Last week we attended the MEUC’s (Major Energy User’s Council) Big Bash event where our Senior Sales & Marketing Manager, Sven Parris, spoke to the members about the concept of water as a business continuity theme.
The MEUC is made up of large energy users who together make up 25% of all industrial energy consumption in the UK. Since the water market opened two years ago, the council’s interest and topics of discussion have expanded to include water which now falls within many of the members’ remits.
There’s no question about it, water is an essential aspect of our day-to-day lives, we drink it, we wash with it, but not only this, it is critical to the everyday operation of most businesses. This is of particular importance for large organisations such as financial institutions needing water for cooling applications, healthcare trusts that need to supply patient and staff welfare, hygiene upkeep and critical care services and industrial users that require water for manufacturing and production processes.
The UK has one of the best water networks in the world and this is often taken for granted. Generally, it’s assumed that water will always be there when we need it because it’s so readily available to us.
But what happens when it isn’t there and where can companies turn should they lose their water supply?
We often hear, ‘that doesn’t happen very often does it?’, and yet we support organisations that have experienced water supply interruptions 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. For the past 23 years we have been providing alternative supplies to support customers who have experienced an interruption, whether this is due to low pressure, contamination of supply, or a burst water main.
There were over 54,000 mains pipe bursts in the UK in the last year alone and during that same period, Water Direct delivered more than 100 million litres of water in total. These volumes are significant and highlight just how often these interruptions happen and how regularly business customers have a need to enlist an alternative supply of water.
Even with such frequency, in general water is still overlooked as a business continuity theme. Companies routinely prepare for a loss of power or IT within their business continuity plans, so why is it not common practice to put the same provisions in place for water?
Research in a YouGov survey, undertaken by one of our water retailer partners found that 66% of businesses don’t have a contingency plan in place for water.
We have spoken with some businesses for whom a halt in production or operation can result in a loss of £60,000 per hour. A supply issue can take anywhere between a few hours and a number of days to resolve, potentially resulting in a considerable lost revenue, financial penalties and negative PR.
One common misconception is that the ‘water utility company’ will provide an alternative water supply if an interruption occurs. Even though the market operator MOSL states: “Customers agreed as ‘vulnerable’ must be treated as a priority”, this may not be within parameters that are adequate or as expected for critical sites.
Water wholesalers’ regulatory priority initially lies with residential customers and unless organisations agreed as ‘vulnerable’ are confident that they have effective and appropriate, site-specific plans in place, how can they be sure that the level of support provided by the retailer or wholesaler will meet their expectations?
One wholesaler’s policy document states: “Non-household customers whose business processes are particularly sensitive to changes in the water supply are expected to maintain their own business continuity plans for managing unplanned changes in water services.”
We recently responded to an emergency call from a large hospital that had lost its water supply and been without it for more than 24 hours. Without being able to gain immediate assistance from their wholesaler, the customer contacted us to provide an alternative, which we were able to deliver within four hours. Having not experienced such a serious outage before the hospital and their facilities management company were under the impression, they would be guaranteed a level of service and response time from the wholesaler.
To add to this, Ofwat’s self-supply criteria states that: “Self-suppliers operating in the market are also required to create emergency plans for water outages affecting its premises.”
It’s clear that organisations must take ownership of ensuring an appropriate contingency plan is in place.
So, how can you as a business ensure you’re prepared for an unexpected supply interruption?
- Ask your wholesaler for clarity on what they can do to help
- Ask your retailer what contingency services they offer
- Don’t accept the idea that it’s someone else’s problem
- Arrange for a thorough water supply contingency plan to be put in place
- At the very least, keep contact details for a reputable emergency water supplier in your business continuity ‘battle box’ just in case it happens