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Finding best practices in demand management

The growing impact of many stressors — potential climate change impacts, population growth, ageing infrastructure — makes having the preparedness to ensure long-term water security and resilience more important than ever.

Demand management has always been an important part of the security and resiliency equation for water utility providers, but identifying best practices will go a long way in refining these programs and enabling them to have greater efficacy.

“Australia is a leader in water efficiency across the world,” said Jethro Laidlaw, Manager of Water Demand at Power and Water.

It is leadership that has been necessitated by a wide variety of factors including natural conditions, such as drought, and water consumption demands, and which is led by water providers nationwide. Across Australia, water utilities and water efficiency managers have implemented a wide range of programs, each of which carries their own distinct learnings.

In the search for water demand management best practice, Laidlaw and his research partners have undertaken a collaborative conversation with the industry more broadly, recognising the potential in bringing together these learnings that are not often shared.

“We’ve gone through a process of interviewing a lot of other water utilities across Australia. [We have interviewed] a lot of water efficiency managers and [determined] what programs have worked well for them,” he said.

Laidlaw explained that his presentation at Ozwater’21 will be about how “we’ve been reviewing our approach” in light of what surveying the industry has revealed.

Understanding the customers

“Lots of projects make a program,” said Laidlaw.

“[Having] smaller projects, all targeting different types of water, comprise an efficient program. We’ve [also] learnt that there [are] much better ways to interrogate the cost benefit of different projects — to do a kind of multi-criteria analysis to really select projects based on evidence that’ll have the biggest return on investment.”

But one of the key approaches that stood out to Laidlaw is “the methods of sectoring your customer type.”

The wider trend of using data to inform decision-making shows no signs of abating, and one of its key approaches — segmentation — is proving valuable when it comes to water demand management.

Where demand management has always contained a crucial component of engaging with and educating customers, Laidlaw sees moving beyond customer focus and into customer metrics as a key practice.

“Rather than just thinking of people as customers, we’re trying to segment them into different groups of customers, then have projects specifically targeting the different groups,” he explained.

“With any water-saving program, it’s essentially a behaviour change program. You’re trying to find out what [customer] attitudes and behaviours are and how [to facilitate] more water efficient behaviour.”

Harnessing the power of data

Rather than rely solely on the traditional method of understanding customers — that is, a round of customer research with both qualitative and quantitative, interviews and focus groups — going granular with data is one extremely insightful way of understanding the many and varied behaviours of customers.

Water utility providers are starting to overlay data with general consumer data and Australian Bureau of Statistics data to form a more segmented understanding of their customers, with Laidlaw seeing instances of data overlaid onto water consumption “down to a lot level.”

Notably, the power of data overlays is that new data is always being accumulated and this ensures customer behaviour insights can be kept up-to-date.

“It’s not just a moment in time,” said Laidlaw. “It’s kept up-to-date as things change, as the new water bill comes in, [as] other data and research is accumulated. You’re getting up-to-date information about your customers all the time so it’s really helping us target our programs to our different customer types.”

It’s a development Laidlaw sees as being really significant.

“That’s a huge step forward — well it seems to be anyway — in customer awareness,” he said.

Hear more from Jethro Laidlaw on Day 1 of Ozwater’21 in his presentation ‘Searching for best practise in demand management’. The event is the largest water conference in the Southern Hemisphere and will be held in Adelaide from 4-6 May 2021. Click here to register.