As data analytics and collaboration are increasingly becoming key priorities within the water industry, ATi UK’s Technical Performance and Data Analyst, Derek Leslie, and Black & Veatch Water Europe Principle Consultant, Andy Bates, discuss embracing the power of data for the future of smart water networks.

Across England & Wales, there are over 340,000km of water mains and over 620,000km of sewer and drain systems. These underground assets are critical to the sustainable future of the water industry, yet this infrastructure is aging and all too often its underlying condition is unknown.  As part of the industry’s plans to manage yesterday’s infrastructure using tomorrow’s technology, water professionals are becoming more motivated to look for intelligent, resilient and effective solutions to meet tough targets.

In an effort to reduce operational costs and improve asset lifespans, water utilities are putting their data to work. But while smart water offers untold solutions, utilities are still working to understand how to gather, manage and analyse this information in a way that it can alleviate ongoing asset management challenges. This will require a ‘smart’ approach, one driven by data, new technology, collaboration and management of infrastructure, producing actionable insights to enable the water industry to become truly ‘smart’.

Collective Technical Expertise

Change is already happening, but we need to think big, start small and act fast.  Water utilities, consultants, technology companies and hardware and software specialists are already collaborating on smart water innovations. By leveraging big data, analytics and the Internet of Things, key players in the water sector are pro-actively innovating to help solve issues of water scarcity and address the aging water infrastructure.  Put simply, monitoring water quality helps identify and determine current issues and guides future investment, including predicative maintenance and analysing data in real-time to identify leaks that affect water usage.

In addition, skilled, technical analysts are required to understand and interpret the data, with expertise in how to operate the systems accordingly to identify issues and how to resolve them. If smart water is to become a success, these skills need to become the norm.

Data To Decisions

It is now widely accepted that the only sensible option for the future of the water industry is to prolong the life of assets, using investment in a very sparing, targeted and sustainable manner to get the very most for your money. And there’s only one way to get to this kind of new paradigm, one essential element that underpins all decision making – data.

Whether you are looking at physical condition data, readings from sensors or hearing the predictions of an AI system, there is an inevitability of the transition to a digital ecosystem. With the right sensing technology and analytics, asset performance can be greatly improved and life extended – but only if you have the correct focus on “data to decisions”. And this is the crux. Understanding and interpreting this data is essential if we are to achieve true smart water.

Sufficient, accurate and timely data needs to feed backwards and forwards from different departments to optimise treatment, cost, protect assets and predict the future, whilst avoiding issues in the present. In order to gain insight into these analytics, companies need to open up the data to allow sharing with partners, or risk getting deselected from the supply chain.

Digital Innovation & Transformation

By embracing this digital transformation, water utilities can perform preventive maintenance on existing infrastructure, cutting maintenance costs, reducing water loss, driving down incident risk, enabling in-depth incident analysis and preventing sewer overflows. Data analytics are allowing water utilities to unlock operational efficiencies, improve revenue collection, gain system insights, boost customer services, provide early warning and monitor quality issues affecting customers, whilst guiding long-range planning and investment strategies. The right data, analytics and decision framework can drive water utilities to optimal performance.

We are now on the cusp of something very exciting and digital innovation will be the key to success and survival, enabling organisations build a connected workforce, modernise operational processes and deliver enhanced customer service.

Smart water is changing the water industry as we know it and embracing digital transformation is not only enabling utilities to address today’s unprecedented challenges, but also to invest in the future.