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Thames Water in £63m plan to outsource back office, customer services

Thames Water is planning to outsource customer services and back office operations under a trio of contract opportunities worth up to £63 million. The water company, which serves 15 million customers, hopes that slicker digital services and improved levels of automation will help it support a turnaround programme amid a major restructuring at the utility -- after what CEO Sarah Bentley described in June 2021 as "a lot of frustration and disappointment about our poor performance." The opportunities, shared in a contract notice on April 13, include.

  • A £45 million, five-year contract to operate Thames Water's service desk, exception management, cash operations, billing, metering and home move transactional services.
  • A £15 million, five-year contract to operate Thames Water's customer services to include "delivering first tier contact on digital medium" with high planned levels of automation.
  • A £3 million, five-year contract to take over Thames Water's post room.

The utility is looking for partners to lead on "maintaining, improving and transforming services; increasing customers choice in the way they interact with us; and increasing levels of automation" it said today. Expressions of interest in the contracts (to include the possibility of a three-year extension) are due in by May 3.

Thames Water customer services contract

The contracts came after a troubled few years for the utility which has been castigated by regulator Ofwat in December 2021 for "failure to ensure it has in place appropriate data management and assurance processes and the necessary oversight to ensure that it is meeting its regulatory obligations" -- a failure that saw it forced to repay over £11 million to 13,800 business customers and water retailers for "errors in its data".

(Emma Kelso, Senior Director at Ofwat said at the time: "Our investigation uncovered a multitude of errors with the way Thames Water handled its data before and after the business retail market opened. It failed to act, even when it became apparent from its own risk assessments or from complaints it received that there were concerns over the accuracy of its data. It should have done more to investigate and correct its errors.")

See also: Satellite data that tracks how much water plants use. A man named “Pythagoras”. A small Greek tech startup. And the UN.

Between 2017 and 2021 Thames Water was also fined £32.4 million for 11 cases of water pollution across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire including one incident in which it discharged half a million litres of raw sewage into two streams in Oxford in 2016 in a 30-hour outflow that killed some 3,000 fish.

CEO Sarah Bentley was recruited in 2020 in a bid to turn the company around and the Thames Water digital team have been working hard to help deliver new products and services under a multi-billion investment programme -- winning two awards (data science project of the year and digital transformation project of the year) at the UK IT Industry Awards in London organised by the British Computer Society in late 2021.

(Digital Transformation Director Mike Potter noted in late 2021 that "we are breaking our technology supply chain so we are less dependent on legacy IT and SIs, and we can work with more SMEs.")

The new Thames Water customer services outsourcing contracts come days after Ofwat said that it was consulting on "the introduction of a customer focused licence condition for water and wastewater companies."

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