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An interview with Simon Chadwick, Digital Director at United Utilities

Water and technology? The idea instantly conjures images of chaos. Phones dropped in puddles and tea split on your laptop - for most of us the connotations are certainly not good. But in the North West, one company is challenging our perceptions. United Utilities is using the latest technology to revolutionise the way we receive, repair and clean our water supply. With the colossal responsibility of supplying water to over three million homes and businesses, United Utilities understand that the future of the water industry depends on Digital.

To find out more about how United Utilities is innovating with technology, we were joined (virtually) by Digital Services and Central Operations Director, Simon Chadwick. On our call, Simon is humble but charismatic and his passion for revolutionising the industry using technology shines through. The task at hand, he says, is a large one: “We’re working to transform what is essentially Victorian infrastructure through technology.  I see it as our civic duty, we’re responsible for the one product that everybody in the planet needs, we supply two billion litres of clean drinking water to seven million customers in the North West. At a glance, people might think United Utilities is about hard engineering and science, but whilst that’s a big part of our role, everything relies on technology now. From the sensors that sit in our pipes collecting over a million signals per year, to connecting our 5000 employees with our customers, the fact is we’re a digital organisation with an industrial past.

So, what project is Simon most excited about? Well, there are more than he can list off in one sitting. He talks passionately about the interaction between human and machine, particularly the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in reducing leakage. “We currently have two ‘Machine Employees’. Our AI can process millions of datapoints rapidly, creating predictive models that can inform us about any potential leakage. We’re striving to get to the point where we can predict most of the leakage before it happens, so that rather than our customers reporting an issue, we can fix the weak areas before leakage happens. To put it in perspective, experts estimate that 23% of the UK’s water is lost to leakage every year. Being a part of changing this is so important to creating a sustainable water supply, and it’s even more exciting to be using AI to do this.”

With that responsibility comes the need to drive innovation from within. Currently growing its Digital Team by over 20 individuals (click here to view vacancies), United Utilities is on the hunt for bright minds who can help disrupt the water industry with technology. “We’re not at the beginning of this transformation, we’re right in the thick of it. We’ve invested heavily in providing our people with the best technology to help them create the changes we’re trying to make. The people who join us need to want to make a positive change in the world through technology. We want a diverse range of people who aren’t afraid to disrupt us. Of course, there are certain technical skills we’re looking for, but more than anything I want business leaders who make change happen.”

It also seems there is also a lot to be gained by those who dedicate themselves to a career with this FTSE 100 company. “I joined on a two-week summer placement in 1997. I was the office boy! Since then, United Utilities has presented me with challenge after challenge to develop the competencies they saw in me, and my story isn’t unique here. If you’re looking for an employer that will reward your hard work and invest in your talents, I’m living proof that United Utilities will do that for you.”

In addition, the variety and depth of roles is also a big draw. “We know that our industry is changing, we’re having to apply technology to systems and processes that have never been digital. That means that whilst we’re constantly challenged, there’s never a dull day! The opportunities that arise are huge, and because United Utilities is such a large organisation you really can choose your path, moving upwards through a discipline or spanning multiple areas throughout your career with us. It’s an opportunity that most organisations just don’t have the right scale or mind-set to offer.”

For Simon, it all comes back to making an impact. “I’m so proud of how passionate our Digital Team is about what they do, and we’ve only got room for people who share that passion. Covid-19 has really strengthened the importance of this. We were faced with a global pandemic and the hottest May on record, so it’s been tough. It was because of our shared sense of duty and commitment that we were able to deliver the service that we have to our customers. All of our Digital Team are designated key workers, every one of them is playing a vital role in sustaining the North West.”

So, what message would Simon send to someone looking for a Digital career with United Utilities? “Now is the time to challenge your perceptions, and ours! We’re not the old-fashioned infrastructure business you may have thought we were, we’re a FTSE 100 business that’s powered by technology. If you’re committed to innovating with us and really care about doing something worthwhile, you can work with some incredibly passionate and talented people here in a company that is vital to providing water for the North West.”

Interested to apply? Check out the full list of digital vacancies here.