Digital Innovation in Water Sector

Ian Robinson, CIO, WaterNSW

Ian Robinson, CIO, WaterNSW

As I think about the impact of technology in WaterNSW, I draw two parallels with the recent Australian federal election. Firstly, a campaign based on progressive policies is not automatically attractive to all constituents. Digital transformation suffers from the same inertia. Whilst vision is needed, incremental change is the only way that an aggressive agenda can actually progress. Secondly, a transformation agenda will not be successful where it focuses only on internal change, it must consider the company’s place in the world, the way it is viewed by customers and how it fits into the ecosystem of its own and associated industries.

WaterNSW has recently implemented an enterprise wide ERP system that brings together asset management, finance, HR, procurement and billing into a single system. The system unifies previously disparate processes between the Sydney Catchment Authority, State Water and Department of Primary Industries across the state. Whilst, unification will be a strong driver of culture change and delivery is a huge achievement for the company, perhaps most importantly we have adopted a modern cloud based core system of record that underwent a complete version upgrade in the first month of its release. This demonstrated the commitment to a solution that is not plagued with niche customisations or complex integrations and means we can maintain an evergreen SaaS environment for the future. However, the project suffered from a grand vision and expectation that was not entirely matched with its execution. It taught us that attacking everything at once was too much to swallow because we churned constantly on many unresolved issues. What a great opportunity to learn.

Having won hard earned success with that project, WaterNSW is now turning its attention to the operational side of its business. These are the systems and processes that transact with customers to provide or trade licensed allocations to water, enable ordering and delivery of water, the measurement and billing of customer water use, the compliance of water take to river conditions, situational awareness of water reservoirs and flows and advanced modelling that allows the business and its customers plan for the future.

Our approach is to build a cogent elevator pitch that quantifies the benefits of our long-term investment in digital technologies and provides an architectural roadmap.

WaterNSW has a vision that transforms its business from a manual paper centric customer service provider to a modern self service, web based provider giving customers ready access to information up to the minute about the state of water supplies they are interested in and the ability to transact and receive instantaneous feedback on processes that currently take weeks to complete. We have a vision to receive customer orders on-line and have these automatically routed to our weirs and dams to release water without human intervention. Customer take would be monitored by telemetered smart meters and real time action taken to divert water flows to other customers if ordered water is not pumped by the customer. Our vision is for our staff to build the network of the future and to add value to our water customers in providing more intelligent services and protection of our environment.

Water is a scarce resource and WaterNSW is not just investing in improving its own operational efficiency and the transparency and immediacy of services to customers, but is also working with the ecosystem of on-farm and distribution company technologies. In other words our customers, whether they be our very large bulk supply customer Sydney Water or our river irrigation customers, are using technology to monitor water distribution, measure yield and constantly innovate to optimise the use of the scarce water available. No-one sees a scenario where water becomes more plentiful in NSW, and so the integration of technologies and data from a spectrum of sources from the bureau of meteorology to a soil moisture monitor in a paddock is critical to the decisions we need to put the limited supply of water to best use.

WaterNSW will extend its already extensive hydrometric network throughout the state to understand and model water flows. Whether it be moving water from the fertile coast to the parched inland or monitoring water to predict the next algal bloom that threatens our native Murray Cod, the use of low cost IoT devices, drones capturing LIDAR or video or satellite imagery monitoring yields vs water usage correlations will allow a more granular picture of how water is used and can be optimised.

The vision is grand but the politics of water mean that passions are high. So our vision needs to balance the need for a lower cost to serve while investing prudently. This brings us back to incrementalism.

Our approach is to build a cogent elevator pitch that quantifies the benefits of our long-term investment in digital technologies and provides an architectural roadmap. This will tie together the range of small incremental delivery projects that will be delivered as simple user stories. A dedicated squad of people will deliver each story. A relevant business project manager, key business expert users, our external technology partners and internal business systems will comprise the makeup of each squad allowing a rolling series of user stories to be developed, tested and released each month. The squad will document the existing business process, consider the data sources and socialise the change to its key constituents as part of each story. This means each member of the squad is fully focused on the current story and its place in the world. By running as many squads in parallel as we can manage, the key will be to maintain each squad’s independence while holding the program team accountable for linking each story to the whole picture.

The impact of our transformation will drive discipline and efficiency in our business processes and improve end to end data integrity. Let’s look at each of these in turn:

• Currently, our processes are inconsistent. We might say this is a management problem, but in reality it is a system problem, where too many exceptions occur because the existing systems do not contemplate the range of scenarios that occur. They key to transformation is to ruthlessly stop exceptions and have the system force compliance or stop the process.

• Likewise, too often our data is intercepted at many points along its flow. As a result it is difficult to properly govern. The future demands re-imagining our data architecture so it is fit for purpose and trust becomes our primary way of working.

For too long, the water industry in NSW has been talking about the passion of our customers and our need to transform. Now is the time for action, but vision is not enough. Incremental delivery of user stories will lead to a transformational flood of epic proportions.

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