How Ghana’s Water Utility Digitally Transformed Water Service Applications with Geospatial Technology

Key Takeaways

  • Customer: Ghana Water Limited (GWL), a national water utility company in Ghana that provides potable water to the urban population.
  • Ghana Water Limited (GWL) used location intelligence to enhance its process for handling new service connection applications and assigning customer account numbers. Previously, these processes lacked location data, leading to errors and delays.
  • GWL staff used ArcGIS technology to automate new service connection applications, assigning account numbers based on property location and administrative boundaries. Also, mobile apps were provided for site inspections.
  • By implementing ArcGIS technologies, GWL staff streamlined the application process. This has enhanced supervision, improved efficiency, and increased customer satisfaction by reducing the turnaround time for connections.
  • Products: Esri products featured in this article include ArcGIS EnterpriseArcGIS Dashboards, ArcGIS Field Maps, ArcGIS ProArcGIS Survey123, and ArcGIS Workforce.

In the past, delivering clean and reliable water to Ghana’s urban populace often involved time-consuming and inefficient in-person trips to verify locations for installing new service connections. That’s because the nation lacked a fully functioning address system. In some cases, the staff of Ghana Water Limited (GWL), serving more than 947,000 connections, even asked applicants to give their inspectors rides to site locations when directions didn’t suffice.

While GWL had used geographic information system (GIS) technology before for asset management and pipe networks, the utility lacked geospatial information showing the distance for new service connections and wanted the ability to map a pipe route in advance. They also wanted to make it easier for personnel in the field to find customer locations for site visits and map water meters, as well as for staff to automate the generation of account numbers.

Now, a digital transformation inside Ghana’s sole water utility is beginning to improve the application process for new service connections. In 2022, GWL and Esri partner Tensing GIS Consulting BV collaborated to create and implement a GIS solution using ArcGIS technology. This solution addressed the daily operational challenges associated with the new service application process.

David Nii Okai Nunoo, GIS and hydraulic modelling manager at GWL said that despite a reliable address system, the utility’s location-based data is easing workflows by accounting for where customers are located. “We now have customer locations as points mapped and can easily query the system to know where to find which customer,” he said.

The image is a blank fillable form for applying for a new service connection with the Ghana Water Company LimitedApplicants requesting a new water service connection visit a district GWL office and complete a paper form with their name, contact details, and property address. The form also has sections to specify the purpose of the service, the building type, and the number of occupants.

How New Water Connections Have Been Made in Ghana

The process to install a new water service typically begins with a customer applying at one of the GWL district offices, which involves filling out paper forms with personal information, property details, and the purpose of the connection. Once the form is completed and submitted, that district office assigns a GWL field staff member to conduct a site visit.

“Site visits were one of our challenges because of the absence of a functional addressing system to locate people or parties,” said Nunoo, adding that GWL staff in the past would call and ask customers for directions or a ride to the site.

Upon arriving at the site, GWL field staff first investigate the proximity of the water mains where a connection may be tapped from. Next, they are required to determine the distance between the proposed meter location to the tapping point on the nearest identified mains. In the past, this process used paper-based documentation and relied on employees who knew the area to gather the information. Now, field staff have access to digital maps showing the pipe network on their mobile devices, which helps to simplify the process. During this visit, field staff also coordinate with the meter reader responsible for the area to ensure the customer’s location is correct for subsequent monthly billing.

The information gathered by the district at this stage is used to generate a cost estimate for the materials to make the connection. Once the region approves this estimate, it is communicated to the customer. Afterwards, it is the customer’s responsibility to make the payment to finalize the application. Upon payment, a field staff member would then be notified to carry out the connection; this involves laying a line from the mains to the installed meter location at the customer’s premises. Finally, a customer account number was manually generated and assigned to the new connection.

Manual aspects of these processes often led to inefficiencies and frustration for both employees and customers. Implementing a more efficient and location-based solution was crucial to benefit everyone involved.

A map shows the locations of 12 different sites, labeled with their ID numbers and statuses in redArcGIS Workforce is utilized by GWL field personnel to receive and manage new work orders. Each work order, along with its current status, is displayed on the map for reference.

How a New Service Connection is Administered Now

The project team (GWL/Tensing), with support from Sambus Geospatial Limited (an Esri distributor in West Africa), decided to integrate the existing ArcGIS Enterprise infrastructure into the utility’s operations. This comprehensive software suite allows users to manage, map, visualize, and analyze data. The deployment was tested in just one of GWL’s 13 regional office locations.

The employees in that region gained access to a variety of geospatial tools including ArcGIS Field MapsArcGIS Survey123, ArcGIS Pro, and ArcGIS Workforce, which enhanced workflows throughout different departments.

“We looked at what aspects of [the new service connection application] could be enhanced with GIS,” explained Nunoo.

First, GWL focused on enhancing how the utility manages site inspections for new service connection requests. Using ArcGIS Pro and location information from the applicant, GWL staff creates a “project zone” layer on a map, which provides a fair idea of where the new request is located.

Once a zone is created, a new service ID code is generated and automatically triggers a work order in ArcGIS Workforce, a web application used for coordinating work for mobile teams. The work order is assigned to a field employee, who then accesses the information through the mobile version of the app to locate the project site, validate the location of where the connection is supposed to go, and assess its suitability using Field Maps.

When done, the site inspectors close the assignment on their mobile device, which updates a viewable map for supervisors and office employees, accessible via a portal on their desktop. Furthermore, the information is presented visually on a dashboard created with ArcGIS Dashboards, allowing GWL management to easily view pending new service connections and monitor the progress of responses.

Using web and mobile GIS applications has improved communication between field and office employees during inspections and service administration. By using a shared platform, various departments within GWL can more easily share maps, files, and other geographic data, resulting in quicker responses to customer demands. The utility can also better monitor operations and maintain access to as-built information on connections, which can aid in planning.

A group of six people are standing together. holding an awardIn 2023, the GWL project team gained international recognition for using Esri’s ArcGIS technologies to simplify aspects of the new water service connection process. Their innovative approach earned them a Special Achievement in GIS Award from Esri.

“With streamlined workflows and enhanced data transparency, we’ve minimized errors, making water access more convenient and secure for our community,” said Nunoo.

ArcGIS technologies also helped to automate the account number generation process. Before, meter readers determined this manually based on their knowledge of customer accounts within their walk—the smallest administrative boundary unit that defines a meter reader’s area of responsibility. Now, the system automatically generates a unique customer account number for each property. This is done by combining the property’s location data, collected by the site inspector, with administrative boundaries defined by GWL (such as region, district, cycle, and walk boundaries).

This has significantly reduced the incidence of duplicate account numbers and mixed walks (an issue where assigned account numbers do not correspond to the physical account location on the ground). Overall, this has improved the data quality of the customers’ billing information and offers a sustainable method for preserving the integrity of the database.

GWL’s successful pilot earned the utility a Special Achievement in GIS Award from Esri at the 2023 Esri User Conference, garnering international recognition. Looking ahead, GWL hopes to continue its partnership with Tensing to begin phase two of the pilot. This phase will involve using GIS for estimating costs and seeking project approvals for new service connection applications.

Screenshot of a water service app with fillable fields for region, district, cycle, and walkGWL staff utilize ArcGIS Field Maps to validate the location of a potential water service connection and assess its suitability.

Thanks to the digitization of our new service application process using ArcGIS technology, we’ve seen a remarkable improvement in efficiency and customer satisfaction.
David Nii Okai Nunoo, GIS and Hydraulic Modeling Manager at GWL