Covid-19: a resource marketplace platform

INDUSTRY COMMENT

Arup and British Water are collaborating to develop a digital platform to map resources across the supply chain to support the water sector through the pandemic – and beyond.

Covid-19 is a significant, disruptive issue facing the water sector, and – based on latest information – is one likely to be present for the next 12-18 months. So far, companies’ operations are holding up well, in some cases with significant reductions in workforce, as they quickly learn different ways of working. However, operational resilience could be tested further by secondary events, such as critical asset failure or widespread flooding or drought.

The Covid-19 threat is felt acutely in the supply chain too, where challenges to workforce safety and resourcing are compounded by the economic threat created by lockdown restrictions. These restrictions are affecting the ability of enterprises of all sectors and sizes across the country to stay afloat, despite central economic interventions. This creates knock-on risks to water company operations as the failure of key suppliers, at any level, may affect the ability of companies to source critical parts and chemicals. These consequent negative effects could be multiplied given critical interdependencies within the supply chain itself.

For the sector to succeed in the context of Covid-19, it will have to show great persistence and adaptability, juggling the need to advance critical planning and capital delivery work with the management of significant risks to operations and in the supply chain. Now more than ever, collaboration and sharing of knowledge and resources will be the key to keeping water flowing and the sector on its feet.

 

Digital help

In response, a web-based tool could bring together companies, consultants, contractors and suppliers by providing a common view and shared mapping of resources and supplies. A digital platform would allow companies to view the resources available in their area from across the whole of the supply chain. Filtering by different locations and skills would enable companies to access the right capabilities at the right time, as needs evolve over the next weeks and months.

 

The digital mapping of resources across the supply chain is intended to provide live visibility of, and easier access to, resources for companies, helping to remove pressure on day to day operations and core service delivery as the Covid-19 situation develops. Beyond this, it is also envisaged that the digital platform would enable better medium-term planning of company workflows, bridging resource gaps in planning and capital delivery. This would bring benefits to the whole sector, as there will be a steadier flow of business for the supply chain if companies are able to maintain continuity in investment delivery and strategic planning work, whilst managing the crisis.

A digital platform could include a space for latest news, lockdown restrictions and government advice, as well as a space for the sharing of company management plans, policies and best practices related to Covid-19. This would make it an almost exhaustive hub for Covid-19 responses and activity across the sector.

 

Platform development

A first iteration of the digital platform is being explored and developed by Arup in collaboration with British Water to incorporate the needs of the supply chain. Its main features will include:

• a database of consultants, contractors and suppliers at each level of the water sector supply chain. This will ‘power’ the platform and capture information on types of service and skill made available by suppliers in different water company service areas. 

• a visual user interface for companies to view, at a glance, the spatial distribution of resources and services available to them in their area. 

 • a “marketplace” where companies and suppliers will be able to post and respond to requests for services.


In subsequent iterations of the digital platform, the concept could be developed to increase ongoing focus on transparency, information sharing and collaboration across the sector. There is potential to include physical parts and chemicals as well as key operational data, with the intention of facilitating supply chain and company co-ordination during events. Incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning could also enable better matching of needs to resources as well as providing recommendations to users.


So far, the UK water sector is responding well to the current pandemic. However, as the situation develops, the challenges it presents may become more contradictory and multifaceted. Given the global nature of the crisis, it is essential that the water sector maintains resilience in providing a reliable service, supporting the UK economy and the livelihoods of millions in isolation across the country. 

Digital technology provides great potential to navigate this ever-changing landscape, improving the ability of the sector to work together and share workloads. This is just one example of how digital solutions and technologies can underpin resilience in the water industry in times of uncertainty. These rapid responses to shocks can also lead to reassessing what is truly considered business as usual, where digital solutions can play a key role to reinvest operational practices and develop new, more efficient ways of working.

By Lila Thompson of British Water, and Vikki Williams and Matthew Whaley of Arup. For further information or if you’d like to be involved contact

lila.thompson@britishwater.co.uk