Severn Trent Water Cuts Costs and Improves the Experience

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 their 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 litres 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 for 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 too six months to introduce, a result of manual processes and 6-week lead times 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 Agile processes such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD).
  • 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 helping to identify 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. To help them appreciate the benefits of Agile ways of working, a variety of events were held:

  • 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.

Figure 1 Placing visual charts of project information in strategic locations piqued staff interest in Agile ways of working

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 are now held away from the office environment—and do not end until team members have asked three difficult questions. IT staff are encouraged to write blogs and share ideas on Yammer. 

Adopting a modern technology stack. Cognizant recommended and implemented a DevOps framework and platform comprising of more than a dozen new tools to accelerate the Route to Live process for applications on both on-premise and cloud. STW and Cognizant also designed a roadmap for cloud-native transformation of customer-facing applications.


STW in partnership with Cognizant won the 2019 DevOps Industry Award for Most Successful Cultural Transformation and the 2019 ISG Paragon Award in EMEA for Collaboration. Outcomes of the project to date: 

  • Accelerated application release cycle by 300%—from three months to four weeks
  • Started new projects up to 75% sooner by reducing lead time needed for infrastructure, security and prioritised backlog
  • Improved “first time right” ratio by 40% 
  • Improved job satisfaction: 85% of employees in an anonymous survey felt empowered, 90% that they belong, 78% that they now had empathy with other teams and 88% that collaboration and communication had significantly improved
  • Freed up 20% more time to innovate


  • To fend off competition from other water providers, STW needs to continually deliver software that delivers an outstanding customer experience, high service value and environmental leadership 
  • Legacy tools, waterfall development, manual processes and siloed teams inhibited innovation
  • Cognizant partnered with STW to introduce the culture, processes and technology the company needed to thrive in a competitive environment
  • The award-winning effort accelerated application releases by 300% (from 12 weeks to 4 weeks), accelerated project starts by 75% and increased “first time right” rate by 40%
  • The transformation also improved job satisfaction, helping STW attract and retain top talent 
  • 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
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