The current global pandemic has proved that digital solutions are not only a nice-to-have, but a must-have for water utilities around the world.
Now more than ever it is vital to remotely monitor and operate assets, optimize operating costs in the face of unexpected events, manage emergency situations, rationalize resources and efficiently manage fieldwork. For all this to happen, cybersecurity must be an inherent component of the process.
As the need for connectivity deepens and water utilities get more comfortable with the technology, greater levels of digitalization will occur. These are the benefits of digital transformation.
1- Data is translated into actionable information
The evolution of water meters, in relation to their data collection capabilities and communication systems, has led to unprecedented streams of information, which utility managers can use to make critical decisions proactively. However, today utilities only thoroughly analyze, on average, about 10 percent of the data they collect (2015 CIO Forum).
When conveniently used, AMI can help utilities take their digital transformation to the next level. Data collection is just the first step. For it to be useful, large data streams must be translated into actionable information via powerful analytical engines, allowing end users to rapidly understand and act. This means that utilities should move from a data-siloed organization to a data-centric one, having full transparency and interoperability. According to Jaime Barba, CEO Idrica and global smart water expert, “data means nothing if it can’t be turned into information”.
2- Managers can make better decisions for a resilient future
As consumer behaviors change and climate change accelerates, there is a growing need for long-term planning to drive business decisions, but also for making accurate short-term decisions.
Water utilities must build for resilience, identifying potential impacts and developing adaptation plans. To build a sustainable water future it is necessary not only to have the adequate infrastructure, but also to control in advance what is going to happen and why.
In this context, Digital Twins open a new paradigm for water supply and distribution networks management. By combining simulation modeling with artificial intelligence methods, they facilitate remote work and improve the ability to anticipate problems, even during emergency situations, and to take measures to avoid or minimize their consequences. Digital Twins are a valuable tool for contingency plans and they also serve as an operators’ training system, by facing simulated scenarios in the control room using historical data. All these functionalities are vital when traveling and fieldwork are restricted, in order to avoid breakdowns or service interruptions.
3- Utilities can move towards a customer-centric approach
The achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6 of universal access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 requires that water resources are supplied sustainably, using digital frameworks to connect with customers and respond to their needs.
Thanks to technological innovations related to water meters, utilities can now become proactive in customer management. IoT, as an enabler behind the transformation of many companies, provides enhanced detail of client information which, used properly, provides added value services to customers, reduces complaints and can support industrial customers to optimize the use of water intake in their processes.
The benefits of digital transformation involve higher transparency with citizens, companies and institutions, who will become key agents for a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce, and for which their direct involvement is required.
4- Benefits of digital transformation: ROI is increased
The digitalization of water resource management means savings at both the operational and investment levels. By automating previously manual processes, a smart water approach in organizations generates greater efficiencies at a lower cost.
Any water utility, regardless of its phase in their digital transformation journey, can see increases in ROI from past investments and make the most of existing technology structures by implementing technological solutions to build a digital structure.
The savings achieved can also be the basis for further investments in digitalization, thus making this process sustainable.
5- Digital solutions can help in the fight against Covid-19
In addition to ensuring water services, it is also critical that the water industry contributes to the resolution of this pandemic.
The early detection of COVID in wastewater facilitates decision-making by combining the near-real-time concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in sewer water with health, demographic and socioeconomic data. This way, authorities and health officials can make granular decisions at a city level to prevent spikes.
First step: overcoming resistance
On the path to the benefits of digital transformation, one of the main challenges is overcoming resistance. Cultural change within a water utility requires C-level executives to have a clear vision, or ambassadors with a strong conviction to change the system when a third party is leading the process.
People are one of the most important elements for achieving success. The generational change within the water sector means that new talent is joining organizations. By combining the best of all generations it is possible to move towards collaborative and interdisciplinary ways of working, and speed up the change that has already started.
The current global pandemic has made digital transformation a must for the water industry. Let’s build a more resilient future together.