Alex Osborne

London’s running dry

The UK’s public services are under pressure. The NHS is facing chronic understaffing, and people are frustrated with the nation’s expensive and unreliable rail network.

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These are, of course, pressing concerns. But some services face almost existential challenges. Thames Water has the responsibility of supplying clean drinkable water as well as waste services to more than 15 million people every single day – for houses, offices, schools and hospitals. But it’s estimated that in its current state of repair, the network can guarantee that supply for only another 30 years.

London’s ageing pipe network is made up of more than 139,000 kilometres of water and waste pipes – enough to traverse the globe 3.5 times – with thousands of these pipes dating back to the 1800s and 1900s. The combination of a continuously growing population and the changing climate are putting huge strains on the network.

One of Thames Water’s biggest challenges is dealing with leaks. Concerted action needs to be taken now or London could run dry. Reducing leakage is part of the solution, but Thames Water cannot easily replace the whole network. And educating consumers on how to use water more efficiently can only go so far. But new technology is helping Thames Water tackle the challenges head-on.

What’s needed is a system that can provide information at a moment’s notice. An overview of the technology supporting the vast network is built up, to help identify where problems exist and find the most efficient way to restore services when they fail. The meshing of this technology with the water and waste network will help Thames Water’s operations to run seamlessly, because operators will be able to quickly and accurately flag any issues raised by sensors deployed throughout the network. Engineers on the ground will have a far better understanding of the fault and location – thereby accelerating response times and minimising downtime and disruption while repairs are taking place. AI and machine-learning can also predict where the next issues are likely to arise. By analysing historic data sets, engineers can be deployed to fix potential faults before any problems actually occur.

Technology continues to transform nearly every aspect of our lives. Utility providers such as Thames Water show how the capabilities of the latest digital technologies and digital workflows powered by ServiceNow, along with data analytics, can harness the power of data for the benefit of us all.

Now we need to ensure that these capabilities are applied across the public sector – delivering new, more efficient and more user-friendly services everywhere.

Let’s give the NHS the ability to automate workflow processes, make crucial patient information available wherever and whenever it needs to be, and free up doctors, nurses and hospital staff to spend their time helping patients, rather than battling IT problems. Let’s help rail operators overhaul how they handle delays and disruption and communicate with commuters, at a speed and scale that keeps people moving.

Digital workflows and other disruptive technologies are crucial to the public sector – helping companies such as Thames Water prepare for the long-term. Together we can keep society on its feet and on the road to a better future.

 Alex Osborne, Senior Director at ServiceNow