Oliver Grist (Programme Manager at Anglian Water), Marcus Chambers (Digital Delivery Manager at @one alliance) and Peter Fleming (Head of Strategic Consulting at Aiimi) explain why 3 days spent in a field in Ipswich will be a catalyst for huge changes in the water industry.


Tell me more about this event…

Peter: Innovate East – it’s a 3-day festival where delegates from across the water industry, utilities, regulatory bodies, software development and organisations from outside the water sector came together at Ipswich’s Trinity Park Showground.

So, you went for a jolly in a field?

Marcus: No! It was a fun festival environment, but it was really a base for 1,800 people to gather, all eager to tackle the most pressing challenges facing the water industry, our local regions, and society as a whole.

Peter: The event was jointly designed by Anglian Water and Essex & Suffolk Water to explore four key themes – natural capital, social purpose, digital twins and leakage – through a series of sprints, hackathons and dashes, which are essentially a shorter version of a sprint.

The setup was very cool – the site was made up of futuristic inflatable domes (some of which housed up to 200 people!) for each of the 12 hacks and sprints.

What was it like working in a field for 3 days?

Ollie: The setup was very cool – the site was made up of futuristic inflatable domes (some of which housed up to 200 people!) for each of the 12 hacks and sprints. Imagine a cross between a large igloo and the Teletubbies’ house. In the centre of the site we were encouraged to visit the Innovation Dome and interact with a whole host of gadgets and tools that the industry is already starting to use – ranging from VR construction rehearsals and Augmented Reality welding competitions, to 3D printing and heat camera equipped drones.

Sounds like there was a lot going on. What were you involved in?

Marcus: Together with Aiimi and with input from Subject Matter Experts at Anglian Water and Northumbrian Water, the @one Alliance sponsored a sprint all about how we can accelerate the adoption of Digital Twins across the water sector. Digital Twin is a massive area for innovation and growth, so I’m thrilled that this was one of the best attended sprints at Innovate East, with around 50 people joining us each day. Our Digital Twin sprint was open to anyone, from suppliers and manufacturers, to operators and academics.

Peter: I was responsible for leading the Digital Twin sprint, getting everyone involved in developing ideas to produce a roadmap for the adoption of Digital Twins in the water industry.

Why did you want to deliver a Digital Twin sprint?

Peter: As Marcus mentioned, Digital Twin represents a huge opportunity for the water industry to better manage their networks. Digital Twin can offer water companies a more accurate understanding of how their network works in real time, positively impacting their energy efficiency, leakage management, the environment and the service they can deliver to customers. At Aiimi, we are experienced at driving value from data, and personally I am a huge advocate for policy and strategy – so a sprint all about the adoption of Digital Twin is right up our street.

Marcus: All four of our organisations (Anglian Water, Aiimi, @one Alliance and Northumbrian Water Group) have something to offer in terms of water industry, technical, or implementation and strategic knowledge. It was a natural fit for us to design and lead this sprint together to ensure its success.

Our Digital Twin sprint was open to anyone, from suppliers and manufacturers, to operators and academics.

How did you address the challenge, “How can we accelerate the adoption of Digital Twins across the sector?”

Peter: We worked on the principle that Digital Twins are about much more than just understanding the relationship between the virtual and the physical through data. To use a Digital Twin in the effective management of their water network, companies also need to consider the people and processes they have in place. These will be the drivers behind successful adoption.

Is Digital Twin already being used in the water industry? Why is it not more widespread?

Digital Twins are about much more than just understanding the relationship between the virtual and the physical through data.

Marcus: Yes and no – there are several existing Digital Twins in the industry, but often these end up as siloed projects or part of a Proof of Concept that goes no further. The next step is to understand how we bring these isolated, existing projects together within a framework for governing the interoperability between them. This will make Digital Twins much more widespread.

Peter: I think it’s also vital to balance our excitement around the innovation and problem solving which Digital Twin can provide with a strong governance approach. If we have trust in the data, we’ll ensure we have trust in the business decisions we make using that data, and in turn we’ll be able to get more value from Digital Twins.

Is Digital Twin the innovative solution to all the water industry’s problem?

Peter: Not quite! That’s why the topic of our sprint is so important – a big part of driving adoption means identifying where Digital Twin can be used to best effect. I think water companies need to clearly define the decisions they need to make, and identify the actionable information required to make these decisions. Then they can go looking for the data that will supply them with the information insights they need. It may be that this information can be accessed through a Digital Twin approach, but we shouldn’t be afraid to say when this isn’t the right model. It’s always the case that other ways of working with the data, through near real-time modelling or data science, may provide a better answer.

So, what were the outcomes of your Digital Twin Adoption sprint?

Peter: The primary outcome from the sprint is that we have started to develop a roadmap for the adoption of Digital Twins. This roadmap defines the steps needed to drive transformation and provide the capabilities for successfully adopting Digital Twins as an integral part of business as usual and deliver the right outcomes for customers.

Marcus: Yes – and a process of engagement will soon begin, aiming to get buy-in for Digital Twin work from key water company stakeholders. We’ll be sharing these outcomes through a new community portal on SharePoint, which will hopefully encourage further collaboration. Also, the @one Alliance team are developing a model for how Digital Twin fits within wider business processes for managing data. This includes reviewing its relationship with BIM4Water (a cross-industry group focussed on achieving Better Information Management) and the National Digital Twin approach through CDBB (Centre for Digital Built Britain). We want to tell a more integrated story about how we focus on business led outcomes and, consequently, benefit to customers.

What was the best bit of Innovate East for you?

Peter: As a Strategy Consultant, I was excited to work on developing a strategy for the adoption of Digital Twin in the water industry. The dedicated space we had for the 3 days – our Digital Twin sprint dome – was really valuable. It’s rare to have that much time to dedicate to making one thing a success. I also loved the twin-themed jelly baby T-shirts which we designed for all our Sprint participants to wear – they brought a sense of fun and camaraderie to the event. And meeting Carol Vorderman!

The dedicated space we had for the 3 days – our Digital Twin sprint dome – was really valuable.

Marcus: The collaboration. Bringing people together from inside and outside the industry gave us valuable insight we wouldn’t normally have found and helped us develop a roadmap that considered the wider impact and benefit a Digital Twin could deliver.

Ollie: The serious hours and work that were put into the event by all involved. I was blown away by the hard work and energy I witnessed in all 12 hacks and sprints, not least the @one Alliance and Aiimi sprint on the adoption of Digital Twin. Oh, and returning home with a 3D model of my face made entirely out of chocolate – I had to explain to my wife that this was definitely not just a 3-day jolly in a field!

Any final thoughts on what’s next?

Peter: I think that once we bring together a skilled, connected and accurate approach to Digital Twin, we’ll begin to be able to manage our water networks digitally and resolve some of the water industry’s biggest problems – from leakage to energy efficiency – before they even arise. Pretty exciting stuff…