“A gamechanger” – how a digital working culture can transform utility operations

“A gamechanger” – how a digital working culture can transform utility operations

Digitalization has proven to be a vital tool in building collaboration across teams to deliver compelling results. It is one of the major trends that emerges in “Ripple Effect: A Movement Towards Digital Transformation,” a new paper capturing insights from global utility leaders and experts about their experience of “going digital.” The full paper will be released next month.

Ahead of its release, Ir. Abas Abdullah, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Pengurusan Air Selangor Sendirian Berhad (Air Selangor), Malaysia’s largest water utility, breaks down the essential role of smart technologies in tackling complex challenges and transforming operations.

At Air Selangor, we serve a population of roughly nine million people. Every day, our team of 5,000 employees across ten regional offices works tirelessly to deliver on our commitment to provide a clean and safe treated water supply. 

As Acting CEO, one of the most satisfying parts of my job is finding ways to bring our people together to deliver a seamless service for our customers. Integrating many staff across many different functions is not easy, but it’s achievable – particularly if you harness the power of digital technology. 

One of the aspects of digital transformation that energizes me most is the many opportunities to use data and digital tools across our operations. These range from improving customer engagement and satisfaction via smart metering to advanced solutions to work on reducing the volume of non-revenue water, using intelligent leak detection and pipe monitoring solutions.

To organize and deliver these initiatives in a way that drives operational efficiencies, we implemented what we call a 360-degree digital transformation strategy – digital integration across departments and systems, with quality data at its core.

That transformation doesn’t just help us work better – it also means that we can deliver a more cost-effective service for our customers. As a public utility, it is vital that we deliver value for money and work as efficiently as possible. Harnessing digital helps us do that.

Moving ahead with a digital working culture

For us, digitalization really is the only way forward. But that digitalization also needs to be meaningful in order to deliver the best outcomes to the communities we serve. Our work is about ensuring our customers have access to sustainable, clean, and safe treated water. By having the right data and the right tools, we can deliver on this. 

That is where our digital working culture comes in. We have a lot of data, a lot of information, but we need it to be meaningful – we have to be able to connect the dots. To do this, we have established new data-focused teams that cut across existing functional groups, with capabilities including a digital analytics center and an intelligent command center.

This has been a game changer in shaping how we operate. Now, all our data is presented on a single executive dashboard that gives our teams near real-time performance intelligence from across the organization. It pulls data from as many as 40 different systems into a central pipeline or “data lake,” allowing our people to see what’s going on, and what issues we might need to solve at any given moment.

This level of intelligence only works if everyone in the organization is on board. We use data to bring people together to solve mutual challenges, something that has helped us to reshape operations to be more connected and collaborative.

We have great data scientists, but not everyone needs to have that level of knowledge, not everyone can speak that language. That means sometimes we can simplify processes to make sure that the people who need the data get insights appropriate for their role and level of understanding.

If we can consistently demonstrate how technology can enhance daily work and ensure our people receive the training they need to embrace this new approach, we can deliver strong results. Cross-functional teams help make sure that our investments deliver tools and actionable information to a broad range of people – from operators on the ground, those working inside the utility, and those in the field.

By being transparent and maintaining open lines of conversation, everyone can embrace this collaborative approach and deliver for our customers.

Adaptability to change is vital to survival

The results speak for themselves. Take, for example, our proactive approach to reducing pipe leaks and bursts. We used digital technology to help identify the causes of pressure surges to mitigate the damaging transients that could reduce the lifespan of our pipes. By identifying leaks before they become more serious bursts, repairs can be made without requiring line shutdown or without disrupting supply to the local community.

This approach combines and analyzes analytics from two major leak detection methodologies – pressure transients and hydrophones – to help utilities localize pipe bursts within minutes and detect slowly growing leaks. While this is an automated process, it is closely supervised by analysts. It also interprets massive quantities of data to help repair crews prioritize their response.

Our analytics team is identifying two leaks per week, a significant improvement compared to traditional methods where the same pipelines may not be revisited for months or years. This example shows how significant a difference that digital technology can make when people get the right insights.

To continue to make sure they are getting these insights, we are constantly evolving our approach. If there was a single piece of advice that I would give to another water operator, it is to be open to change. As any student of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution will remember, adaptability to change is vital to survival. Change is constant, from local regulations to customer expectations to developments in technology.

By being innovative and embracing the need to constantly evolve, we are delivering on our commitment to provide a clean and safe treated water supply, and to give the best experience to our customers.

Lean more about Air Selangor's real-time monitoring program to improve asset reliability and resiliency.

Learn more about Xylem’s digital platform, Xylem Vue powered by GoAigua.