Insights Blog Innovating for Efficiency: How Digital Transformation Can Benefit the Water Sector


Innovating for Efficiency: How Digital Transformation Can Benefit the Water Sector

The water utilities market is on a huge growth path, and the optimization of water resources is a big job. Find out how digital transformation can benefit the water sector in this blog

Wayne Tofteroo, Director of Engineering, Qualitest

The water utilities market is on a huge growth path, and the optimization of water resources is a big job. It is estimated that over $40 billion a year is lost in revenue by water organizations globally because of non-revenue water (NRW).

There are several challenges that the water industry needs to respond to which range from:

  • acting on the mounting effects of extreme weather events
  • protecting agricultural production
  • reusing wastewater to support a circular economy
  • responding to customer lead revolution
  • implementing smart and intelligent network technologies

Digital transformation has already started to revolutionize the water industry, from smart meters that allow customers to monitor their water usage in real-time to advanced sensor networks that can detect leaks and monitor water quality. Digital transformation can help the water industry improve efficiency, reduce costs, and better manage resources.

Water companies need digital transformation for addressing old archaic systems and ageing infrastructures, improving stress on water systems and dealing with extreme weather events. The water industry needs to adapt quickly to fix these problems, and digital transformation is key to achieving this.

What are the barriers to digital transformation in the water sector?

There are many reasons why digital transformation is slow to evolve in the water industry rather than in other industries. Legacy systems often mean data is kept in silos, which makes system integration and interoperability a large hurdle. Cyber security is another huge concern with water companies often struggling to get a handle on, especially with so many new threats emerging every day. Thankfully, there are a myriad of security software tools available that are layered into many water utility platforms to help protect organizations from the growing cyber threat.

One of the significant benefits of digital transformation in the water industry is the ability to use data to make better decisions. With sensors and other advanced technologies, the water industry can collect vast amounts of data about water usage, quality, and distribution. This data can be used to identify trends and patterns, optimize operations, and make more informed decisions.

Digital transformation has been slow to evolve in the water industry because of a lack of skilled resources and a lack of innovation in the water sector.  New technologies that are moving into the water sector, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) are enabling digital transformation along with the use of cloud native platforms that are data agnostic. This is a key driver to getting the water industry on board with digital transformation and seamlessly integrating new capabilities.

The water industry also has a large workforce who are used to defined roles where their experience is their biggest asset. Therefore, there may be some resistance in giving those defined responsibilities to new technologies such as the Internet of Things and connected devices. Additionally, they may not be as comfortable with technology as the new generation entering the water industry. It is no surprise that many organizations in the water sector are behind the curve when it comes to digital transformation.

How to overcome the barriers to digital transformation in the water sector

Many water organizations have found they have a huge amount of untapped data. They will often keep hold of it for the purposes of having a historical archive of their organization but fail to use it in any meaningful way. Northumberland Water is leading the way with this via having integrated credit and marketing agencies who are analyzing all their historical data in order for them to understand their customers in a more meaningful and deeper way.

In addition, all are under huge pressure to decrease their costs and manage their assets more efficiently, especially when it comes to floods and flood planning and containing water leaks. According to OFWAT, in 2020-21 England and Wales leaked 51 liters of water per person per day while in Scotland and Northern Ireland this figure was above 80 liters of water.

Artificial intelligence has also played a big part in leak detection and managing leaks efficiently. Yorkshire Water has recently undertaken a Narrowband-IoT and AI pilot scheme in conjunction with BT to connect almost 4,000 acoustic, flow, pressure and water quality monitors to manage interruptions and leaks in the water network in the North of England.

BT switched on Narrowband-IoT for the first time on the back of the project, which was hailed as the “UK’s largest smart water network pilot.” As soon as a water leak is detected via the use of AI it can be rectified quickly and easily, and given that a leak can be underground for months before detection with the loss of up to 30% of the water below, the role that AI can play in leak detection is crucial.

Yorkshire Water stated that final Narrowband-IoT installations have taken place and that it will deliver significant improvements in data quality and battery life, enabling it to identify and prevent leaks and network incidents more accurately. The pilot scheme integrated data from new and existing sources, and presented it in a single management dashboard, which included a digital twin of the water network in the region. The platform will use artificial intelligence (AI) to cluster data sets and remove false positives to accurately inform asset and operational decision making.

Taking part in this important pilot scheme helped Yorkshire Water to recognize that they needed to be at the forefront of digital transformation and lead the way through the introduction of NB-IoT. It has the potential to provide greater access for organizations to take advantage of the advancements in IoT technology, which is a good thing for organizations that operate in the water sector. It has signaled the move to a more data driven world, enabling millions of connected devices to send and receive data while transforming the way water leaks are detected.

The future is bright for the water industry through digital transformation

The water industry is one of the most critical industries in the world, and its importance is only increasing with the growing population and changing climate. With the advancement of technology and digital transformation, the future of the water industry looks bright.

Digital transformation is enabling the water industry to be more proactive rather than reactive by predicting and preventing problems before they occur. Overall, the water industry has the potential to benefit greatly from digital transformation, which can lead to a more sustainable, efficient, and reliable water supply for generations to come.

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