Water is our most precious resource and Sydney Water CIO George Hunt is using innovative technologies to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
Hailing from the UK and with many years of water experience under his belt, Hunt landed in Australia in early 2016 with a vision to make Sydney Water a hyper-connected utility. Digital technologies would improve efficiency and collaboration across all of Sydney Water’s businesses – connecting traditional groups with technology and challenging the way the organisation used its data.
Hunt’s vision is now a reality with the utility delivering innovations that provide insights that enable the organisation to deliver better services.
Hunt and his team created Spatial Hub, a tool that enables Sydney Water crews to visualise customer issues in real time. It includes a dashboard that provides a visual summary of daily operations, maintenance and tools for creating work orders in the field, as well undertaking heat mapping through standard integration with Google Map functions.
Sophisticated pipe tracing functionality provides a proactive customer impact assessment and prioritisation of each fault. This enables Sydney Water to schedule and perform work for customers with minimal impact.
Spatial Hub provides Sydney Water’s team with information in the event of a water main break, including insights into where water supply needs to be re-directed. It tells the organisation where critical customers like hospitals and nursing homes are, allowing crews to proactively deploy measures to maintain water supply.
Data is collected by 430 ‘internet-of-things’ (IoT) devices with around 35 different combinations of sensor types and transmitters – the first rollout of its kind in Australia of this scale.
These insights build on the digital enablers in Sydney Water’s ‘Customer Hub’ which addresses issues before they impact customers, including detecting sewer chokes, providing alerts on waste water flows, proactive identification of leaks, bursts and water loss. Digital metering is used to pinpoint water leakage and pressure loss – providing near real time access to consumption information.
These technology innovations have delivered several benefits so far. They have avoided the loss of water supply to more than 25,000 properties; 80 per cent of the utility’s customers said they were ‘extremely satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ about being informed by the Customer Hub. Further, 5,000 customers were proactively notified of issues, 12 waste water chokes were prevented; and waste water overflow has been averted, which had the potential to impact 4,000 properties.
Sydney Water is moving from a reactive or preventative approach to service resilience and asset maintenance to a predictive and responsive model. Hunt says this enables the utility to ‘get ahead of an incident’ and respond in near-real time when incidents occur.
“What this means in practice is that by being more connected with sensors, assets, data and communications, together with an enhancement to analytical capabilities, Sydney Water will be in a position to predict when an asset or service might fail before it actually does,” he says.
“This capability would significantly reduce any customer or community impact of a service outage for water services or reduce the potential environmental impact for a wastewater incident such as a sewer surcharge.
“As well, Sydney Water will be able to operate a more efficient asset maintenance regime based on asset risk and criticality, which in turn places downward pressure on customer water and wastewater bills,” he says.
Building teams, promoting diversity
Sydney Water’s managing director and CEO Kevin Young says Hunt builds teams from diverse parts of the business, all committed to delivering results.
He has created an environment where people can think differently, use their experience and innovate – championing the use of agile methodologies to save time and allowing iterative problem solving and development.
“He is fond of saying ‘let’s just put all the smart people in the room, give them a clear goal, a mandate and then get out of their way,’” Young says.
Hunt presents frequently to Sydney Water’s board and at committee meetings, and is praised for his transparency.
“George builds trust and confidence,” says Young. “This occurs whether he is covering our major billing system implementation, showcasing innovation and disrupting or leading a discussion on cyber-attacks through our program of ‘manage and protect.’
“George also balances the current issues with a focus on the utility of the future which is all about mass connectivity. In doing this, George makes sure that all members of the executive play a part and share the vision for the way forward.”
Hunt has created #mBrace, a staff-driven movement that fosters diversity of culture and thought, as well as inclusion. Events and focus sessions on flexibility are held throughout the year, and a video was created where the company’s digital group provided their thoughts on what diversity means to them.
He also started a movement across the entire company that encourages staff to use technology to solve everyday issues through ‘digital disruptor’ teams. These groups are made up graduates to senior managers, and strategic partners.
Hunt is the WaterAid ambassador for Sydney Water, raising awareness of sanitation and water crises around the world. He mentors three teams at Sydney Water who are focusing on clean water, sanitation and hygiene. These teams have collected $22,000 to date.
Finally, he champions the utility’s graduate program, building relationship with universities in Sydney as well as mentoring a PhD student. He encourages STEM programs and provides support to any staff member who wants to know more about digital technologies and leadership.
A changing role
Hunt says that staying relevant in a rapidly changing business and digital landscape. For Hunt, this means being firmly embedded in business value chains, providing real services that are integral to the business and corporate goals.
“We also have to be offering innovation, new capabilities, new services and solutions that support the strategic direction of the organisation,” Hunt says.
“CIOs not doing this will face increasing challenges for relevancy, providing an opportunity for the services they provide to be delivered by external partners who can engage directly with business consumers.
“CIOs that are engaged and employed at an executive/strategic level have a real opportunity within their grasp to not only enable business strategy but to define it around digital business services that will ultimately define the future business strategy.”