Water-link is a Flemish drinking water company responsible for the production and distribution of drinking and industrial water, as well as the management of sewage. More than 500 employees supply water to 198,000 customers through a network of 2,300 km of pipes. Since its founding 140 years ago, water-link has grown into a company that produces approximately 160 million cubic meters of water per year.

Water-link stands for certainty of water. From the source of drinking water to the disposal of wastewater: as one team we combine our expertise to get everything right. This is how we guarantee security of supply to all our customers now and in the future. We have already proven that we are fully committed to innovation and digitalization when we were the first in Flanders to roll out the digital meter throughout our territory. However, we want to go further and become a forerunner in the field of global, data-driven infrastructure management. That good, reliable data is necessary for this is obvious. Commitment to the correct and efficient capture, management, and use of data is necessary to realize our ambition. For us, data are an asset and must be managed as such.

Koen De Schutter, CFO at water-link

Annemie Van Dijck, Data & Reporting Manager at water-link added: "Water-link has the clear objective to become a more data-driven organization. To help us in this transformation, we sought the help of a reliable partner, KPMG Lighthouse, the KPMG Center of Excellence for Data Analytics & Intelligent Automation. KPMG analyzed the current situation at water-link and then helped us plan the way forward. The timing of the collaboration couldn't have been better: we had just finished rolling out the digital meter. Water-link was confronted with the enormous amount of data this brought in and we were looking for a way to deal with this structurally. Creating added value for the customer and society are key here."

The challenge: transforming into a data-driven organization

Annelies De Corte, KPMG Lighthouse, said: "Digitization, increasing volumes of available data, and technological advances present a major challenge for organizations such as water-link. Water-link has gigantic amounts of data at its disposal from various sources, such as the data from the assets (e.g. pipes and pumps) digital meters, sensory data, and customer data. Together we set out to find a way to maximize the potential of all this data and raise awareness around the importance of data among employees."

"Becoming a more data-driven organization is not easy and requires time and attention," Annelies De Corte continued. "We are talking about a transformation of the entire organization in which efficient and effective data management and use must become central to daily operations and culture."

The solution: a concrete and achievable data roadmap

To achieve this transformation and become a data-driven organization, together with water-link we defined a concrete and achievable roadmap based on two pillars: the current situation and the dot on the horizon - a clear data ambition.

The KPMG Lighthouse project team thoroughly analyzed the current state-of-affairs and captured the needs and challenges within the various departments of water-link. During interviews with stakeholders, for example, it became clear that much time was spent searching for technical documentation and figures, discussing which figures should be considered the source of truth, manually transferring data from one system to another, among others. This analysis identified both specific and organization-wide challenges and areas for improvement.

In addition, the KPMG team together with the water-link management team sharpened the data ambition and related objectives, considering the needs of the various departments and the mission, vision, and objectives of water-link in general.

The first steps in the roadmap can be seen as laying a good foundation. A well-organized governance structure was drawn up and put in place. The data within the organization were divided into logical data domains, with an owner from the operational departments for each domain and various 'data stewards' who work with the respective data on a daily basis. At the same time, governance and decision-making bodies were also defined: a data council, an interdepartmental consultation between different data domains, and a data community.

Next, the project team worked with water-link to draw a blueprint of the data operating model. This data operating model had to answer the question of who does what in the organization and in what way. To this end, the necessary data functions and roles were formulated and fundamental data-related processes and work frameworks were drawn out. Consideration was given to how these fit within the existing organizational model and a link was made to the data architecture. A Data & Reporting Team was established to coordinate, support, and implement activities around data management and use.

For transformation to a more data-driven organization to succeed, creating a "data mindset" among all employees is critical. This, of course, requires a change in the culture of the organization. Therefore, it is important to transform in a pragmatic way. For example, it is best to start by rolling out small but valuable activities whose added value for all employees is immediately clear - small successes to be celebrated. At the same time, work was done on increasing the general data literacy of the organization, through targeted communication and accessible training. Finally, strong efforts were made regarding cross-department collaboration.

The added value of KPMG Lighthouse

Koen De Schutter, CFO at water-link said: "KPMG and water-link have a long history of cooperation. Over the years, KPMG has gained a lot of practical experience and knows water-link through-and-through. For example, KPMG supports us in the development of our strategy and has helped set up the basis for process management and risk management within water-link. From their supporting role within our internal audit, they also get a feel for the field. The combination of solid theoretical knowledge and a lot of practical experience makes KPMG a partner I enjoy working with. Within the elaboration of our data approach, they also have supported us both at the strategic level and with the implementation: together we work on the framework and lay the basics so that our own teams can then get fully up and running. In this way, KPMG's added value becomes tangible in practice and does not remain a theoretical exercise."

Joint realizations

Annemie Van Dijck, Data & Reporting Manager at water-link said: "The set-up and organization of data-domains is one of the common realizations I am most proud of. This allowed us to involve the entire organization on data-related topics. Within an interdepartmental meeting, we solve a variety of data issues ranging from GIS data quality and problems within stock data, to the inconsistent use of data fields. All those colleagues from different domains within water-link get to work together to look for cross-cutting solutions. This is how we make data strategy and governance tangible and give ownership to the different departments. In addition to this operation, there are two more realizations that come to mind.  First, I think of the steps we have taken toward self-service BI that will allow our colleagues to work with their data themselves in the future. Secondly, I think of the delivery of the quality dashboards for our customer data. With this dashboard, we can closely monitor the quality of this data and go over corrective actions. In this way, we screen and correct this data in a structural way that allows us to help our customers even faster and better."


Koen De Schutter, water-link said: "Together with KPMG, we clarified our data ambitions and laid the foundation for a data-driven organization and this in terms of both data usage and data management. At water-link, we are ready for a data-driven future."