Severn Trent Water Cuts Costs and Improves the Experience Through a Digital Transformation

Severn Trent Water jointly with Cognizant Digital Engineering “hacks the culture” to shift to agile ways of working

England’s water customers are no longer locked to one service provider. In 2017, the Office of Water Services (Ofwat) – the economic regulator for water and sewerage services in England and Wales – gave 1.2 million non-residential customers the option to buy water services from a supplier other than its regional monopoly.
The new regulation spurred Severn Trent Water (STW) to step up its efforts to drive down prices and deliver an outstanding customer experience. One of the U.K.’s largest water services, STW has 4.3 million water connections serving 8 million customers – delivering 1.8 billion liters of water and handling 3 billion liters of sewage a year. “To deliver the best experience at a competitive price, we need to be as agile as digital-native companies,” says Jayne Showell, Chief Information Officer of Severn Trent Water.


Software drives every aspect of STW’s business, including customer management and management of leaks, water quality and wastewater. Maintaining a large and complex application portfolio left little time for innovation. Of more than 350 applications, almost 60% are heavily customized commercial-off-the-shelf applications including SAP and third-party field management applications integrated with supervisory control and acquisition systems (SCADA) and IBM Operational Decision Manager (ODM). 

STW had embarked on an Agile journey to fast track value delivery to business and customers. Understanding the importance of sustainable transformation, STW chose Cognizant Digital Engineering to help launch the transformation project – leveraging their past partnership experience with other big enterprises on a similar digital transformation journey that would benefit from key areas in technology modernization, tools, automation, training and upskilling. Cognizant was able to bring in their learnings and quickly pull together a delivery model that would be sustainable and provide value quickly. Through more than 60 interviews with business teams, developers, operations staff and end users (customer service agents, field agents and water delivery partners), the STW internal team, alongside Cognizant Digital Engineering identified the following requirements for sustainable transformation:

  • People: shifting the mindset toward innovation and collaboration. Traditionally SAP, integration, technology and support teams worked independently. Workspaces were shared to breakdown silos, promote collaboration and co-location. Team goals and incentives were made collective, rather than individual.

  • Process: adopting Agile ways of working. New  features typically took six months to introduce  – a result of manual processes and 6-week lead time for infrastructure provisioning, security  and application configuration.

    “We wanted to  make new feature development a priority – not  something pursued only when the backlog  of support cases was cleared,” says Chris  Davidson, Head of Strategy Architecture and  Engineering for STW.

    To keep the innovations flowing, Cognizant recommended important agile and DevOps processes, such as continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), continuous testing and continuous inspection using the right automation tools. DevOps Roadmap was the need of the hour to streamline the automation process in build, deployment releases and environment management.  Implementation of Continuous Integration  allowed the team to quickly build, deploy and promote new versions of the software quickly into environments on priority. IT Change management process was also simplified and scrum teams empowered enabling faster changes.

  • Technology. Most testing was manual. Ongoing innovation would require automated testing and consistent enforcement of quality standards. To resolve incidents before they became problems, STW also needed more advanced application and log monitoring tools. 


After identifying the goals, Cognizant served as  STW’s partner in the digital transformation journey,  which spanned people and culture, process and  technology. “We started with ‘hacking the culture’  because it’s fun, engaging and not scary or  overwhelming,” says Anoop Narayana, Cognizant’s  DevOps Community Practice Leader.

Value-stream mapping. At the outset, Cognizant and STW mapped out the IT delivery framework to align with the company’s six customer value streams based on more than 50 hours of whiteboard sessions with business and IT stakeholders. To train business leaders on value-stream mapping, Cognizant gamified the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) model, simulating different business situations. 

Modernizing team structure. Building on the value-stream mapping exercise, the two companies created an organizational model combining best practices from Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Spotify. Each Agile team includes an application expert plus architects and systems engineers who support multiple applications. Engineering leadership and Communities of Practice, such as DevOps and Automation, provide direction across the Agile Release Train (team of teams). 

The core transformation team—STW leaders and digital engineering experts from Cognizant—conducted daily scrum meetings to implement the people, process and tools required to modernize each train. Agile teams are named for the user benefits they deliver—and staff are encouraged to work on the features that interest them most. “When planning a sprint, we start by asking, ‘What would this look like if it were easy?’” says Mark Gwynne, Head of Operations for STW. All teams in an Agile Release Train work in the same location, facilitating communication, collaboration and skill sharing. 

Generating excitement about Agile ways of working. Accustomed to waterfall development, engineers  initially resisted change. STW leadership set an  example and motivated the team by being the first adapters of these changes and also guided us along this shift from the traditional way of working. Further, to help the team appreciate the benefits of agile ways of working, Cognizant held a variety of events:

  • Scrum meetings held in open workspace, open  to all staff. Eighty percent of the staff dropped in  at some point
  • Brown bag lunch sessions to introduce DevOps and Agile methodologies.
  • Walk-in clinics set up in lobbies and cafeterias where staff could try out Agile methods while playing 2-minute games. “The clinics created ‘aha’ moments, helping people see how Agile would make their jobs easier and produce more value for our customers,” says John Phillips, Cognizant Client Partner for STW.

Introducing out-of-the-box thinking. “Engineers love to solve problems. When we talk about problems to solve, transformation becomes way of life”, says Davidson. The company also tends to talk about “learning experiments” rather than “failures.” “An experiment can prove or disprove a hypothesis, but either way the experiment succeeded,” Davidson notes. 

Encouraging collaboration. To bring previously siloed teams together, meetings  shifted away from the office environment. Modern engineering methodologies like Pair Programming, Test Driven Development, BML (Build, Measure and Learn), Minimum Viable Product, Continuous improvement through feedback were used to deliver digital ready solution. Team also became self-organized, committed to handle more stories and complex initiatives. There was also a steady increase in team velocity which was a great indicator that our client had achieved agile maturity and collaboration between team members. They were also encouraged to write blogs and share ideas on  Yammer.  

Adopting a modern technology stack. Cognizant worked closely with STW and made recommendations relating to overall cloud strategy to enable teams and speed to market.  Following a formal procurement process,  Cognizant was announced as the successful SI partner to migrate their applications on to Azure cloud. We, in collaboration with STW, designed a robust roadmap for cloud-native transformation of their customer-facing applications.

Cognizant  completed the migration of these applications swiftly and exited from the legacy data centers  successfully. DevOps operating model was established to accelerate the automated Route to Live (RTL) process for key applications and achieve cost efficiency. Implementation of Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) enabled orchestrated build process, automated unit tests to aid fail fast strategy, automated environment provisioning, automated configuration management, Runbook automation and one-click deployment. 


Outcomes of the project to date include: 

  • Accelerated application releases by 300% – from  12 weeks to 4 weeks 
  • Allowed new projects to start up to 75% sooner by reducing the lead time needed for infrastructure, security and prioritized backlog
  • Improved first time right ratio by 40%
  • Improved job satisfaction – 85% of employees in  an anonymous survey felt empowered, 90% that they belonged, 78% that they now had empathy for other teams and 88% that collaboration and communication had significantly improved
  • Freed up 20% more time to innovate


STW in partnership with Cognizant won: 

  • 2019 DevOps Industry Award for Most Successful Cultural Transformation
  • 2019 ISG Paragon Award in EMEA for  Collaboration: A Mutually Beneficial Sourcing Relationship Between Client and Provider


Severn Trent Water is one of the U.K’s largest water services, with 4.3 million water connections serving 8 million customers. However, legacy tools, waterfall development, manual processes and siloed teams inhibited STW’s
innovation. Cognizant partnered with the company to introduce the culture, processes and technology it needed to
thrive in a competitive environment.

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