Interview: Thames Water, UK IT Industry Awards finalist

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Norma Dove Edwin, Digital Transformation Director at Thames Water
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Norma Dove Edwin, Digital Transformation Director at Thames Water

"Our purpose is to deliver life's essential service, so our customers, communities and the environment can thrive."

IT has grown in prominence over the last decade. No longer seen as a cost centre, it's now widely accepted that people can use IT to improve their creativity, productivity and knowledge.

The UK IT Industry Awards are the largest and most well-known event in the technology industry calendar. Owned and operated by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Computing, the awards enjoy a level of professionalism and industry knowledge not seen at other shows.

This year's winners will be announced at a live awards ceremony on Wednesday 9th November in London.

One of the finalists is Thames Water, which has reached the shortlist for four categories: Inspirational Individual of the Year; Rising Star of the Year; IT Team of the Year; and Data Science Project of the Year.

We talked with Norma Dove Edwin, Digital Transformation Director at Thames Water, to find out what makes her company different from other firms.

Norma joined Thames Water as Digital and Transformation Director in May 2022. She has significant experience driving global business transformation and change programmes, with a proven track record of delivering business value, defining and delivering global strategies, and leading diverse, multicultural teams.

Norma has a deep understanding of the partnership required between the technology function and others to focus on outcomes and deliver great customer experiences through unlocking the strategic value of digital and data.

Computing: Please provide some background on your company for our readers.

Norma Dove Edwin: Thames Water is the UK's largest water company serving 15 million customers in London, the Thames Valley and the Southeast.

How is your company different from its peers?

NDE: As the UK's largest water company, we're very aware of the size and scale of our business and the differences between the regions we serve, which pose their own challenges and opportunities.

Every day we supply 2.5 billion litres of water and we treat 4.6 billion litres of wastewater. We have 97 water treatment works and 353 sewage treatment works. Meanwhile we generate 510 gigawatt hours of renewable electricity per year. On a day-to-day operational level that is a lot of information to digest and process. My team plays an important role in ensuring that we can get the best value from this, and our business is able to optimise technology for the benefit of our customers and the environment - such as using data to improve our renewable energy processes, understanding customers water consumption and tackling leaks through smart meters, to modelling our networks so we can best maintain it.

Out in the field, serving London provides a unique challenge for a couple of reasons - a lot of the assets we still use were built by the Victorians, so they are old and often very hard to access without causing widespread disruption. Given the amount and location of these assets it's important that we target our investment and activities in increasingly intelligent ways.

Meanwhile in more rural areas of our region and the Home Counties, we're rightly seeing a spotlight on river health and we've set out our plans for the next few years to reduce the harm to river water quality from our wastewater activities. This includes installing 468 event duration monitors at our permitted discharge sites by the end of 2022. Using data will help us accelerate our work to protect and improve the environment we all rely on.

As with other water companies in the Southeast, we must also look at how we respond and plan for the challenges of climate change and water scarcity, which will involve lots of collaboration across and outside our industry.

Our purpose is to deliver life's essential service, so our customers, communities and the environment can thrive. We're uniquely placed to use data and technology to make the most of the water cycle so we can be more efficient, sustainable, and resilient for future generations.

What one company achievement in the last 12 months are you most proud of?

NDE: Since I joined team Thames a few months ago, I've seen some brilliant work and we have some amazing and innovative technology work happening. The most impressive and tangible example of this - and one of the projects we have that are shortlisted - is the work we have been doing to identify blockages on our waste network. This has involved deploying thousands of new sensors and taking the data from them, applying AI & machine learning to identify emerging problems in sewers; without a quick response these can disrupt customers' problems or cause pollutions.

Since 1st April this year we have already detected over 2700 blockages proactively with no customer impact. The work has brought together colleagues across asset management, operations and digital to collaborate and deliver an important improvement in performance for customers.

What are you working on this year?

NDE: Thames Water is a great company and I'm here as Team Thames to help delivering our turnaround plan and lead the digital transformation. We already have great pockets of digital capability goodness so it's about harnessing this goodness and scaling it across Thames Water. Building and embedding our digital capability will be a key enabler for how we will improve Thames Water's performance and deliver better outcomes for our customers, stakeholders and the environment.

Why are events like the UK IT Industry Awards important to the IT industry?

NDE: It is a great way to recognise brilliant teamwork and individual contributors - it's great to see what others are up to and keep in touch with peers across the industry.

The UK IT Industry Awards will take place on 9th November in London. Click here to view the shortlist and here to book your table.

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