With more than 2 million sensors already installed, and facing an expansion plan for smart metering that would add millions more, Thames Water needed to make its data network infrastructure as flexible, reliable and secure as possible without driving costs up.
The company, which provides drinking water and wastewater services to more than 15 million customers across London and the Thames Valley, had to rethink its entire approach to networking, ranging from protocols to how collected data would be stored and analyzed.
Thames Water joined with consulting firms Accenture and Deloitte, the Bilfinger engineering company and IBM to form the Technology and Transformation Alliance to help it create new ways of working and delivering technology services and projects. A key part of the plan is upgrading Thames Water’s existing monitoring network to exploit advanced analytics.
“What I’ve inherited is a set of infrastructure that’s been implemented over many years,” says Simon Coombs, an Accenture managing director who is leading Thames Water’s Intelligence Hub network advanced analytics program. “You have a mix of high-density customers in the middle of the capital city and you have, of course, lower density through the countryside — a wide range of different issues to contend with as a company.”
One way Thames Water hopes to achieve a more cost effective sensor network, without sacrificing performance, reliability or security, is by gradually replacing older standards with newer Internet of Things (IoT) protocols.
“The IoT is providing the opportunity to bring much cheaper devices in,” Coombs says. Yet for enterprises like Thames Water that have operated massive sensor networks for many years, the road to improved cost efficiencies is pitted with the challenge of supporting a range of different protocols. “Of course utilities want to reduce cost, but they also have a portfolio of predominantly old kit that they’re having to still manage, and maintain and deal with,” Coombs says.