Binnies Principal Leakage Consultant Colin Cox has more than 30 years’ experience of water networks, specialising in strategic leakage management and operational and asset management delivery.
Here, he discusses his career and gives an insight into his day-to-day job.
When we turn on a tap each day to access clean water, we never give a second thought to what a precious and valuable resource it is.
Many of us are guilty of taking for granted the availability of water and often don’t appreciate the challenges faced by water utility companies to ensure it is always accessible to us.
These challenges include a changing and unpredictable climate, population growth, water scarcity and affordability issues and mean we need to value water and ensure we manage and use it responsibly.
A critical issue and key performance indicator for wholesale water providers is leakage, which represents a waste of both natural resources and money. With tough regulatory performance hurdles, ageing infrastructure and a greater focus on customer service, the need to drive down the cost of leakage-reduction strategies through innovative and cost-effective solutions has never been more prominent.
That is why jobs like Colin’s are so important, and here, Colin outlines his day-to-day work and what the future holds for water.
For more than 30 years, Colin has worked in the water industry. He started his career working for companies such as York Waterworks and Severn Trent Water, digging roads, fixing pipes and working in customer service, before ultimately focusing on leakage, in which field he progressed his career through a number of operational management roles to eventually leading a leakage department.
In 2015, Colin moved into senior roles within the energy sector, working as a senior operations manager at SSE Energy Services and head of operations at Morrison Data Services, but last year, he found himself re-evaluating his life and career after catching COVID-19.
“My love for leakage never really ended,” he admits. “It’s like being a sleuth, like being Sherlock Holmes. There’s always an area that needs investigation.”
Fortunately, Binnies was looking for someone who knew about the operational side of leakage, and Colin hasn’t looked back since joining the team in September last year.
“I’m absolutely loving it. I’ve gone from managing 500 people to working as part of a much smaller team, so it’s been a big change for me but a good one,” he says.
“Leakage services at Binnies is an area of growth and expansion. It’s something I find fascinating – everything about it – supporting clients with solutions, from understanding their assets’ condition and digitalisation to finding and fixing leaks more efficiently.”
Typical days for Colin can vary. “Since I’ve started, most of my time has been spent working on specific projects for clients, developing new opportunities or working with our partners, the marketing team and my colleagues on our leakage service offering. Recently, I have been working with a partner on pinpointing and sizing leaks using artificial intelligence (AI) on sound files from acoustic loggers for a client and developing our non-invasive asset condition assessment service offering. This will help clients survey assets at a much larger scale than alternative solutions for an equivalent investment.”
Colin and his colleagues help utility companies outperform their regulatory commitments, delivering improved performance by harnessing proven engineering capabilities and innovative digital technologies in order to provide greater network intelligence and support clients in delivering their operational and strategic leakage objectives.
“The leaks we find are not the ones you can physically see; if you imagine a map of a city it’ll be split up into underground mains called a distribution network that is split into discreet areas called district meter areas. By metering these areas and taking into account a number of components, we can account for where all water that is put into distribution goes on an average day in the year. By understanding this, water companies can target areas that have leaks,” explains Colin.
“We can be doing anything from looking at burst pipes and their history to mains rehabilitation but as I say, my day varies a lot.”
“Things have changed since the old days when you would go out with a listening stick to identify leaks – this simply will not be enough for companies to meet their regulatory targets. We have to be a lot more innovative and technical in our approaches to preventing and finding leakage using cutting-edge technology, AI, asset condition assessment and pressure management,” he adds.
“Water availability is a key challenge in some areas of the country, especially where the population is more transient as this leads to an increased demand for water. For example, places where holidaymakers frequent get a lot more people using water for a time and then leaving, which creates a spike in demand, making leakage more difficult to find.
“Conversely, changes in the weather such as freeze/thaw events or long dry periods cause pipes to burst or leaks to get worse due to ground movement, meaning that water companies have to implement incident management to find and fix leaks quickly. To meet the challenges that our clients face, our strategy is to collaborate with partners so that we can offer clients a range of services to reduce and more effectively manage leakage from their assets,” says Colin.
As for the future, ultimately, Colin believes that digitalisation of water is the way forward.
Water digitalisation is going to be key, with utility companies ultimately moving from time-based to condition-based maintenance, adopting the ability to understand the effective age of their assets and then forecasting potential failures
“Water digitalisation is going to be key, with utility companies ultimately moving from time-based to condition-based maintenance, adopting the ability to understand the effective age of their assets and then forecasting potential failures,” he explains.
“This will enable utility companies to identify and schedule massive improvements in life extension maintenance activities and strategically plan for replacements in their long-term asset plans.”
“For me, digitalisation in the water sector is about building on existing foundations where utilities embrace and expedite the application of data science and augmented intelligence techniques, enabling the virtual representation of water systems, enhanced situational awareness or near-real time flow and quality monitoring, which have great potential to solve many of the challenges faced by the industry,” says Colin.
“Chris Steele, Head of Digital at Binnies, and the rest of the team are doing fantastic work with different types of digitalisation in their dynamic maintenance programme.”
And what is the best part of Colin’s job?
“Definitely the variety of work we do – being able to help and support people outside Binnies to deliver their objectives,” he says.
“This is a different role for me. Being part of a team and business that believes in the growth of its people and business while caring for the climate and finding sustainable ways to look after the world we live in is really motivating. Who would not want to be part of that?
“I’m putting more than 30 years of experience into practice, enjoying being part of a team and the people I work with and I am really impressed with what I’ve seen of diversity and multiculturalism at RSK and Binnies. The sheer scale of activities we cover is phenomenal.
“I’ve worked in big organisations before, but this level of diversity is so impressive.”