The Fujitsu Digital Innovation Award: Northumbrian Water Group

Award Type: 

Winner

Pioneering a continuous culture of innovation that includes customers in the process.

Impacts

  • £4m ongoing cost reductions over five years
  • 3,500 customer properties experienced flooding in 2016
 
Action 

In 2016, 3,500 of Northumbrian Water’s customers experienced flooding at their properties, and more than 150 of those had to deal with internal flooding.

Flooding causes huge emotional distress to property owners. Selling or insuring the properties is another problem. There is also the cost to Northumbrian Water, which stands at up to £17,000 a year.

The company’s response in addressing this issue has resulted in them winning the Fujitsu Digital Innovation category at this year’s Responsible Business Awards.

The business, owned by Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), is one of ten regulated water and sewerage businesses in England and Wales, initiated an Asset Performance Analytics (APA) project that delivers benefits for customers, the environment and the company. It uses big data to provide intelligence that leads to improvements to sewer pump performance. This then helps to reduce flooding incidents and save energy and money. 

Making use of readily-available analytical toolsets, the APA gathers and transforms many years of data to predictively model pump deterioration rates, enabling proactive maintenance to reduce problems.

The project is delivering ongoing cost reductions of around £4 million over five years, including energy efficiency savings of between 15 and 20% on rehabilitated pumps, as struggling pumps consume excessive power.

“Flooding is a terrible thing for anybody to experience, and it is one of the worst things that can happen to our customers in relation to the services we deliver,” says NWG’s CEO Heidi Mottram. “The early warnings of problems that can now be identified thanks to this innovative use of data are helping to reduce the risk of flooding and the problems that come with it.

“ We’re proud to shout about what can be achieved.”

The business says that its “culture of openness, sharing ideas and working with others” gives it a leadership position in the field of digital innovation. Since the original idea for the APA came into being, NWG has launched an Innovation Festival. This sees 50GB of data taken from a wide range of sources and allows 60 data scientists from a breadth of industries explore the potential benefits it can bring to the water industry’s fight to reduce leakage. 

A number of other digital projects are also being explored in an effort to tackle flooding.  These include a system that utilises artificial intelligence to deliver bespoke flooding information to customers, helping to keep them better informed about how to respond when problems occur.

NWG is also exploring opportunities to share data with trusted third parties, such as local authorities and the Environment Agency, to better understand flood risks.

It is this desire to share data, work collaboratively and co-create new ways of working that help to set the business apart and importantly to deliver benefits that reach far beyond the company’s own operations.

In the most recent survey by the Consumer Council for Water, NWG was named the UK's most trusted water company by its customers. 2017 also saw NWG named the world’s most ethical water company for the seventh successive year and Utility of the Year at the Utility Week Awards, for the second time in four years.