Investment pays and continues at United Utilities

An infrastructure refresh has paid off for water treatment and supply organisation United Utilities.

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An infrastructure refresh has paid off for water treatment and supply organisation United Utilities.

The company, which supplies water and sewage services to customers in the north-west, said it had beaten water wastage through leakage targets for the second year in a row and posted higher than expected annual profits.

Spend on the infrastructure overhaul increased by 45 percent on last year, as the utility attempts to meet leakage targets, which are monitored by Ofwat, the sector regulator.

Earlier this year the company replaced a paper-based system with a PDA-based leak reporting technology for its engineers, which involved a Pinpoint system from supplier eSAY Mobile that provides real time GPS locations of water leaks. The project involves rolling out handheld PDA devices carrying the software to leak detection engineers, including contractors, covering all four United Utilities regions.
The system is already used by Anglian and South West Water. United Utilities believe the technology will save them £280,800 and 450 man-hours a year once the system is fully operational.

Higher water and sewage charges and stripping out restructuring and other expenses helped group underlying earnings to rise 17 percent to £475 million on revenues. Underlying operating profit increased by seven percent to £677m, for the water company. “We are confident of delivering a strong financial performance over the remainder of this regulatory period and continued investment in our assets will help to raise environmental standards further and improve the service we offer to customers,” chief executive Philip Green said.

Capital expenditure at the company also increased, rising by 26 percent in the last 12 months to £826m, £120m of which was on the renewal of the organisation’s infrastructure, which includes technology.

“We are on track to deliver our regulatory capital programme and have spent £826m on our infrastructure during the year,” Green said. “Our focus on improving operational performance is delivering results. We have improved the level of customer service we are providing and for the second year running have achieved Ofwat’s leakage target.”

The utility will continue to improve its infrastructure through technology. Amongst its plans is an integrated performance management project, which will increase remote site management of facilities such as pumping stations. This, in turn, will require fewer staff on remote sites.

A workforce management project is also underway which aims to improve the data systems at United Utilities. By improving the data systems, the utility is seeking to improve the information it supplies to engineers and remote workers, improve its supply chain and customer services, and create savings in procurement. The water company said the business is focusing on reducing the number of customer queries, improving staff productivity, implementing improved cash collection procedures and "enhancing the overall customer experience".

Earlier this month, United Utilities was one of 100 finalists shortlisted for an SAP Quality Award at Sapphire.

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