Tony Summerscales is a leading leakage practitioner and Technical Director at Skewb. Tony is passionate about creating sustainable changes for our clients, unlocking the potential of data driven decision making, and introducing robust outcome measurement. Drawing on over 30 years of industry experience across operations and project delivery, he and his team are helping our clients to reshape their approach to leakage reduction and operational excellence.
Time to change
Leakage is one of the highest profile performance commitments for UK water companies, it’s a concept that customers and the media can understand and quite often have an opinion on. The pressure on water companies to improve their performance has been driven by the regulator’s insistence on an average reduction of 15% in this AMP and the expectation of further reduction in the future
It’s safe to say that Leakage has been a habitual problem for generations, but the industry’s approach hasn’t changed as much as it needs to.
My father spent his career in water operations and engineering, and he continues to take a keen interest in how the industry is performing. 50 years ago he was responsible for leakage in North London and leakage measurement was done using mechanical meter’s and paper charts, if the flow was higher than normal in an area he’d deploy a team to investigate. Now we have data loggers linked through the mobile phone network giving us near-real-time flow data, but we are still watching and waiting. When the flow goes up, a detection activity is launched.
This reactive way of working links back to the roots of leakage in water operations who always work at their best in a crisis, providing a rapid response to an immediate need, but ask them to carry out a planned maintenance activity and it will take them weeks, and too often the task will be forgotten.
Now is the time to change the industry approach, if we are ever going to achieve the reductions required in AMP7 and beyond then we need to become proactive. Skewb’s approach to leakage management is all about the right Information, triggering the right action, and measuring the Outcome. We are beginning this journey with Southern Water where we are starting work on their Digitalisation project, this project is focused on data, and how it can be used for proactive intervention.
We will use the historic data to recognise trends in leakage and responses, predict when then the next intervention will be required, and identify the right detection methods. The future of successful leakage management is to move the workforce to a predominantly planned workload, and reduce reactive activity to a minimum. This however is reliant on the quality of the data. Too often data that is not used goes unchecked, and therefore the quality is poor. When we introduce new ways of working that are reliant on good data they can fail, and the it’s the new approach that is seen as failing and not the data.
So in order to improve leakage we have to embrace data quality, it has to become an important part of every operatives output, the data fields need to be validated against others where possible, and ultimately there needs to be swift consequences for incomplete or contradictory information
Can we rise to the Leakage Challenge? Yes, but its not about doing more of the same, it about intelligent decision making based on good quality data.