Digital technologies are challenging and disrupting the traditional utility paradigm and also the value chains in which utilities exist. The role of a utility is changing fast, whether it exists within a thriving global city or is located to serve the most remote regional districts. Utilities need to adapt, and digital technologies are playing a major role in defining the strategic choices that now have to be made. Here, George Hunt, Sydney Water’s General Manager of Digital and Chief Information Officer, shares key insights into how Sydney Water is becoming an integral part of the planning for Greater Sydney and responding to the challenge of working with digital technologies to play its role in an evolving smart city.

George Hunt

George Hunt, General Manager of Digital and Chief Information Officer, Sydney Water

Ahead of his presentation at the Digital Utilities 2020 conference in Sydney from 19-20 March, Mr Hunt explained that Sydney Water is responding to the enormous commercial and residential growth in the Greater Sydney region, in particular the evolution of Sydney Water moving from being ‘Master Plumber’ to ‘Master Planner’ in a new approach to sustainable urban design.

“The growth in Sydney is unprecedented. Sydney’s population is set to grow from 5 million to 8 million,” Mr Hunt said.

“In addition, a world-class digital airport within an aerotropolis agribusiness precinct is being developed and there are millions of dollars of investment in transport infrastructure and commercial districts.

“There is also major growth in residential areas with smart, efficient buildings that interact with the climatic conditions of this area to drive an efficient and sustainable economy.

“The vision for Sydney is taking a completely new approach to urban design by focusing on the creation of ‘blue-green’ pathways and creating digital infrastructure to support innovation and smarter ways of working. The role of water (blue) and the sustainable (green) infrastructure has never been so prominent in the planning and design processes.

“Sydney Water will be playing a significant role in a new economy that looks at the nexus of energy and water through efficient buildings where water can be harvested and used many times for multiple purposes. Gone are the days where single-use water is the norm. The value of water as a precious commodity, that has many uses and contributes to the economic wealth of Sydney is firmly upon us.

“These exciting opportunities are challenging how we all think and plan as utilities. Our traditional role is changing to be ‘master planners’ not just ‘master plumbers’ or ‘master cablers or generators’.

“The vision for Sydney is evolving around a ‘three cities’ concept – the Harbour City, the River City and the Parkland City. Buildings, precincts, districts and towns are being designed and built that are smarter and more digitally monitored, managed and enabled than ever before. These smart buildings and precincts are being developed within digital, water and transport arterial pathways that will deliver numerous smart city concepts.

“The concept of becoming a digital utility has extended well beyond traditional internal views where we choose to adopt innovative approaches to our operating models, asset management approaches and development of online customer services.

“As utilities we now need to exist within a smart ecosystem delivering a smarter life, smarter businesses, and smarter solutions that all contribute to a concept of realising a digitally smart city.

“Sydney is not unique in this. Cities across Australia are following a similar concept and cities around the world have also started this journey. Cities like Singapore, Seoul and Dubai are setting new standards that challenge the traditional utility paradigm.”

Within this session, the aim is to explore some of these concepts and what it means to utilities to not only become digitally enabled internally, but also how they can evolve to exist within a digitally smart ecosystem that will define their future role in delivering and enabling a super smart city.

This will not just be a CIO’s perspective. It will also be a perspective from a strategic planning and regulatory lens, given that Mr Hunt spent nine months in a strategic planning and regulatory role at Sydney Water at the request of its board to bring the digital lens to the forefront of strategic thinking, regulation and direction setting.

“I challenge us all to think about what we need to do as utilities to be relevant in a digitally smart city,” Mr Hunt concluded.

How is Sydney Water becoming an integral part of Greater Sydney’s smart city vision?

Hear more from George Hunt about how Sydney Water is redefining the concept of a digital utility at Digital Utilities 2020, running from 19-20 March at the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney.