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CIO gives Sydney Water a new flow

CIO gives Sydney Water a new flow

George Hunt reveals the simple philosophy behind his restructured and reinvigorated technology function at the water utility

Digital Services has been designed to operate as a three-speed factory model, Hunt explains. A high speed factory creates apps and mobile solutions and the team uses agile methodologies.

A corporate solutions factory is focused on integration and information management, including the new ERP, CRM and billing implementation (which will be one of the largest SAP S/4HANA landscapes for the utilities industry in Australia).

This group use traditional waterfall and ASAP methodology, Hunt explains: "We can't really do that [implementation] in a purely agile way, that would be pretty reckless."

A third factory is called enterprise solutions "It's really a container for acquiring the knowledge and the skills to run SAP with our partner when we go into run," Hunt says. "Another lesson learnt from SAP a long time ago: don’t wait until your about to go live to build a service and support organisation."

Each factory has a retained, dedicated staff, and the headcount increases when necessary. And where previously a whole of company architecture wrapped around every project – often proving a 'constraint' – now a solution architect is embedded in each factory in a DevOps model, and there is a 'very thin' enterprise architecture layered over the top.

"Architecture teams we had here before – their primary mandate was to design badness out. They were acting as policemen," Hunt explains. "The organisation would spend a lot of money designing a solution or gathering ideas, and eventually a business case or solution would come under the eyes of an enterprise architect and they would say 'nope, nope'. But we've already spent the money!"

Now it's a case of "designing goodness in", Hunt explains.

Predict, prevent

Reorganised and reinvigorated, Hunt's Digital Services is now at work on a flagship project – Sydney Water's 'customer operations hub'.

The hub provides a visual of the utility's entire pipe network, fed by a range of data sources. Analysis of SCADA telemetry flags if a pipe is vibrating or flow has dropped, a good indication of a burst. Overlayed is social media monitoring and weather and traffic data. Soon emergency service call-outs will be added ("there are times when the fire brigade are the first people that know," Hunt says).

"We've done this purely as a set of interative prototypes," Hunt says. The team is on iteration number 26 after three months and a pilot – covering around a million customers in Sydney's west – rolls out later this year.

"It enables us to move, in front of an incident. Normally we're quite reactive," Hunt says. "But if we know something's about to happen, in some cases we'll be able to prevent it, by changing the network, changing pressures, opening valves and so on. And we can prewarn customers – particularly critical customers – before we switch the water off."

In its second phase, the hub will incorporate a machine learning layer, thanks to a partnership with CSIRO's Data61, to enable predictive maintenance. "It is a flagship capability which will take us into this predictive proactive mode," Hunt says.

Initially internal facing, at some point aspects of the tool will be opened to customers and the lines of distinction blurred.

And the transformation is not over for the utility's technology division. Eventually, Hunt sees Digital Services graduating to become 'Digital Delivery'.

"We've got a number of systems now which are directly customer facing. There is not a Sydney Water customer person in between the technology and the service that they're consuming," he says. "We're moving further up the value chain and are now driving the digital agenda."

Sydney Water's virtual reality experience at the Easter Show
Sydney Water's virtual reality experience at the Easter Show

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Tags managementagileutilityERPcrmSAPsydney waterWaterwiprowaterfallbillingrestructurecustomer centricwater company

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