United Utilities is thought to have become the first water company in the UK to use robots to “revolutionise” its service to customers.
The north-west water company has invested £250,000 in 10 robots from software producer Blue Prism and worked with partners Deloitte to monitor its network for faults that could disrupt supply at peak times.
The software robots monitor signals and alerts from the water network and automatically inform engineers to issues so they can locate them and fix them before they affect customers.
The Robotic Process Automation (RPA), will also “streamline” several of the company’s processes, to enable it to respond “more efficiently” to customers.
United Utilities said the move will help it become a “digital company in a digital world”.
Ofwat is urging water companies to “fully embrace” innovation, which is one of the four main themes of PR19. The regulator recently launched a digital campaign around the theme.
William Hewish, chief information officer at United Utilities, said: “Installing the software represented a significant investment in modernising United Utilities’ water and wastewater network, which would result in many benefits to its customers and is an important part of our digital strategy.
“Ofwat has talked about the water industry being an analogue industry operating in a digital world. We have listened to what they had to say and this is just one of the investments we are making in our strategy to become a digital company in a digital world.”
He added: “We’re proud to become the first water company in the UK to introduce robots into our systems that can efficiently monitor our entire network at peak times, ensuring our customers benefit from the best possible service we can provide.
“The software will enable us to respond much more quickly to problems in the network which will reduce incidence of breaks in supply and other issues that cause inconvenience to our customers.
“There are a host of different things that we can use the robots for to help us to provide an even better service, which is great news for the seven million customers we serve.”
Louise Beardmore customer services and people director at United Utilities, said: “Robotics provides us with lots of opportunities to automate tasks and activities that will make us more efficient at what we do and that’s better for everyone.
“What’s more it allows the great people we employ more time to focus on delivering great customer service.”
United Utilities said the software has “far-reaching uses beyond just fault detection”. The company is investigating a range of other purposes including:
- Helping to monitor reservoir levels, and water pressure in the network.
- Significantly speeding up free home meter applications.
- Introducing text messaging appointment reminders for customers.
- Scheduling of daily domestic water samples from houses, to ensure the company continues to meet compliance obligations.