Like many other stakeholders in the water industry, we have read with great interest Ofwat’s ‘Out in the Cold’ report which outlines the UK water companies’ responses to the freeze following the ‘Beast from the East’ and subsequent thaw in late February and early March 2018.
As contributors to the review and providers of alternative supply to water companies, we are very encouraged by the learning points and actions raised in the review. It’s important to remember that Ofwat’s inquiry isn’t about attributing blame but learning from experience to improve industry-wide resilience. We believe the findings will help us continue to improve the reactive service we provide and evolve our own best practice in line with industry partners.
Of particular note is that the report found that some water companies did not have appropriate plans in place to manage this type of incident. As a result, requirement for alternative supplies to customers, particularly of bottled water, caused a sudden increase in demand that was in many cases, far in excess of the contracted levels of response.
EXPECTATION VS REALITY
This is a key theme at the moment. As we move into a more resilient future following the report, water companies may be asking, “Is the contracted level of response we hold enough?” and “Should we be investing more in scalable alternative provisions to ensure preparedness in a similar instance?”
The report showed how better performing water companies were proactive in requesting additional alternative supplies in advance, following receipt of weather warnings. For some this included arranging bottled water stock placed on standby in strategic locations, from where water could be rapidly deployed when needed.
It was found that some companies’ approach to distributing alternative supplies, particularly bottled water, needed improvement. With a lack of organisation, no effective escalation plan had been put in place for some of these companies, meaning a significant demand was extended to their suppliers.
PLANNING = RESILIENCE
We are committed to supporting the water company body Water UK in its work across the sector in developing more effective planning for the sourcing and distribution of bottled water supplies as well as consideration of other alternative water supply solutions. Water Direct has already invested more than £2 million in its water tanker fleet in 2017/18, with significant additional investment in its quality assured Nationwide Bottled Water Bank, the only provision of its kind in the UK.
Additionally, Ofwat has called for the Security and Emergency Measures Directive (SEMD) to be reviewed. This may lead to water companies re-evaluating their alternative supply strategies further, working closely with local partners and others in the sector. This is something Water Direct has sought to promote since the company was founded in 1996.
In an age of ever-evolving communication and information at our fingertips, there is increased potential for effective correspondence between businesses and their customers.
There can still be gaps however, which will ultimately affect customer service in instances where communication is not effective or widespread enough to reach all customers.
The review brought to light that some business customers were being passed back and forth between wholesaler and retailer whilst trying to gather information on the lack of supply.
For some business customers this incident led to significant disruption which could have been minimised had there been a clearer definition in place regarding responsibility for alternative supply and means for non-household customer to access those.
We have been working actively to raise the profile of water supply as a critical business continuity theme and our hope is that businesses will increasingly consider water supply alongside power and IT as a matter of routine.
The report also found that some water companies focused solely on communicating with customers through social media or via text message to outdated databases. Arguably, this meant some of the most vulnerable customers with no access to social media or mobile phones were left in the dark.
Examples of good practice included those companies that pre-arranged precautionary tankers to be provided to hospitals in the area who were confirmed to be without 24-hour water storage onsite.
The water companies contracted to Water Direct benefit from assured delivery times and access to millions of litres of quality assured water for rapid delivery from strategic locations across the UK.
Following the Ofwat report, many water wholesalers and retailers have been asked to update their emergency response plans, something Water Direct is committed to supporting.
The report states that water companies should develop plans with local partners and emergency services. This will enable resilient cross-sector communications and establish a coordinated approach regarding the sourcing and delivery of bottled water and other alternative water supplies in emergency situations.
As an industry, we have an opportunity to take huge steps forward in the new proposals that were called for in the report. These should be ambitious and innovative in improving company resilience, communications and customer service. As an industry, we have access to technology and innovations in communication and should embrace this within our future planning.
STRENGTH IN PARTNERSHIP
As an innovative and progressive company, Water Direct naturally challenges and develops its own processes all the time and we are hopeful that the report findings will encourage the industry at large to do the same.
Water Direct is here to help. With proactive and positive communications and collaborations with our partners across the water industry we can create the resilience we need to deliver excellence in even the most critical situations.