Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right and a critical foundation for good health. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Taumata Arowai is the organisation that has the job of making sure that every supplier that delivers water services is meeting their legislative responsibilities.

Head of Regulatory at Taumata Arowai, Ray McMillan says that the vision is simple: safe water for everyone, every day.

The remit for Taumata Arowai – which was established as part of the Three Waters Reforms – is to bring the regulation of local and regional water services under a single organisation that has a national focus and, ultimately, ensure people have access to equitable, well-maintained, safe services regardless of where they live.

It’s a massive job. In addition to the approximately 2000 registered water suppliers transferred from the Ministry of Health’s register to Taumata Arowai in November 2021, it was initially estimated there were a further 5000 unregistered drinking water supplies. But Ray says, based on work carried out to date, there could be more than 75,000 unregistered supplies across New Zealand – and up to 1,000,000 New Zealanders being served by these unregistered supplies.

Given that a drinking water supplier counts as anyone that owns, operates or manages a supply to at least one additional household besides their own, some of these unregistered supplies could be serving a relatively small number of people, but they still come under the remit of Taumata Arowai.

One of the big advantages of bringing all the supplies under a single system is the potential to gain a more comprehensive understanding of New Zealand’s drinking water – and any issues that exist – by having the information and data captured in one place.

Easy access

To do that, Taumata Arowai needed an easy-to-use platform where suppliers could share and access their information. It also needed to be scalable, given the large number of registered and unregistered supplies that eventually need to be part of the system.

“Previously, registered drinking water suppliers were using multiple different platforms and we knew we needed to consolidate, and to bring across all the existing data. But we didn’t want to make it hard for anyone, so ease and accessibility of the system was a really important factor,” says Ray.

“We wanted to be able to bring all the information about what all the suppliers were doing into a central place, and we needed a platform to do that. We also wanted suppliers to be able to interact and manage their own accounts and have some responsibility for that, and for telling us – as the regulator – key information about their drinking water supplies.”

“Another critical part of the platform was the ability for us to plug into the back end of it and take all that data and make sense of it through our data and insights function to start to look across the sector at where the problems or issues might be, what risks are emerging and where we might better deploy our resources in response.”

The system also had to allow the Taumata Arowai team to communicate easily with suppliers, both on a one-to-one and one-to-many basis.

“Datacom looked at what we were trying to achieve and helped us to understand what the best platform for us would be.”

Iterative approach for Hinekōrako

The Datacom team working with Taumata Arowai understood they needed to deliver a solution that would enable the organisation to effectively manage a large amount of data and interactions, that was scalable and offered a user-friendly, intuitive interface to the internal staff and to its diverse external stakeholders, to minimise any barriers to participation and uptake.

To deliver what Taumata Arowai needed, the decision was made to develop a cloud-based solution, using Microsoft Dynamics 365, Power Apps and Power App Portals.

With short delivery timeframes, the development approach for the platform and self-service portal – named Hinekōrako – was highly agile, with constant testing and refinements alongside the design and build.

Ray says the iterative nature of the project could be “slightly unsettling” at times, because you couldn’t see a linear progression towards key milestones, but it has delivered a robust platform.

In November 2021, Taumata Arowai formally took over the legislative function, including receiving and responding to the lab testing information for drinking water services around the country, and the Hinekōrako platform became the central system for registered supplies.

Ray says the transition went smoothly, and within in a matter of months the unified collection of data was delivering insights about drinking water services around the country.

One of the early insights was the higher than anticipated number of ‘boil water’ notices – which is where a supplier notifies people their water is potentially not safe and that they need to boil the water before they drink it.

“We saw 48 boil water notices in a six-month period, even though the Ministry of Health previously put annual boil water notices at around 77, and we know that there are potentially more out there with unregistered supplies.”

The early data also revealed more use of lab testing services by unregistered suppliers than Taumata Arowai had anticipated.

“While we only get notified of the failed lab results, we know these will just be a portion of what is being submitted by unregistered suppliers and so there's probably far more [suppliers] who are being proactive about managing and testing their water than we realised.”

The job to be done for Taumata Arowai is still massive and there are some long lead times for bringing onboard unregistered supplies, who have up to 2025 to register with Taumata Arowai and up to 2028 to be fully compliant, including the submission of a drinking water safety plan (or by using an Acceptable Solution).

But Ray says he is pleased with the progress to date.

“Hinekōrako is a good foundation… to bring together all the suppliers and their data so we can understand more about the country’s drinking water and use that information to help the sector to lift its performance.”

“We’re really conscious that we need to reflect the information in a way that makes sense for the people of New Zealand too, not just the water suppliers. As a consumer they have a right to understand it what’s going on with their water too.”


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