To highlight the technology evolution in the smart water and sanitation space, Smart Energy International spoke to Cameron McLean, chief information officer, Yarra Valley Water, based in Melbourne, Australia.
The discussion centred on their digitisation focus areas, as well as how they optimise and protect the data that’s determining their strategic future and keeping their customers happy.
What are some of the key development plans and priority projects for the next 18 months?
Like many organisations, Yarra Valley Water is at an exciting point in our technology evolution. Technology capabilities are advancing at an ever increasing rate, providing a wealth of opportunities that can be leveraged faster and more cheaply than ever before. Taking advantage of these advances, I have three key priority areas for the next 18 months.
With our customers at the heart of everything we do, we have recognised that we need to provide access to the right information and services at the time of need, through whichever channel the people we serve choose. Tightly coupled with this, we need to provide our Customer Care professionals with the tools they need to provide excellent service to those customers who choose to contact us by telephone. One of our key initiatives over the next 18 months is to enhance and further digitise our customer service technologies both externally and internally facing to ensure we can deliver the service our customers expect. The platforms we are putting in place also give us the capability to enhance the capabilities we provide for our operations people by digitising a number of currently manual processes, and we are working to make this a reality.
In addition to our customer programme, we have a wealth of data from our 100 year history that can be used to better inform how we invest in, maintain and operate the assets that provide water and sanitation services to our customers. Contemporary analytics platforms combined with the rapid evolution of machine learning and AI provides us an opportunity to use our rich data sources to provide the insights and automation our business needs to evolve.
We have recently commenced a trial of a new analytics, machine learning and AI platform and are currently completing a number of analytics activities to generate these insights. We have also commenced work on some AI initiatives that are delivering some really exciting results. Over the next 18 months we will continue to build this capability, and will extend our work into process and operational automation.
Finally, cybersecurity will always be a priority. Protecting our assets, both physical and digital, is a core responsibility. While we have invested in this capability continuously in the past and have terrific capabilities in this area no organisation can afford to be complacent. We have an on-going programme of cybersecurity work and I don’t see a day when this will not be one of the top three priorities.
Beyond these we have some exciting work planned in the IoT space, and in the enhancement of our operational technologies over the next 18 months.
How is increasing distributed energy resources affecting utilities’ digital strategy, communications and cybersecurity?
As you can see from my key strategic focus areas, our digital and cyber capabilities are top of mind for me. The distributed nature of the supply of key utilities means that the enhancement of these capabilities is the responsibility of the organisations we serve and we cannot look solely to a central body to solve these issues for us. While the guidance and intelligence provided by Government, regulatory and law enforcement agencies are critical pieces of the puzzle, we have taken ownership of the digitisation of our organisation, communications with our customers and broader stakeholders, and the security of our assets. That means we are talking to our customers more and more about what they expect, and using that information to inform our digital strategies.
Yarra Valley Water has a very advanced programme of customer engagement through our Citizen’s Juries and our Customer Experience research that gives me invaluable insight into what our customers expect and need. Equally, we engage broadly within our industry and beyond to understand emerging capabilities and threats, and factor these learnings into our plans. I am finding that the nature of the world we live in requires me to be more and more focussed on what other industries are doing so that I can bring the latest thinking back to Yarra Valley Water. I can’t think of a time in my career when networks of experts well beyond my own industry have been so important.
What are the key initiatives your organisation is employing to upskill staff around cybersecurity/digital disruption?
One of the components of our on-going programme of cybersecurity work is the education of the whole organisation. We have a rolling communication and education plan that we have been enacting for some time. This comprises immediately relatable information like keeping yourself cyber secure at home to raise awareness and phishing campaigns to make our broader employee base more cybersecurity aware at work. Our entire executive team has completed cybersecurity training, and we have hands on, technical training for our IT & OT people on an on-going basis.
Working with our colleagues in other parts of the organisation, we’re incorporating physical security into our programme to really raise the awareness of what each and every person can do every day to ensure we remain secure.
In the digital disruption space we don’t need to do much to build awareness – it is all around us. They key here is having people reflect on the disruption they experience in their own lives. The developments in other industries create the new normal for all of us; our customers quickly expect us to be as digitally capable as their bank, their ride share company or their food delivery company.
The real challenge is in skilling the organisation up to respond to the opportunities the digital world provides. We do this by partnering with organisations who are adept at developing these skills, providing our people with the opportunity to work alongside experts in their domains and to learn.
What are key factors to consider when managing data privacy and cybersecurity?
Whether explicitly or implicitly, our customers trust us to keep their personal information safe and to protect the operation of the vital services we provide. I think this is the first consideration – we have a tremendous privilege and responsibility given to us by our customers and we need to keep that front of mind. The second and equally important consideration is that the “bad guys” are really, really clever. Taken together this means that complacency is the enemy, and as a CIO a vitally important part of our role is to ensure our technology functions remain ever vigilant.
What is your biggest win this year?
I’ve been in the chair at Yarra Valley Water for nine months now, so my frame of reference for the industry is a little limited. The achievement from my team that most excites me this year is work that has been done to rapidly design and in some cases deploy the key building blocks of our future ready technology capabilities.
We’ve now demonstrated our capabilities in the automation and digitisation domains, and have a robust plan to take the organisation’s capabilities forward in leaps and bounds over the next 18 months.
ABOUT CAMERON MCLEAN
Cameron McLean is a keynote panellist at Australian Utility Week and chief information officer for Yarra Valley Water.
McLean is responsible for the strategic direction of information technology to achieve the business objectives of Yarra Valley Water. This includes the development and delivery of the digital strategy, enterprise architecture and IT projects. He is also responsible for the operation, maintenance and support of IT systems, sourcing and procurement of IT products and services, and the management of IT vendors.
ABOUT THE COMPANY
Yarra Valley Water is the largest of Melbourne’s three water corporations, based in Melbourne’s east. The company’s service area covers 4,000 square kilometres and our network consists of around 20,000 kilometres of water and sewer mains. The company manages over $4 billion worth of infrastructure and assets and employs nearly 600 people.