Northumbrian Water uses SharePoint Syntex and Microsoft Viva Topics for knowledge delivery

Published on July 14, 2021


Water is an essential resource for life and according to Water UK, the average person in the UK alone uses nearly 142 liters of water each day. To put this in perspective, that’s about 3.5 times the amount of fluid in the average human body. But the water we rely on doesn’t magically appear in our drinking glass or flow through our showerheads – it’s delivered through intricately planned, maintained, and monitored piping and waterways. It requires an abundance of human thought, planning, and infrastructure. The delivery of clean water requires the care and hard work of companies like Northumbrian Water.

Serving over 4.4 million people in the United Kingdom, Northumbrian Water provides water and sewage services across the northern English counties of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Durham, and parts of North Yorkshire. Dedicated to delivering the reliable, resilient water services that are vital to public health, while providing an unrivaled customer experience, Northumbrian Water has become a leader in their space, leveraging new innovation and technology to deliver on its promises.


Much like other service industries, sanitation, purification, and distribution of water often rely on outdated traditional processes – including paper documentation and mapping, manual data logging, and more. But over the years Northumbrian Water has begun taking a different approach, looking to utilize technology and innovation to simplify processes and manage organizational knowledge, ultimately ensuring they deliver the best product and the best customer experience.

To serve the vast population across the region, Northumbrian Water manages thousands of kilometers of water and sewage network, making sure that it is adequately maintained. Doing so requires detailed documentation of every asset in the network, resulting in what now amounts to around 20 million documents. How does one sort through this massive archive to find a specific document? And is there a way workers can quickly connect with other experts on a given asset, location, or process? How can they access the intrinsic knowledge stored within the minds of the older workforce or those with local experience?

Keen to tear down the barriers inhibiting the organization from quickly finding and utilizing key organizational knowledge, Northumbrian Water hired Microsoft Gold partner ClearPeople to help resolve their knowledge capture and discovery needs by implementing and leveraging the latest Microsoft 365 technologies.


To start the knowledge transformation journey, Northumbrian Water in migrated all 20 million documents, housed across various systems, to Microsoft SharePoint – so that they would be accessible in one central repository. Northumbrian Water estimates that over the coming year this number of documents will likely more than double – up to 50 million documents.

Following the migration, ClearPeople worked with Microsoft to provide Northumbrian with a Knowledge Discovery Workshop – a Microsoft-funded workshop where partners assess content sources, content types, and user journeys and scenarios to develop a pilot of Microsoft Knowledge and Content Services solutions in combination with their own solutions. As part of this pilot, ClearPeople rolled out their Microsoft 365 solution, Atlas, which combines Microsoft 365 tools such as Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Outlook, Microsoft Viva Topics, and SharePoint Syntex into one consolidated platform for a seamless experience.

Leveraging Microsoft Viva Topics and SharePoint Syntex, Northumbrian Water quickly discovered the power and possibility of Microsoft’s latest knowledge solutions. “Our content that had been across the board in file shares and other legacy systems is now in one place. And now we can start to do things that have been very difficult to do in the past. I’m very excited because, for the first time we’ve got insight into all the content that we’ve got and we can start to build on that content and to do some very interesting things with it,” says Northumbrian Water Productivity and Collaboration Consultant, Craig Stanley.

With Microsoft Viva Topics, employees at Northumbrian Water can now identify assets, construction projects, and even processes for the work they do, without leaving the applications they’re working in or running a massive search query. If a worker is aware of a pump that needs to be replaced, they can hover over the highlighted word in SharePoint and view the related topic card, showcasing the experts on that particular pump, reading a description, and accessing the most relevant documents. With Viva Topics, employees at Northumbrian quickly get up-to-date information on the subject matter they need to get their jobs done quickly and efficiently.

Potentially even more game changing is Northumbrian Water’s use of SharePoint Syntex – the latest addition to Microsoft Content Services. SharePoint Syntex uses advanced AI and machine teaching to amplify human expertise, automate content processing, and transform content into knowledge. Using no-code AI models, users can capture expertise to classify and extract information and automatically apply metadata, making the content easier to share and discover.

With SharePoint Syntex and Microsoft Viva Topics, we’ve found a way now, at scale, to bring together all our information and people, and identify those sorts of experts inside our business and also identify and manage information into more manageable topics.

Craig Stanley (Productivity and Collaboration Consultant, Northumbrian Water Group)


Using the power of AI, Northumbrian Water is teaching SharePoint Syntex how to recognize specific drawings – including maps of infrastructure – so they can capture key information from the drawings, record it, and make it easier for experts across the organization to find.

One example where Northumbrian Water can see SharePoint Syntex becoming incredibly valuable to the organization is in capturing knowledge held by an aging workforce – such as hand-drawn maps – applying an AI model to it that recognizes various key components, and automatically captures and records those components to make the knowledge available to new experts as they onboard.

Craig Stanley shared the following example:

“We had an experienced team member working in a rural area who used a very old van for transportation. The van was due for replacement, but he wouldn’t let us replace it. Eventually, the equipment team learned why. As he drove to different areas, he was drawing on the ceiling where mains and certain assets were.”

With these technologies, Northumbrian Water is tackling the challenges of transitioning knowledge from an aging workforce, making knowledge more discoverable, and shortening the query process. Stanley states, “With SharePoint Syntex and Microsoft Viva Topics, we’ve found a way now, at scale, to bring together all our information and people, and identify those sorts of experts inside our business and also identify and manage information into more manageable topics.” By doing so Northumbrian Water will be able to build on their legacy as an innovative leader in water and sewage services, while moving beyond outdated, legacy processes. By saving time through improved search experiences, eliminating a range of manual tasks, automating the discovery of documents and improving methods of collaboration with SharePoint Syntex and Microsoft Viva Topics, Northumbrian Water estimates that they’ll be able to save £50m over the next 36 months.

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