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, streamline resources and efficiently manage fieldwork. For all this to happen, cybersecurity must be an inherent component of the process.
As the need for connectivity increases and water utilities become more familiar with technology, the digital world will expand. These are the benefits of digital transformation.
1- Data can become information for decision-making
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’s utilities only thoroughly analyze, on average, about 10 percent of the data they collect (2015 CIO Forum)..
When used efficiently, 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 valuable information via powerful analytical engines, enabling end users to rapidly understand and take action. This means that utilities move from being data-siloed organizations to data-centric ones, attaining full transparency and interoperability. According to Jaime Barba, Idrica’s CEO and a 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 evolve and climate change accelerates, there is a growing need for long-term planning to drive business acumen, 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, utilities must not only have the right infrastructure, but also 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. They also help to avoid and minimize their consequences.
Digital Twins are a valuable tool for contingency plans and they also serve as operator training systems, by simulating scenarios in the control room using historical data. All these functions are vital when travel and fieldwork are restricted, in order to prevent breakdowns and outages.
3- Utilities can move towards a customer-centric approach
Reaching the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6 of universal access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 means water resources must be supplied sustainably, using digital frameworks to connect with customers and respond to their needs.
Thanks to technological innovations in water meters, utilities can now become proactive in customer management. IoT, as an enabler behind the transformation of many companies, provides enhanced client information and added value services to customers, reduces complaints and helps industrial customers to optimize their water consumption.
The benefits of digital transformation involve greater transparency for citizens, companies and institutions, who will become key agents for an increasingly scarce resource, which requires their direct involvement.
4- Benefits of digital transformation: increased ROI
Digital water resource management means savings at both operational and investment levels. By automating processes, a smart water approach in organizations generates greater efficiencies at a lower cost.
Any water utility, regardless of where it is on the digital transformation journey, can increase ROI from past investments and make the most of existing technology structures by implementing smart solutions.
The savings achieved can also be the basis for further investments in digital transformation, thus making this process sustainable.
5- Digital solutions can help in the fight against Covid-19
In addition to ensuring water services, the water industry can help to combat the pandemic.
The early detection of COVID in wastewater facilitates decision-making by combining the near-real-time concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage with health, demographic and socioeconomic data. This enables authorities and health officials to make granular decisions at 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 handover within the water industry means that new talent is joining organizations. By harnessing this new talent, teamwork is encouraged and changes are accelerated.
The current pandemic has made digital transformation a must for the water industry. Let’s build a more resilient future together.