art command and control hub with huge plasma screens that display essential information about water, pipes, locations and weather, among other things. All operational calls come into the centre, where the agents determine, plan and schedule the work that needs to be done across the company’s network of pipes and facilities.

The company uses external information feeds from the Met Office to keep up to date on the weather, and combines this with its own telemetry and mapping information, overlaying information from councils and other partners. It calls the graphical view the GIS Gallery.

“We are currently bringing structured and unstructured information onto one portal, and offering a single view of the data that links in with the EIM system, so we can make the right decision in a timely manner,” says Butler.

She adds that Anglian Water is able to pull together diverse sources of data at present, but it requires managers to access multiple different systems, and this takes up a lot of their time. “Having this information at their fingertips will minimise risk and increase efficiency. It’s about bringing down that wasted time.”

Another data-sharing initiative that Anglian Water is pursuing is one which gives external parties, such as contractors, public service partners, suppliers and council staff, a single view of their relevant documentation or data.

“We are collating all of the external information we use on the operational side, so our own field engineers and call centres, and our external partners, can get a single view of their assets: documents, procedures or policies. It’s very much about sharing the same information and making sure we are all looking at the same thing,” says Butler.

Anglian Water uses the OpenText document management system to share this information, and sets specific permissions and secure logons to secure data access and ensure that people only get to see the information relevant to them. One example of this in practice is how Anglian Water shares the required electronic forms with a council when it needs to dig up a road under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991.

As long as information sharing meets the data protection requirements, Anglian is happy to share information where it is mutually beneficial, says Butler. “As with sharing information internally – for example, with our starters, movers and leavers process – people get access to the right information when they need it. It’s all about making it easy to find information and provide information that employees trust. We worked out from an internal perspective that each employee was wasting an hour a week looking for the right information. The principle is the same from an external perspective. It’s all about collaboration and saving time for our partners. This is the next thing we are focusing on.”

Solving problems with social media

Like many businesses, Anglian Water uses Twitter and Facebook to interact with customers, to promote its water use and environmental campaigns and to answer customer complaints. But it also sees social media as an opportunity to improve its services. For example, from time to time, customers take pictures of leaks and send them through. The firm can then send the images to its field engineers to help fix the problems.

For some time, Anglian Water has been using intelligence like this – from Twitter and Facebook, as well as phone calls and emails – to locate water leaks and low pressure, or drainage and sewerage issues. It calls this “trending”. The next stage is to link it more closely with the geographic and telemetry systems, the latter of which is currently being updated and due to go live at end of the year. “We will be able to get a much bigger picture,” says Butler, “because the OMC will gain a greater insight into location trends on their GIS Gallery and be able to solve problems faster.” Water meters have also proved to be valuable in improving services, as they tell the business how much water people drink, use or waste. On average, metered customers use 30 litres per person, per day less water than unmetered. Meters also help identify unusual patterns of water use, such as when there is an increase in water flow because of a leak. Again, Anglian Water uses this trend and location data to hone in on the problem.

One final way in which Anglian Water shares information with its customers is through its website, which informs them of local incidents, service interruptions, planned work and even leisure events.

The business continually collects water and power use data, and has been able to feed this back to national governing bodies such as the environmental agency and the drinking water inspectorate to improve aspects of the environment.

“We work closely with a number of environmental bodies from a biodiversity perspective, or collaborate to analyse water resources and find out what’s happening. Last year, we led the drought discussion with the government and that was all about sharing information.

Previously, we were involved with the whole flooding discussion,” says Butler. “This is where we have changed from 10 years ago. In the past, we would have seen it as a threat working with our regulators; now, we believe it’s about working together.”

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