GIS is often thought of as a technical tool for specialists. However, the intelligence and operational agility it enables are instrumental for realizing high-level strategic goals. This was the motivation for Toronto Water to optimize its GIS to become more proactive and customer-centric, which is a top priority for the organization.
Toronto Water is responsible for all aspects of drinking water treatment and supply, wastewater collection and treatment as well as stormwater management. The Division’s six business sections manage a large number of facilities and assets across the city. Toronto Water is one of the largest water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities in North America, servicing over 3 million residents and businesses with approximately 1,700 staff, in a highly regulated environment. It maintains and services assets worth approximately $28 billion, including:
- 4 water and 4 wastewater treatment plants
- approximately 6,000 km of water mains
- 4,100 km of sanitary sewers
- 5,000 km of storm sewers
- 1,400 km of combined sewers
As part of Toronto Water's 2020-2030 Strategic Plan, one of the guiding principles is to continuously improve the levels of customer service and enhance their experience. This means expanding access to Toronto Water programs and services, and effective communication with customers. In the past, Toronto Water has taken a more reactive approach to service delivery. When an issue arises, such as a watermain break or odour complaint, Toronto Water often only recognizes it when the public notifies the City through 311. To illustrate this point further, Toronto Water also provides water service to hospitals, long-term care facilities, residents on dialysis, and large manufacturers, where a temporary water outage can cause a serious emergency and revenue loss. Thus, it is imperative for Toronto Water to detect and resolve issues in the system to prevent potentially catastrophic consequences from occurring.
To realize its goal of continued customer service improvement, Toronto Water understood it had to be more proactive. More specifically, Toronto Water wanted to be able to anticipate problems in advance, easily identify and notify customers affected by outages, and improve response, repair and resolution times. However, with the countless assets the Division manages and the millions of people they serve, this goal requires more than organizational maneuvering; it requires optimized use of the latest technology.
Toronto Water is leveraging several Esri solutions to achieve its goals. The Geometric Network enables mission-critical capabilities, such as valve isolation and tracing while providing the broader location intelligence necessary to discern trends and identify opportunities for improvement. It allows Toronto Water to quickly identify customers affected by a water service shutdown, and provide them with prior notification. Meanwhile, mobile field apps, in particular Collector for ArcGIS, enable field crews to gather accurate asset data on the go and send it back to the office. This ability is crucial as crews are directly involved in the response, repair and resolution of projects that impact customers and are usually most aware of situations on the ground.
Even the General Manager’s Office makes use of GIS. Map dashboards give this group the high-level but sufficiently detailed and authoritative data they need to determine the status of projects that directly affect customers, such as those related to basement flooding. Moreover, they can use the same data to improve response to customers and the media. Indeed, groups that directly interact with the public such as the Customer Care Centre use ArcGIS Online to provide near real-time updates to customers regarding water outages without having to fax, email or call other sections in the Division for information.
Esri’s solutions have enabled faster and more scalable operations at Toronto Water, which in turn have realized a more proactive and customer-centric approach throughout the organization. The operational awareness afforded by GIS enables Toronto Water to know exactly which customers are affected by planned and unplanned outages.
In a more residential context, the Division can provide more accurate information around repair, response and resolution times. In November 2019, Toronto Water launched its public-facing No Water Map – powered by ArcGIS. This map proactively communicates planned and unplanned water service outage locations, estimated service restoration times, and reasons for outages to the public in near real-time. This reduces the call volumes to 311 and Toronto Water Customer Care Centre (CCC). At the time of launch, this map was among the top ten searches on the City of Toronto’s website.
Access to connected, authoritative and highly detailed location data also allows Toronto Water to make better planning decisions. In short, the capabilities provided by GIS have allowed Toronto Water to scale its customer service and gain the insight needed to proactively identify and realize improvements.