H20 what an opportunity

Navigating open water

Craig Wellman, Director of Enterprise at Virgin Media Business, explains why the deregulation of the water industry - known as Open Water - means positive change.

Come April, when the water market opens to competition, some 1.2m UK businesses will be able to switch their supplier for the first time. This opening of the floodgates needn’t spell disaster. While customers will be free to shop around, it presents a vast opportunity not only for the industry itself, but also to specialist partner organisations like Virgin Media Business.

How so? Over the years we have amassed a wealth of valuable experience of working with water companies, so - as deregulation looms - we are well placed to ensure suppliers are not only prepared for the inevitable disruption, but can benefit from it too. It all stems from our culture as an innovator and challenger of the status quo.

Keeping ahead of the game

For evidence of this, look no further than our response to BT’s phasing out of Analogue Private Circuits - part of the furniture at water pumping stations, and often found in remote locations. They connect black box equipment to HQ, sending across telemetry data, including vital information on water levels, pressure, flow and more.

BT’s response to the switch-off is to encourage a move from APC to Ethernet, which means replacing telemetry hardware with IP-based equipment. Not to be taken lightly given the vast costs involved.

In contrast, our response provides organisations with an alternative to “rip and replace”. Through a partnership with The Kenton Group, a MIDI specialist, we can offer a resilient IPVPN solution using ADSL and 3G backup on a hardened serial-to-IP router.

This solution isn’t just cost effective, it’s ideal. With 3G backup as standard, users can maintain a real time view of the network even in the event of a line fault. In addition the “ruggedised router” is designed to withstand the challenging environment found in most remote pump stations and outposts. Damp, moisture and liquid ingress are no longer a problem. It’s a great example of Virgin Media Business innovation. We don’t just innovate. We change the game.

We are driving the integration of mobile and IPVPN data networks and firmly believe the growth in mobile connectivity, applications and devices presents a massive opportunity for the water industry.


Keeping people connected

We know impending deregulation and the decommissioning of old analogue kit aren’t the only issues impacting the water industry. Skills sharing can be a problem as long-standing, experienced engineers are geographically dispersed and spend a lot of time working independently at remote sites. This makes it difficult for them to pass knowledge on to their less experienced counterparts. Again, we can help.

Admittedly, we aren’t in a position to educate the next generation of water engineers, but we can certainly make it a whole lot easier for people to collaborate, share best practice and transfer skills.

We have loads of great products to keep people in contact, including WebEx connections to link up remote workers. This means experienced engineers can watch real-time videos of faults and issues, and advise colleagues how to fix them.

We are driving the integration of mobile and IPVPN data networks and firmly believe the growth in mobile connectivity, applications and devices presents a massive opportunity for the water industry. Our systems mean that if a water engineer has a mobile tablet and needs to access the company intranet, they can do so securely using 4G. We can also help manage resources more effectively and efficiently. For example, through improved workforce mobility we can track our engineers and are able to send people with the right skills and closest in proximity to investigate and fix faults. Our technology is cost-efficient, de-risking and, crucially, supports innovation. The possibilities are endless.

Keeping it safe

Health and safety is paramount in the water industry, and we can help there too. Working with a sensory networks partner, we have solutions to monitor employees in remote locations - making sure they stay safe even when alone. Options range from devices which send an alert if someone hasn’t moved for a set period of time, to pulse and equipment monitors that can also raise the alarm if something goes wrong.

Whatever your requirements, you’re in safe hands with Virgin Media Business. And far from resting on our laurels, we’re improving all the time. In an environment that requires the water industry to better its service levels while also reducing costs, we’re committed to helping our customers innovate and invest in the right places. Open Water? To us that means Open for Business. What an opportunity.

On 21 March, Craig Wellman will be speaking at the Smart Water Networks Conference, which is sponsored by Virgin Media Business.

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