How a great digital strategy helps you squeeze every drop from your data

Posted 14 July 2017

Have you considered the need for a digital strategy within your organisation? Are your staff equipped to face the challenges of providing water to customers within a digital age?

A digital strategy allows organisations to meet the rapidly changing expectations and needs of their customers, and helps water utilities manage fixed infrastructure in a more flexible way, said Roch Cheroux, CEO of SA Water Corporation. 

For example, pipe networks are set in place, but they need to service a constantly moving population that goes from home to work and everywhere in between.

“A digital strategy not only encompasses better ways to manage your infrastructure, but better ways to communicate with your customers,” he said. 

“It’s more cost-effective and less time-consuming than upgrading pipes.” 

Cheroux said a digital strategy can provide more efficiency within an organisation and a more meaningful experience for customers. 

“Moving to the use of smart technology and addressing the gap with our digital offering to customers have been two major steps in our current digital journey,” he said. 

“Through things like online fault reporting and adding more communication channels, our website offers a much more improved way to connect to our customers than it did 10, five and even two years ago.”

Many companies are faced with the problem of having access to lots of data but not having the strategy or tools to use it effectively, said GHD’s Global Digital Leader Kumar Parakala.

“While companies are beginning to recognise the value of data as a strategic asset, they might not necessarily have sufficient internal capabilities and vision to generate real value from it,” he said.  

Accessing these skills requires collaboration, strategic partnerships and co-creation. Parakala urged leaders to ask the right questions relating to business strategy, culture and strategic partnerships – not just technology.

“It’s a new way of thinking about customers and services,” he said.

Parakala noted three questions that water utilities should ask themselves in order to start thinking from a future perspective: Is it possible to reimagine relationships between utilities and customers through co-creation via an open data platform? What insights and information will customers want to know? Can water companies use these solutions to meet the customers’ higher expectations for service?

High-performing companies have leaders who engage with innovative customers (not just high-revenue ones), develop and execute customer-centric a digital strategies and manage data as a strategic asset, Parakala said. 

“If we look at high-growth companies in other industries as examples, they are investing in their people’s innovative mindsets, view mistakes and failures as learning opportunities and deliberately create cultures that facilitate rapid experimentation,” he said. 

For SA Water Corporation, their digital journey involved leaving behind old technology and moving to the use of smart technology while addressing the gap in their digital offering to customers, Cheroux said. 

“The biggest realisation that led to this part of our strategy was the need to embed customers earlier in the planning and design process,” he said. 

“We needed to stop assuming we knew what customers wanted and start asking.”

It became clear that SA Water needed to become customer-centric across the board. 

“It’s about convincing people, mostly within the organisation, that what we did yesterday wasn’t bad, but there’s something different and better we should be doing tomorrow,” he said.

“The great thing is solutions aren’t static, and we will keep building on them with our customers and learning more about how to use technology to adapt to their needs.”

Roch Cheroux and Kumar Parakala were panel members at the Water Leaders Forum at the Ozwater’17 conference in Sydney. To learn more, click here