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The technology orchestrator

The technology orchestrator

"The first thing a CIO needs to do is understand the business they're in deeply, says Stephen Wilson

Stephen Wilson, CIO, Sydney Water

Stephen Wilson, CIO, Sydney Water

Information intelligence

Like most of his peers, Wilson is increasingly relying on data and information assets to find new efficiencies. In 2011, the organisation implemented a ‘business intelligence’ program to look at asset performance information over time.

While sensors already stretched across the water network and data was being collected, no one previously looked at it, Wilson says.

“We put it into data warehouses, brought on data analysts to look at it, and you can see immediately if there is a problem with a pump that had been overworking while another is fine. Yet when we do a service, we’d service both pumps,” he says.

Wilson admits the work to date has largely been after the event. “In the future, virtually everything we buy will have a sensor and it’s going to tell you how it’s working, feeling, the level it is working at and when it’s getting out of range,” he claims.

“We’re going to be able to predict and act on information before an issue arises. We’re rapidly moving towards that at Sydney Water.”

In 2013, Sydney Water kicked-off a pilot project with NICTA to analyse water main fails over a 10-year period. The work combines machine data with traffic conditions, weather, soil type and other variables to help Sydney Water better predict what will happen in the next year.

“They were able to predict very accurately what was going to happen and where we should put our money,” Wilson says.

“We have hydrants every 80 metres in our system, so if we take this to the logical extreme, we could put a sensor in every one and monitor the water pressure and noise between each.

"We will get a report in the future where it’ll say something has change – we can hear something, it’s a small leak – and we need to go an investigate. If it’s something that needs to be attended to, we have the ability to fix it before it bursts and water gets to the surface.

“The money that saves the community is unbelievable. Water main breaks are very big disruptions, and can be catastrophic.”

Sydney Water also runs a massive water network interconnected by pumping stations and Wilson is talking to strategy and operational technology groups about how data can improve this area as well. In this case, he wants IT to work with the line-of-business teams so they control the analytics capability and correlated more data sources.

“That’s the big trick – half the time you don’t know what the magic thing is going to be or gives you the answer that produces the most value,” Wilson says.

With an abundance of bright people, most of which are engineers, managing Sydney Water’s IT capability is both dynamic and challenging, he adds. “We have a lot of people experimenting and doing things differently, which is great, but it’s difficult to get them all going in the same direction,” Wilson says.

Just like his time with DET, Wilson says it’s vital he continues to push an IT vision that keeps up with their needs. “The trick is to sell a compelling vision and to have people buy in on that and give you the licence to start to execute on it.”

Wilson’s key CIO attributes
  • Understand the business you’re in deeply. “If you don’t understand the business, you’re never going to add real value.”
  • Be a leader. “This is more than just having opinions and saying what they are, it’s about building consensus and inspiring people to come along. It takes patience and you need to change your style when necessary. You need to have great relationships with your peers and you need to have trust. That gives you a licence to play.”
  • You have to embrace risk.
  • You must have great people.
  • You have to have sound judgment, and make decisions. “Sometimes those aren’t going to be popular, but should be ones people believe are considered. That takes a lot of experience.”

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