Water represents one of the world’s most significant and complex industrial challenges. Both water utilities and industrial players face multiple, multifaceted challenges in overcoming water scarcity, energy efficiency and carbon neutrality. The industry knows that digital transformation is a key aspect of modernising and optimising water utility operations. However, digital transformation is a complex process that requires a wide range of partners to be successful.

From tackling non-revenue water, where there is an average leakage of 30% worldwide, to the vast operational expenses of energy management – typically, a third of OPEX is energy – efficiency issues are prevalent. And, with ageing infrastructure (80% of which is underground) and ever more focus on customer satisfaction and increased digitalisation of services, water utilities are being pulled in many directions. An umbrella arching over all these priorities is the universal need for all organisations to move quickly on decarbonisation, net zero and water circularity.

Multiplicity of expertise

Today’s water industry requires a multiplicity of expertise encompassing digital transformation, data analysis, connected technologies, water processes, water ecosystems, customer experience and cybersecurity, to name just a few. It is important for utilities to establish partnerships with various organisations, with partners playing a wide range of roles in the digital transformation of water utilities, including providing technology solutions, offering expertise and consulting services, and helping utilities develop and implement new operational strategies.

The list of expertise required to drive digital and sustainability transformations is wide – updating assets, connecting OT (operational technology and automation to the IT system, reshaping the process and organisation, combining energy and process automation and building the overall ESG strategy. No utility provider can achieve the necessary transformation alone, and no single player can provide each puzzle piece. The phases of transformation – design, build, operation, maintenance and improvement – require a complete ecosystem of partners working together.

A vision for the future

One of the foundational partners required to drive successful digital transformation is the technology companies which provide digital solutions to improve water utility operations’ efficiency and effectiveness. This can include everything from connected products to data analytics software for network and asset management to cloud-based management platforms and digital twin simulations. It is essential that the technology partner chosen by water utilities has a complete and comprehensive understanding of the needs of the water industry, not just now but has a vision for the future.

For example, Schneider Electric’s Normandy plant, recognised by the World Economic Forum as a ‘sustainability lighthouse’ employs Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) sensors connected to digital platforms to unlock data that drives energy and water efficiency. Its zero-reject water recycling station, connected to cloud analytics and monitored by artificial intelligence (AI) has led to a 64% in water reduction. As part of a holistic efficiency strategy, digital transformation across the plant has also reduced material waste by 17% and CO2 emissions by 25%.

Another critical partner for water utilities is consulting and engineering firms. These companies can provide expert advice and support to utilities as they plan and implement their digital transformation projects. This can include everything from developing digital strategies and roadmaps, to designing and implementing new systems and processes. Consulting and engineering firms can also help utilities to navigate the complex regulatory landscape that often surrounds digital transformation projects and can guide best practices and industry standards. Firms are able to provide impact across the entire scope when targeting net zero carbon emissions and the unification of operations management.

Ultimately, no single player on the market can provide answers to every requested piece of information from customers or cover extensive geographical regions, or even be big enough to lead huge investment plans dedicated to water and wastewater infrastructure. They must work together to amplify digital and sustainability solutions for the whole market.