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Harness digital technologies and data-driven insights to transform your infrastructure performance

Graham Upton
Nov 1, 2023

Welcome to Capgemini’s ‘Future of’ series, in which we explore the challenges facing global energy and utilities businesses today and the opportunities they create. Discover how, with vision and ingenuity, you can accelerate the pace of digital adoption across the value chain, delivering both quick wins and long-term dividends in the future. For your business, your consumers, and the environment

Here, Graham Upton, Technology and Innovation Director and Chief Architect, Intelligent Industry, explores the tremendous potential for digital technologies and data-driven business intelligence to transform the performance of physical infrastructure – particularly when combined with the enhanced capabilities of today’s field engineers.

Matching the digitally enabled engineer with digitally enabled infrastructure

In our last instalment, we explored how digital technology is redefining what we mean by the “connected engineer” in the energy and utilities world.

Informed by live data and insights, and equipped with an array of digital tools, today’s field engineers can now rapidly shift from a reactive to a proactive mode, improving the performance of assets and addressing potential problems before they escalate into issues impacting customers.

But this transformation in the capabilities of our connected engineers must be matched by game-changing advances in the way we deploy digital technology in the physical infrastructure of our energy and utilities networks – the critical assets upon which a healthy and prosperous nation depends.

Modernising is key; but the challenge is mighty

The challenge of modernising our ageing, legacy – and in some cases crumbling – assets is as huge as ever, both in scale and cost terms. World events and economic turbulence are making investment decisions even more difficult. Energy and utilities businesses, and their regulators, face previously unheard-of levels of scrutiny and comment, not all of which are informed.

Take river water quality for example, a topic causing the water and wastewater companies real headaches. Historically, it has been difficult to control or prevent the release of wastewater into watercourses; a legacy of infrastructure and systems built for the needs and standards of bygone times. There are almost 20,000 wastewater outlet points across England and Wales alone.

Rivers are cherished as iconic symbols of a healthy countryside and as a result, are subject to intense interest on the part of the public, media, and activist groups. Sadly, as the impacts of climate change take hold, especially in the form of more extreme weather events, unplanned discharges into these rivers are increasing in frequency.

Unfortunately for the companies in charge, because of the geographic scope, scale and remoteness of some of their operations, they are often unaware of a water quality problem until there are reports from the public and unpleasant videos surfacing on social media. Pollution events are also caused by agriculture or illegal discharges by local industry; but the water companies often take the heat as it’s difficult to prove otherwise.

Taking to the skies to monitor water quality

While replacing our Victorian infrastructure will take decades and huge levels of investment, digital technologies are already providing opportunities to make significant improvements in the performance of our existing assets – increasingly operating in sync with the connected engineer.

For example, drones with high resolution thermal or hyperspectral (electromagnetic) imaging cameras can scan water courses and detect changes in water quality down to pixel level. Sensors in rivers are now increasingly used to transmit live water quality readings to smart control centres for assessment and remedial action. Low earth orbit satellites are now providing connectivity for digital communications like this, where there are currently gaps in radio or 4G/5G/NBIOT coverage in remote areas.

Similar approaches are being used to assess sea water quality, deploying multiple technologies to pinpoint the causes, effects and responsibilities of events that result in excess wastewater discharges – and beaches being closed to the public.

Find your actions in the insights

Deploying Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in this way is transformational, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine-learning analysis of live streamed data producing actionable evidence and insights, to assist our connected engineers to take faster, more targeted and therefore more effective measures.

Crucially, as the evidence base builds, patterns and trends appear, enabling a move from the reactive to the proactive, taking action to prevent issues occurring. These include opening or closing sluice gates, ensuring enough storm tank capacity, priming the sewerage pumping stations to control surface and sewage water flows or using new pipelines to move fresh water supplies from areas with plentiful water supplies, predominantly in the north of England, to regions in the south, which regularly faces drought conditions.

Where landowners or industry are responsible for contaminating watercourses, evidence is now more readily available to work with them to ensure preventative measures are put in place, or to seek enforcement action by the regulator.

Use digital twins to map out your data

When this is combined with extensive use of sensors and monitoring of assets throughout a utility’s entire operational landscape, we can ultimately create a complete digital twin – ingesting huge quantities of live data. By combining it with historic records, the twin provides recommendations on a range of actions to improve performance, extend planned maintenance schedules and target specific interventions where necessary, equipping connected engineers with the information they need to improve their effectiveness and productivity in the field.

How can Capgemini help?

We work with many energy and utilities businesses to wrestle with these complex challenges, identify how digital technology can provide highly cost-effective solutions, and demonstrate the success of these to customers and other stakeholders.

Investing in upstream solutions that prevent far more costly downstream impacts is clearly preferable, keeping customers’ bill down and freeing up capital for investment in the modern infrastructure of the future.

Our ability to provide end-to-end support, from strategy to execution and everything in between, provides the comprehensive support that many organisations require. We also have the skills and experience to achieve the cultural and behavioural framework on which success is now predicated.

For Scottish Water, we implemented new ‘Internet of Things’ sensors and devices in a bid to protect Scotland’s precious water environment by improving the condition and performances of its wastewater treatment works. The result? Reduction in energy consumption, emissions, incident severity and cost of asset interventions. Plus, we increased asset life and reduced chemical and operational spend.

For leading energy technology provider Baker Hughes, we leveraged more intelligent, digitally enabled infrastructure to drive higher levels of operational performance – through an industrial internet solution that consolidates data to provide a new level of insight and the ability to adjust production at a moment’s notice.

If you’d like to talk to Capgemini about how we can support you with your digital transformation, contact Graham Upton and connect on Linkedin

Explore the rest of our ‘Future of’ series below – where you can find insight and advice on how to exploit digital to become fit for the future and harness data-driven automation.

Explore our ‘Future of Series’ blog page, click here to learn more.

Graham Upton

Head of Technology & Innovation & Chief Architect Intelligent Industry
Graham is the Capgemini Engineering Intelligent Industry Lead Architect and is an influential senior leader with proven capability in identifying, developing and implementing state of the art and future technology solutions at a strategic level within complex, multinational organisations. Graham leverages a 30+ year career in industry and consulting having an extensive knowledge in design engineering, manufacturing operations and industry leading digital advances.