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Tech in Utilities with John Hutton and Mary Baldwin, Yorkshire Water

When you think of tech firms, Yorkshire Water probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, in order to provide its services, the company makes use of a range of innovative digital solutions, and is always looking to recruit talented people in the tech sphere. We talked to Yorkshire Water’s John Hutton and Mary Baldwin to find out more.

“We’re a really ambitious company,” said John. We’re talking in Yorkshire Water’s Bradford-based head office, an impressive, sprawling complex full of busy people working on exciting tech projects. It’s obvious just from the surroundings that John is telling the truth; this is a business with a clear focus on growth and innovation.

“We’ve made the decision that we want to be an upper-quartile water company,” he continued, “and to support that we have to make a heavy investment in technology.” John and Mary are products of that environment –  they are multi-talented individuals with responsibilities ranging across the company’s digital projects.

John manages Yorkshire Water’s SAP Centre of Excellence, a self-sufficient part of the company that uses software to provide financial, business and technical support throughout the organisation. He also manages the company’s non-SAP development teams and its digital development team.

Meanwhile, Mary’s role is even more complicated. “I think the best way to describe my job at the moment is that I’m managing our solution architecture function,” she said, “and I’m also reviewing the strategic operations of our IT.” While other managers have certain segments for which they’re responsible, Mary’s role is more overarching, working across multiple departments in order to innovate wherever possible.

Yorkshire Water’s tech projects

“We’re well respected as a water company and obviously we’ve have a huge geography, but what we’re hearing from prospective candidates and external companies is that we’re not really recognized as a technology company,” said John. However, this doesn’t reflect reality. In order to deliver their service, Yorkshire Water has huge IT capabilities and is deeply involved with the world of tech.

For example, John is working on a major transformation programme for SAP S/4HANA, the enterprise resource planning software Yorkshire Water uses. “We’ll be the first in Europe to go live on this scale, so it’s a significant programme,” he added.

“We’re also currently delivering something called the Upper Quartile Project. We’re trying to get ourselves to be an upper-quartile water utility, and we’re supporting that with technology in a big way.”

Meanwhile, Mary is also hard at work utilising technology in some innovative ways, especially when it comes to user experience. “We’ve recently established a customer experience function, and a big part of that is looking at the ways that can work with other technology to leverage some opportunities to understand our customers better and really enhance our service,” she said.

To add to that, the company is also looking to make their technology more easily useable for everyone. “We’re looking at the functionality that we need to add to our web and mobile apps,” said Mary, “particularly around supporting customers who might have accessibility needs or who are vulnerable in some way.” This could involve developing Yorkshire Water’s current accessibility software, as well as venturing into voice technology.

Tech talent and the Leeds Digital Festival

Of course, to develop and make best use of all this tech, Yorkshire Water needs a steady influx of talent. This is something that hasn’t been easy, owing to the fact mentioned above that many people simply don’t see the business as a technology company.

“I would say that as a company we’re doing much more in IT, and we’re way more ambitious than we ever have been in this company from a technological perspective,” said John. “We’re now in the territory of really starting to deal with a lot of new technology and new ways of achieving things, even bringing in new skill sets and new roles.”

However, this isn’t well-known, and Yorkshire Water is trying hard to increase its reputation as an IT provider and a company with huge tech capabilities. This is one of several reasons why it is getting involved with the Leeds Digital Festival this year.

“It’s the largest digital festival in the north of England,” said John, “so obviously with our ambitions, for us it’s the perfect place to come along and meet like-minded people, learn about where they’ve gone with their journeys, to promote the work that we’re doing and also use it as an opportunity just to understand the talent that’s out there and whether or not there’s the potential for those people to join the company and help us with our programme of work.”

To help with this, Yorkshire Water is running a round table event at the Digital Festival, with participants coming into the company’s Leeds office to learn more about what the firm can offer in terms of tech, innovation and careers.

“It’s a chance for us to invite people in and share some of the aspirations we have around new capabilities and new ways of working,” said Mary. “We want to use it as a chance to openly collaborate with people around those ideas and just start the conversation about who we are and who we see ourselves becoming in the future.”

The Leeds Digital Festival is a natural place for the company to do that. “We’re purely dedicated to serving the customers of Yorkshire,” said Mary, “so for me, it’s such a good opportunity to share with people in the community and get that engagement around water.

“For a lot of people, it’s a bit of an invisible service to a certain extent.  We take it for granted and people aren’t always clear about what goes into water production. They don’t see the magic that happens behind the scenes when it comes to delivering clean water. So it’s a good opportunity for us to have those conversations, as well as to explore with people what IT does to deliver that.”

The future of Yorkshire Water

So what’s next for the company? In addition to the Leeds Digital Festival, it is currently in the process of improving its tech and getting better at delivering applications throughout the business.

“We’ve made a huge investment in SAP technologies,” said John. “In the future, we’re going to do more exploitation of that investment. We’ll increase our digital capability, as well as our architectural capabilities. And then we’ll start to look at things such as automation as well.”

However, the company is also looking to work more in the world of open data. “We’re investing quite a lot of time and effort in a strategic data platform so that we can be completely transparent with our customers about pretty much every aspect of our data,” said John.

“We’ve actually got a partnership with the Open Data Institute (ODI) Leeds,” added Mary. “So we’re having conversations with them around how as an organisation, we can be involved with open innovation and open data projects.

“The ambition here is that we learn some things that we can start to do and build back into our technology portfolio, but also have opportunities to co-create with other organisations in the area.”

Yorkshire Water clearly has big ambitions and is following through on making them a reality. Its event at the Leeds Digital Festival will be a great opportunity for people to learn more about the tech careers and co-creation possibilities that the company has to offer, as well as finding out more about the role tech has to play in providing clean water to the county.

 

At the time of writing, there were a few tickets left for the Yorkshire Water event more details and booking here.

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