Posted: Tuesday 1st August 2017

Focusing attention on as little as 10% of water companies' operational areas could help significantly reduce leakage to standards set by industry regulators, according to data scientists.

A unique week of activity that combined both a hackathon and a sprint to tackle the issue of leakage took place at Northumbrian Water Group's NWG Innovation Festival.

The hackathon, led by NWG and Microsoft, saw 60 data scientists spend three days crunching 4.5GB of data. The information came from a range of sources and included such varied data as existing leakage information, road traffic statistics and Second World War bombing records.

Examination of the data highlighted that, from the Group's 450 operational zones in Essex, where the company provides water as Essex & Suffolk Water, focussing on 20 could significantly slow leakage increasing. Expanding that to 50 could reduce leakage to levels demanded by industry regulator Ofwat.

The results could form the basis for other water companies to similarly identify the areas they can focus upon to have a similar impact upon their leakage.

During the same week, the sprint saw around 50 people spend five days focussing on the issue of leakage, taking it from an outline of the problem to ideas that can be developed. Sprints apply leading design thinking techniques to real world issues.

The sprint, entitled Keep It Flowing: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? was one of six such activities carried out at the same time at the NWG Innovation Festival, which took place at Newcastle Racecourse.

A few of the many ideas that came out of the sprint, and which will be developed by Northumbrian Water Group in partnership with a range of other organisations, include:

A tool that allows water companies to focus their efforts on areas where the biggest impact on leakage reduction can be made.

A system that will allow water companies to more closely monitor its network of pipes, highlighting deterioration and areas of risk before leaks happen.

The use of mobile apps that allow members of the public to report leaks with greater accuracy, using geospatial technology.

Hackathon: More collaboration with experts outside of the sector, using the power of data to deliver a better customer service.

Michael Hull, Performance and Information Team Leader at Northumbrian Water Group, led the hackathon.

He said: "Leakage is an issue throughout the industry, so it was a natural choice as an area upon which we should focus at the NWG Innovation Festival. It is unheard of to run a sprint and a hackathon alongside each other and the findings were really interesting, particularly the ability to significantly reduce leakage through a focus upon certain areas."

Ian Cleaver, Network Services Regional Manager (South) for Northumbrian Water Group, added: "Some of the ideas that came from the sprint have the potential to reduce the amount of water lost, such as using mobile apps that can allow our customers to become active participants in our leak finding activities, enabling us to react faster and better pinpoint, even if they are in the middle of a field or wood.

"We also came up with ideas that would allow us to more closely monitor the physical performance of our network, so that we can see where there is the potential for leakage to occur as a result of deterioration of our network of underground pipes, and deal with it before a leak occurs.

The task now is to continue to collaborate with the partnerships we created at the NWG Innovation Festival and develop the ideas and hopefully start getting some of the results we believe they can deliver."

The NWG Innovation Festival was supported by IBM, Microsoft, Ordnance Survey, BT, CGI Group and Reece Innovation.

It was also delivered in association with Newcastle University, Durham University, Genesys, Interserve in partnership with Amec Foster Wheeler, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys, Unify, ITPS, Esh-MWH, and Pen Test Partners.

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