Ofwat discussion paper focuses on the benefits of open data in the water sector

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Water regulator Ofwat has published a discussion paper setting out the case for how open data can enable water companies to ‘create value for water customers, communities and the environment.’

Open data means making data freely available to everyone to access, use and share, unless there’s a ‘really strong justification’ for not doing that. 

Lisa Commane, Senior Director at Ofwat, commented: “Other sectors have showcased the power of open data in delivering huge benefits for people and the planet.

“Open data plays a central role in stimulating new thinking and the use of open data is vital for the water sector to innovate and address some of the challenges and opportunities that exist. 

“We need to unleash the untapped potential of open data and we’ve heard there is appetite for doing that. This can be done if the water sector works together to lead this work and to develop the skills, technology and culture we have heard are essential.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing how the sector responds over the next 12 months and the benefits it brings.”

According to Ofwat, data is essential for developing insight, making informed decisions and improving services.

The regulator states that the use of open data could ‘transform’ water and wastewater service delivery by increasing transparency, increasing efficiency, enhancing customer experience, and stimulating innovation.  

Working alongside the water industry, consumer groups and the Open data Institute, Ofwat has sought to understand the benefits of open data and how it could be used to help address some of the challenges the water sector facesclimate change, the need to protect the environment, responding to changing customer demands and protecting the most vulnerable. 

The regulator has reflected on what is already happening within the industry to open up data, the untapped opportunities and challenges that need to be overcome. 

Through this engagement with stakeholders, Ofwat has identified key enablers needed to unlock the best outcomes from open data: 

  • strong data culture and the development of capability and skills – A strong individual company and industry-wide vision and strategy is essential for delivering open data. Strong senior leadership ensures strategic focus, and that data and analytics capability is developed 
  • improved collaboration on open data across the industry – Working together to collect, share and use data can help to address challenges, improve decision making and adapt to changing environments; and 
  • established data infrastructure – Open and accessible datasets, technology, training and processes that collect, maintain and use the data to gain insights and solve problems 

Water companies are at the start of their journey in opening up data. 

At present, very few water companies provide open access to their data sets and no company has opened large numbers of data sets beyond what is required by Government or a regulator for regulatory purposes. 

According to Ofwat, this work shines a light on some great examples of what has been achieved. This includes water companies working with phone providers to predict water consumption hotspots and a collaboration between a water company and Public Health England which identified a strong correlation between food service establishments and an increased risk of wastewater flooding. 

However, Ofwat states, there is more to do. The regulator wants to see the industry keep pace, make open data more of a priority and work together to embrace open data for the benefit of customers, society and the environment.

More information about this discussion paper and how to take part in the further industry conversation is available on the Ofwat website.