Digital technology the key to a more agile water industry workforce

Posted 18 May 2017

Digital technologyIf the water industry is going to resolve challenges in a timely way, professionals need a new skillset, and they’ll need to know how to think on their feet.

“Digital innovation is nonlinear and exploratory,” said IBM Senior Managing Consultant Glen Garner during his session at Ozwater’17. 

Garner highlighted three waves that have enabled digital transformation in water industry organisations: mobile power, cognitive AI, and social and cloud connectivity. Together, these three combine to create a richer user experience, more agile delivery of services and improved connectivity between different business functions. 

“Digital is a business strategy, not just an IT function,” he said. 

In many ways this change facilitates an individual enterprise model, whereby employees have more flexibility to plan their schedules, as well as increase efficiency by cutting out the middleman. 

“We have an amazing amount of computing capability with smartphones. Increased mobility facilitated by these factors compresses the time between identifying issues and taking action. 
What we’re trying to do with digital is slim down the processing time.”

Digital technology also creates opportunities for new models of community and customer engagement.  

One example Garner gave is the ability for residents to report an event – such as a broken pipe – via social media. These reports can be logged by utilities, triangulated via GPS stamps on posts and compared with similar reports from others to verify the issue. 

Garner also listed examples of how wearable technologies can improve employee safety, such as alerting workers to high-wind conditions, or sudden drops in oxygen levels when working in enclosed spaces. 

Taking advantage of these digital technologies requires a workplace that encourages innovation and alternative thinking, said Colin Chapman of Queensland Urban Utilities

“Accountability, participation and delivering value – if you have those as part of your strategy then you’re headed in the right direction,” he said. 

To embed innovation into the organisation, Chapman said that QUU created a series of pathways that employees can take to submit ideas and make them a reality. These include CEO innovation hours where individuals can pitch their ideas directly to the senior management team, and a mentoring program to help nurture the approved projects.

Since starting the program, a number of innovations and projects have come out of it: more than 200 ideas have been submitted, and there are currently 63 projects in the pipeline. 

He also noted that there’s been an attitude shift in the organisation. A recent internal survey revealed that two-thirds of employees feel empowered to come forward with a new idea.  

“The most important asset for any organisation is its people,” he said.