The global research and advisory firm, Gartner defines digitalisation as “the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.”
The digitalization of the water industry means adopting a smarter approach to water management. Digital technologies offer unlimited potential to transform the world’s water systems, helping utilities become more resilient, innovative, and efficient as well as empowering them to use more cost-efficient processes.
Traditional water and wastewater utility systems were built decades ago. Due to the changing stresses of climate and rapid urbanization, water and wastewater utility systems cannot keep up. The aging infrastructure brings with it risks of potential failure and poor environmental compliance; these issues are key concerns for utilities around the world.
More than ever, water treatment operators across the world are turning to digital solutions to transform their day-to-day business outcomes. The latest digital technologies are not only helping industry become more efficient and effective but also transforming the way the water industry creates and captures value. Therefore, it is imperative that companies strengthen their core competencies with an eye on the future and understand how the digital journey will ultimately transform the relationship between customers and providers.
Challenges Faced by the Water Sector
Utilities face challenges when looking to accelerate the adoption of digital water technologies. There is the challenge of overcoming data silos and of integrating systems, especially legacy systems. There are human resources challenges as well as a need to clearly define the return on investment of new systems. Some of the common challenges are listed below.
Aging Infrastructure– The sad state of America’s rapidly deteriorating water infrastructure is a known issue, driven by inadequate investment in rehabilitation and replacement of equipment and facilities. This matter weighs heavily on the minds of the industry professionals–according to Black & Veatch’s annual survey of water, wastewater, and stormwater professionals, nearly 80 percent of utility respondents see aging infrastructure as the most challenging issue facing the industry today.
Workforce Retirement– An aging workforce and replacement of retirees is one of the main challenges utilities in all sectors currently face. In addition to the impact on daily operations, this challenge also hinders emergency preparedness because new or younger employees may not have the experience or institutional knowledge necessary to effectively deal with emergency situations.
Population Growth – Population growth and urbanization put an extra load on aging systems. The first challenge of urbanization is meeting supply demands. The second is in maintaining water quality and reducing environmental pollutants because of urban spread.
How Digitalisation Improves the Water Industry
Access to digital control means using IoT-supported, data-driven models that integrate and optimize smart pumps, valves, sensors, and actuators. Digital controls also enable devices to “talk” to each other, send data to your smartphone, and produce real-time information that can be accessed and shared over the cloud. Utilities can analyze, automate, correct, and predict risks in real time by adopting digital infrastructure. This will equip them to address many of the current challenges they face, including extending the life of aging assets, reducing leaks, thwarting cyber-attacks, and preventing other abnormalities in the distribution network service levels. This increases the reliability of supply, promotes water conservation, and increases revenue through operational efficiencies. The following are some further benefits of adopting digital technologies:
- Increasing Resilience – Digital solutions such as a dense network of sensors, intelligent equipment, real-time source-to-tap digital twins, data analytics, and advanced simulation tools enable utilities to be better prepared for their changing environments. By improving day-to-day water management and building long-term resilience to disasters and climate change, digital solutions address utilities’ priorities.
- Improving Efficiency– Digitization of water management is a huge leap for both infrastructure and society. It will put an end to many hassles and inefficiencies associated with older equipment. Increased efficiency positively impacts the customer. Digital solutions such as detecting leaks, excess vibration, pump bearing failure, cavitation and asset management platforms can provide preventive and predictive maintenance capabilities which can help reduce downtime of critical assets and maximise effectiveness and efficiency of operations.
- Remote Monitoring and Data Collection– With the advent of the digital revolution in the water industry, data collection and exchange are growing exponentially, replacing traditional methods and practices. Being able to monitor machines, pumps, and other instruments in the water sector as well as collecting precise data is hugely advantageous for water management.
The Way Forward to Fully Digitalized Water Infrastructure
To reap the full benefits of digitalization, companies in the water industry must follow global standards for connectivity, data storage, data availability, and legislation as well as provide ways to easily integrate their system with other systems. Thus, new water technology systems need to be developed based on new data sources, more intelligent products, and robust planning tools. There is also a need for more service-based business models, collaborative systems based on intelligent water technology components, and multi-utility systems that combine water treatment, energy, and resource recovery in a cyber-safe framework.
Hence, having the right products together with an understanding of customer needs and applications combined with intelligent connectivity, are key factors for success in the water industry for the years to come.
Is Digitalization Hard to Implement?
While digital water technology offers considerable promise, there are challenges in scaling adoption of these technologies. One of the main challenges is workforce capacity and training.
Whether the issues are real or perceived, the water sector is slow to adopt new technologies due to a lack of incentives, the risks of adopting new products, and individuals being siloed in their own department. As a result, proven technologies are strongly favoured over unproven or emerging technologies in the water industry. In general, water workforces are not trained in digital technology solutions; this type of training is necessary to scale the adoption of digital technologies.
CIMCON Digital’s iEdge Platform has helped cities and municipalities efficiently deliver water and wastewater treatment for over 30 + years. With CIMCON’s vast experience in the water sector, these training and staffing issues are resolved. Instead of having to re-train the workforce in new technologies, CIMCON guides the water utilities by taking care of the IoT Part in managing their assets in a better, more efficient manner.
The water utility sector has made great strides in the uptake of digital technology. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Because technology has evolved, it is possible to take a great leap forward to achieve true digital transformation with minimal investment. Utilities need to start with a clear strategic plan to create a full digital ecosystem. This can start by dividing the water network into discrete zones and identifying what is needed to address the specific challenges in each. Effectively, it is best to start small by adding to existing technology. CIMCON Digital’s iEdge 360 Device can do this through connecting to a variety of existing water instruments without having to invest in new, expensive systems. iEdge 360 uses wired and wireless networks to communicate with water assets distributed over a large geographical area throughout a city. Then, it communicates this data back into the cloud using available network.
So, is digitalization hard to implement? With CIMCON’s experience in the water industry and its wide range of solutions, Digitalization has never been easier to implement.
Want to know more about CIMCON Digital’s Smart Water Solution? Click the link to learn more.