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H2Open – A case for change in the water sector

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Lisa Commane
Ofwat's Senior Director.

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  • H2Open – case for change in the water sector

Open data has the potential to revolutionise the water sector as we know it.

At Ofwat, we want to supercharge the conversation, tying in the good collaboration that already happens and making sure that the sector accelerates this work. We recently published H2Open: A Case for Change, our discussion paper on open data in the water sector, which aims to spark conversations and discussion.

Open data is data that is freely available to everyone to access, use and share. This means that open data sets are accessible not only to water companies and regulators, but to the wider supply chain, third parties and the public.

Data can feel quite disconnected from real solutions, but through open data the water sector can drive efficiency, innovation and transparency – benefits that everyone wants to see. It can help to address some of the challenges we face far beyond the sector and the supply chain, such as climate change and the need to protect the most vulnerable.

Open data can drive efficiencies through streamlining existing processes, improving data quality and incentivising collaborative working.

Operational efficiencies, such as the ability to detect and resolve sewer defects, are increasing as a result of open data and digitisation. The use of artificial intelligence algorithms on large datasets has enabled companies to identify cracks and damage within sewer pipes, cutting down hours that would previously have been spent reviewing CCTV footage.

Similarly, the use of open banking technologies has also increased efficiencies in conducting customer vulnerability assessments, so that customer services teams are able to access financial information in real time and approve tailored payment plans.

Open data plays a central role in stimulating new thinking and the use of open data is vital for the water sector to innovate

Open data can also catalyse innovation, creating opportunities to attract new skills and develop new technologies, business models and services that can enhance customer experience, environmental quality, and business processes. We recognise its importance: it's one of the five themes of our innovation competitions.

Use of intelligent sewer monitoring can provide early intervention for storm overflow flooding, whilst open data hacks have produced a wealth of interesting insights, from better understanding the sources of fatbergs to modelling impacts of Covid-19 and predicting future energy demand.

Innovation cross-cuts other sectors. For example, one company utilises open data from mobile phone signals to generate real-time population maps, allowing them to better predict water consumption hotspots.

Finally, open data can improve transparency and build trust in the water companies. It can open conversations with customers and allow users of water greater access to information about their local environments.

Open data means that customers are more engaged with their water suppliers and the wider sector. Customers and interested third parties can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the supply and demand of water resources. Open data can catalyse public interest and regulation, with the potential to redefine traditional relationships and empower water users to engage more closely with the sector.

Other sectors have showcased the power of open data in delivering huge benefits for people and the planet. Open data plays a central role in stimulating new thinking and the use of open data is vital for the water sector to innovate and address some of the challenges and opportunities that exist.

We want to unleash the untapped potential of open data and to support the water sector in realising this.  We have identified key enablers for open data in a strong data culture and the development of capability and skills, improved collaboration and established data infrastructure.

We are really looking forward to seeing how the sector responds over the next 12 months. Together we can open up solutions and opportunities to revolutionise the water sector.

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