DWQR Works with Exception to Upgrade to Reliable, Secure, and Economical Solution on AWS

Executive Summary

The Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland (DWQR) replaced its 16-year-old water quality system with a cloud-native solution running on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The system is used to receive, analyze, and store important water quality data from the country’s water providers. The replacement system needed to meet cybersecurity requirements and eliminate the need for manual data handling. The old system was running on an out-of-support server managed by another government department, meaning the regulator had no control over this crucial infrastructure and no flexibility to meet changing needs. Working with AWS Partner Exception, the DWQR was able to build the replacement solution in just 9 months.

DWQR Held Back by Insecure Legacy Technology

The Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland (DWQR) makes sure that drinking water in Scotland is safe to drink. It does this by ensuring that the utility Scottish Water safeguards the quality of the public supply through a process of inspections and monitoring. This requires the DWQR to receive, analyze, and store the results of more than 600,000 tests conducted by Scottish Water every year, in addition to a smaller number of tests from private water suppliers. It also regularly receives asset data, such as the location of water treatment works and their supply zones, and the locations of any breaks or disruptions. Formerly it was doing all of this on a system that was out of support and required daily manual intervention.

DWQR previously used an Oracle-based system that was created in 2006. Because this system was bespoke, it offered the advantage of being completely specific to DWQR’s needs. “It had the water quality regulations built into it,” says Matt Bower, drinking water quality regulator at DWQR. “The downside was that it was hosted for us within the Scottish government on an old server that was totally unsupported. The main driver for the replacement was that it was becoming increasingly unreliable, but, also, it didn’t meet modern cybersecurity standards.”

The system was no longer directly compatible with the data being provided by Scottish Water, whose reporting formats had changed over the years. Every day, a staff member had to spend an hour or more to extract and manipulate the data provided by Scottish Water to input that data in the correct format that was required by the system. Because the application was run on a server hosted by another department, DWQR’s costs were negligible, but it had no control over that server. It was clear a new system was needed and, given the Scottish government’s Cloud First program—which encourages and helps public sector bodies to use cloud services—DWQR determined that a cloud-native solution using serverless technology was the logical approach and put the project out for bids.


The main driver for the replacement was that it was becoming increasingly unreliable, but, also, it didn’t meet modern cybersecurity standards.”

Matt Bower
Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland, DWQR

Building a New System with Exception

AWS Partner Exception, which DWQR had previously worked with on another project, won the bid. After they began working on the new project, the two companies decided that an entirely new system was needed. “There were too many things that needed to be changed from the security side of things if we moved the existing system to the cloud,” says Bower. “We weren’t sure it would even survive moving onto another host. And, really, there was so much we wanted to change anyway, because it was such a rigid system for us to use.”

Exception recommended building an entirely new system using AWS. There were advantages to starting from scratch. “The existing system wasn’t compliant, and it didn’t meet their needs,” says Alasdair Hendry, head of transformation and consulting at Exception. “Building something new to replace it meant that anything was possible. We consulted on what capabilities they needed and what features they wanted. From there, we started to build, using AWS to deliver what was required.” Exception used a combination of agile ceremonies—structured meetings in the agile development process—and a waterfall model in the development and delivery approach. This enabled better understanding of DWQR’s user needs to build cloud prototypes, helping the companies to create a minimum viable product (MVP) in just 9 months.

The solution uses AWS Lambda—a serverless, event-driven computer service—to provide a secure, scalable compute environment. Data is stored in a data lake and analyzed using Amazon Athena—a serverless, interactive analytics service built on open-source frameworks. The solution also draws on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)—an object storage service that can store and protect any amount of data for virtually any use case, such as data lakes, cloud-native applications, and mobile applications. Amazon API Gateway—a fully managed service that makes it easy for developers to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale—lets users access asset and event data supplied by Scottish Water and maintain a secure chain of communications. Amazon Cognito has been used to implement secure, frictionless customer identity and access management that scales. DWQR and Exception have built on the MVP and the full solution has been running for more than 6 months with great success. “Exception was fast and responsive to our questions and communicated well, which helped everything move quickly,” says Bower.


Credit: Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR)

DWQR Gains Better Insights to Meet its Mandate More Efficiently

One crucial goal for DWQR was to create a more secure, resilient system to receive, process, and store the data it needs to monitor water safety. Using AWS built security into the heart of the system. “We had a cybersecurity expert from the Scottish government working with us from the start,” says Bower. “From the procurement process almost to the delivery of the project, they were there to assure that we met the required standards. Using AWS gave us comfort that we’re meeting the latest standards.”

Because the previous system was running on an out-of-support server run by another department, there was little direct financial cost to DWQR. But the organization estimates that the operational cost of the new systems is 95 percent less than what the old system would have cost. More important than cost, however, is the value delivered by the solution that DWQR developed with Exception. “We have better control and we know exactly what we're getting now with the current system,” says Bower. “The old system had to be replaced, there was no other option. And I’m comfortable that we’ve got the most cost-efficient approach. Best of all, it can grow with us if we need to in the future.”

The regulator is already looking at ways to get more out of the system to better serve the people of Scotland. “The more we use it, the more opportunities we see to do more to improve our work,” says Bower. “For example, we track actions that Scottish Water have said they’re going to do in response to incidents and events. We want to build that into the system, the ability to check action dates and automatically flag those for follow-up. Also, as the legislative framework around water evolves, we can easily change to include those changes. Our flexibility means that we can quickly, securely, and efficiently continue to protect the public.”


About DWQR

The Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland (DWQR) exists to ensure that drinking water in Scotland is safe to drink. It does this by ensuring that everything Scottish Water does safeguards the quality of the public supply, through a process of inspections and monitoring. DWQR enforces the requirements of The Public Water Supplies (Scotland) Regulations 2014 and takes action where these requirements are not met.

AWS Services Used


  • 95% savings over legacy system’s operational cost
  • Improved security and compliance
  • Faster, automated ingestion of data
  • Enhanced analytical capabilities and insights

About AWS Partner Exception

Exception is a digital consultancy that helps organizations build and optimize digital services and solutions for customers. The company works with both private and public sector organizations. It provides cloud adoption, cloud architecture, and cloud migration consultancy as an AWS Partner. Headquartered in Edinburgh, its customers are based throughout the UK and Europe.

Published March 2024