Member Spotlight

Atte Pakkanen, Operational Manager – Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Networks – Alva

Alva-yhtiöt provides the cornerstones of living: water, heating and electricity. We work together with our customers to make energy efficient and green choices and to ensure sustainable asset management. We are a visionary and future oriented company dedicated to the success of our customers. We have 250 professionals and our turnover in 2021 was EUR 220 million. The owner of Alva-yhtiöt Oy is the City of Jyväskylä.

Alva was the first Finnish utility to achieve ISO 55001 certification in asset management. What sort of cultural shift was required inside the utility in order to reach this outstanding achievement?

We have always had a very professional and committed staff. We have also always invested heavily in the development of our operations. The decision that we want to be good at asset management was conscious. We believed it to be the key to success in our own goals and to maintaining a cost-effective and reliable water supply system in our area. With the certification project, we took a big step forward in systematic knowledge-based decision making and asset management. In connection with the project in 2020–2022, we updated our entire management system and business strategy to comply with the ISO 55001 standard. The reform towards a more professional new kind of asset management was therefore truly comprehensive and touched every aspect of our operations and employees for their part. This has meant a lot of work from all our staff, and I am very proud of them. In addition, the change has meant a different attitude towards things and the background to the decisions made at all levels of the organization, and for this reason we can already talk about cultural change. However, the work is continuous and we are constantly developing our operations further along this chosen path.

As a small utility, servicing an area with 150,000 inhabitants, what strategies have you employed to successfully undertake your digital transformation? How have partnerships helped to bolster this journey?

Despite the fact that we are a small water supply company on a global scale, we are currently developing a management approach intensively based on knowledge and process-like work. We have been collecting data digitally for decades, and it has been stored in several different formats and in different systems in huge quantities. Now we are using data to seek support to achieve our goals in a new way, where the emphasis is on quality, reliability and usability instead of the quantity of data. We have several partners on this journey who are able to offer their expertise and support in areas such as network information system (NIS) development, further data processing, visualisation, etc. We currently have a separate comprehensive static data management plan in the works, which will become an important part of our strategic plans.

Alva recently undertook a three year project to switch its network from mechanical to digital water meters? What are some key lessons you learned on your smart metering journey so far?

Yes. Indeed, we have started replacing our entire meter base with remotely readable ones. This is big for us in terms of scale, but it is still only part of a major digital transition. Remotely readable meters provide both customers and ourselves, as network operators, with real-time and transparent view on the amount of delivered drinking water and possible deviations in it. The utilisation of this huge amount of data to improve network management and reliability, we see our development target in the near future. From a business perspective, this project launch and initial phase was accompanied by one success that is not in itself related to data. Alva organised a nationwide large procurement tendering process involving several large and medium-sized water supply companies from Finland. In this way, we were able to make our project cost-effective and we were able to create high-quality tendering documents including technical specifications, to which several top experts in the field from different water supply companies around Finland contributed. We also paid attention to life cycle costs, the flexibility of data transfer technologies and the long-term security of supply. We believe that these are key issues when we want to ensure the development of our business through high-quality data management also in the future.

What advice can you share with young professionals who are passionate about smart water and innovation to best prepare themselves for a career in this field?

When it comes to developing water services in general, systematic and professional asset management is the key to success. This stems from the fact that there is a lot of property in the water supply infrastructure, and for the most part it is not even seen. Data is a good help on this journey, but it should not be the end in itself. The ISO 55001 certification process also provides a boost and an external perspective on the development of your own operations. Whether you’re developing data management or a company’s management system, it’s worth remembering to build your own practices without direct copying from others. This is also how things work in practice. And remember, it is the people who will ultimately determine your success!