Digital technologies have dramatically altered the relationship between service providers and their customers, bringing both challenges and opportunities. Here, Kerry Rowlands, SA Water’s General Manager of Customer Delivery, shares key insights into how SA Water is using data to enhance service quality.

Kerry Rowlands

Kerry Rowlands, General Manager of Customer Delivery, SA Water

Ahead of her presentation at the Digital Utilities 2020 conference in Sydney from 19-20 March, Ms Rowlands explained that customer expectations are influenced by what other companies are doing – both locally and globally – and they’re changing at a fast pace.

“We need to plan, develop and deliver technology in step with this, and provide ease of use and access which caters for all demographics and types of customers. Developing customer-led technology is important to us and a key feature of our digital design,” Ms Rowlands said.

Key innovations have been the introduction and expansion of SA Water’s smart water network – the installation of flow pressure and acoustic leakage sensors that provide near real-time information about the health of its network – and the development of its water use portal.

“Over the past few years, we have made significant investments in smart technology in metropolitan and regional areas of the state,” Ms Rowlands said.

“In 2020-24, we plan to invest $27 million to expand our smart water network. This project is included in our four-year proposal submitted late last year to independent regulator the Essential Services Commission of South Australia.”

SA Water’s water use portal has been available to various businesses across South Australia since 2015.

The portal helps these customers to better understand their day-to-day water consumption, providing information on water use trends and any anomalies which may indicate a fault.

For agricultural businesses especially, this enables more accurate production management and forecasting, saving time and costs.

“During a trial stage of the initiative, Adelaide Oval staff used the portal to quickly identify a leak of approximately 870L/m (or 1.2 million litres a day), which if left unchecked could have cost thousands of dollars a day in lost water,” Ms Rowlands said.

“This detection and subsequent cost saving enabled them to pay back the investment on their smart metering equipment in just over a month.”

Effective water management in a changing climate

Digital technologies aren’t just assisting in reducing costs and increasing productivity, they are also key to alleviating the devastating effects of extreme weather events.

Following the recent bushfires in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island, SA Water played a key role in immediate and ongoing response and recovery, with the focus on maintaining drinking water supply.

The Middle River Water Treatment Plant on Kangaroo Island was damaged by fire, including key buildings, electrical equipment, and remote monitoring; network controls and communications systems.

“Digital infrastructure is as critical as the pipes in the ground to providing services to our customers, and our IT team don’t just support our business response in crisis situations, they are a key part of it,” Ms Rowlands said.

“In the longer term, we’re continuing to build our smart meter capability which will give us another way to manage water in times of drought and climate change.

“It improves our ability to better identify and manage water main leaks, and gives us more data to understand and manage consumption.”

SA Water is also looking to trial an online portal which takes data from up to 300 air temperature sensors installed at various community parks and reserves across Adelaide, and feeds it into an easy to use map.

The map will provide near live temperature readings at each location, helping people work out where to keep cool while still enjoying the outdoors. Another desired benefit of this trial project is demonstrating the value of green open spaces and how they might be enhanced to improve community liveability.

Innovative initiatives such as this require a workforce of talented individuals and Ms Rowlands said that talent management and a “workforce of the future” strategy is SA Water’s focus.

“To help attract and retain our digital talent, we have been aligning our people and teams to digital streams which are strategically important to the business,” Ms Rowlands said.

“This creates line of sight and improves the employee value proposition to our people, as they get to work on some of the innovative and exciting technology that is driving outcomes for our business. It also creates natural alignment to the broader business, enabling cross and multi-functional agile teams to form.”

SA Water fosters a distributed leadership approach to adopting technology and digital ways of working. With all leaders having a role in leading the change associated with adopting new technology, it builds the digital culture that’s needed to be a world-class utility.

How is SA Water preserving and deepening customer relationships?

Hear more from Kerry Rowlands about how SA Water is creating a digital culture and improving the customer experience at Digital Utilities 2020, running from 19-20 March at the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney.