Open water: Navigating open
data in the water utilities industry

OFWAT and UKRN are continuing to pressure water companies to publish their data (H2Open) – but is publishing organisational data really safe?  How can you ensure that no sensitive data ever slips through, and can you ever be sure the data you’re publishing is correct? Even if the data is correct this month, that’s not to say that next month’s will be, or the month after that. These are concerns that will never fully go away, but it’s in asking yourself these questions that you will find the steps you need to take to ameliorate them.

If you haven’t asked yourself these questions yet, you soon will – or should be.

Is your data safe to publish?

To publish any data safely, organisations need to be sure where it comes from (it’s provenance), that it’s safe to publish (no personally identifiable information or commercially sensitive data is able to slip through) and that it will remain safe and accurate into the future (data quality, another Price Review 2024).  The good news is that resolving these issues is both an end goal in itself and achievable in incremental, quantifiable steps.

How can you make sure it stays publishable?

Data governance is the key to resolving these issues. It can be implemented and automated using any number of widely available tools (from vendors like Informatica, Azure, AWS, etc) giving a wide variety of architectural options to underpin it.  They can also be implemented, with little overhead, on the cloud: with very few up-front costs, a fast time to value and, importantly, with data made available for multiple use cases, not just for regulatory purposes.

Now you have the data, what can you do with it? 

Firstly, you can share the data internally as well as externally.  Making operational and strategic decisions based on accurate and up-to-date information is where being a data driven organisation begins.

Secondly, you can use that data to compare performance against other organisations. Ingesting external data to provide context, make predictions and even automatically drive behaviour based on those predictions are then logical, incremental steps towards data utility.

Customer data, financial data, operational data and asset data can all be used and re-used to measure, predict and inform multiple use cases right across the organisation and beyond.

Turning a ‘must have’ into a ‘want to’

What starts as a PR24 ‘must have’ could well become an organisational ‘want to’ for water companies, as you start to realise the benefits and opportunities that high quality, safe, publishable data can bring.

Where are you right now on this data journey?  It’s likely that you’re at different levels in different areas. The first step is to figure out where you are in each area and then define the next steps you need to take.  It’s much easier to manage the journey in stages that cover each different area, recognising and measuring the benefits of each step and making the decision to take the following step that much easier to justify and manage.  Once defined, this ‘Data Strategy’ can then be prioritised, implemented, shared with Ofwat and progress measured.

What should I do now?

Start now. You can start small if you need to, but the important thing is to get started. Data quality is not a quick fix, but with agile project management, you can start seeing progress at every phase of delivery and see your data quality, governance and security develop at each step.

Agile Solutions are an independent consultancy who can help assess, plan and implement data solutions: we can help you choose the right tools and make sure they integrate effectively into your organisation. To find out how we’re helping water utilities companies like you to get their data where it needs to be for Ofwat reporting, speak to our team.