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Big Data Beats Beast from the East

Data. It’s everywhere. It’s constantly being created and at breakneck speed. We are inundated with information on a daily basis in our personal and professional lives. So much so that at times it feels like we are swamped.

Big data is a valuable and, largely, untapped asset for the water industry and embracing it could allow the sector to better manage and maintain infrastructure, understand water consumption, predict weather patterns and, ultimately, help deliver a better service to customers.

It would be going too far to say that our industry is a DRIP – Data Rich Information Poor. But  it is true there is more for the sector to learn.

Let me take you back to February and March 2018. Storm Emma hits, bringing cold Siberian weather across large parts of the UK. The so called “Beast from the East” resulted in a major freeze-thaw event that affected water supplies in large parts of the UK – including some 200,000 homes experiencing prolonged interruptions to supplies.

As the sector looked back at what happened in that cold-snap it was clear that better use of data could have enabled companies to respond differently and reduce the impact on customers by enabling targeting of crews and repair gangs through to providing clearer information to affected customers about when their supply would be restored. Not only that but using big data could have allowed water companies to predict which areas were most likely to experience problems and take steps to prevent them.

The industry’s journey into the world of big data came to life earlier this week as Water UK hosted a joint Big Data Showcase event with SWAN-Forum and the Open Data Institute. The event brought together experts in the field of data science, as well as professionals from the water industry, to explore how the sector can better utilise information and data to predict, prepare and respond to future events.

The event highlighted a number of ways in which big data and advanced analytical techniques could be utilised by water companies. For example, to help companies understand the location of condition of infrastructure such as pipes and allow them to work closely with other sectors, like energy, to maintain them and minimise disruption to the public. Or, during an emergency incident, allow companies to cut through social media chatter and analyse comments and posts to better understand the nature of the incident and the needs of their customers.

Data crops up in every aspect of how the water industry operates and is the key to unlocking the innovation needed to address the challenges the sector faces as we move into a time of greater climate uncertainty, greater customer expectations and closer regulatory scrutiny. The Big Data Showcase was a step forward for the water community on a path that will no doubt lead to a very different future.

Perhaps it’s time to coin a new acronym – DRInK (Data Rich Information Knowledgeable)?