“Digital water is already here” is the clear message after interviewing utility executives and leading experts from around the globe. From big data solutions to advanced management of the distribution network to digital customer engagement programs, nearly all utilities we talked to have begun the digital transformation journey. While the transformation is not always easy, with aging infrastructure, inadequate investment, changing climate and demographics, digital water is now seen not as an ‘option’ but as an ‘imperative.’
The foundational elements of water services – resource sustainability, infrastructure management, and financial stability – have been under threat for years. The business-as-usual practices in the water and wastewater sector cannot be relied on to sustain services. A more sustainable and secure water future means moving to the next generation of water systems, which includes embracing digital solutions and the enabling conditions that can support their effective implementation.
Just as digital technologies are transforming many aspects of our world – from our cities, to our homes and our personal lives – they are also transforming water. How will digital technologies transform our relationship with water – not just the water and wastewater utility sector but how all stakeholders connect to and manage water?
This paper – largely based on interviews, surveys and inputs from nearly 50 utility executives and over 20 subject matter experts – examines how digitalisation is transforming the water sector through the experiences of water and wastewater utilities. The aim of this report is to provide an overview of the current state of digital in the water sector, the value potential for digital solutions, and the lessons learned from those on the digital journey. By creating a comprehensive body of knowledge from 40 utilities at various stages in their digital water journey, the paper can serve as a critical tool for water decision makers and for all those interested in advancing global water security and sustainability.
Chapter 1: Defining Digital Water outlines the building blocks of what is digital water including the data, technologies, and practices that drive value across the water and wastewater utility value chain. This includes an overview of the organisational and technology structure of a digital utility, an expanded view of the value chain to include customer engagement and water supply, and an exploration of the ecosystem of digital experts and solution providers around water and wastewater utilities.
Chapter 2: Digital Technology’s Impact on the Economics of Water and Wastewater outlines the wide-ranging impact of adopting digital solutions, including the value realised internally within the utility (e.g., process optimisation, reduced capital expenditure, etc.) and the value realised externally to the utility (e.g., regulatory compliance, increased transparency and governance, etc.). A broader perspective is then taken to bring forward the deeper shifts in the water sector that are connected to this digital transformation across workforce, cities and homes.
Chapter 3: Navigating the Digital Journey then examines the digital journey leveraging insights from 40 leading utilities worldwide, including indepth interviews with 15 utility executives. This intelligence is distilled into a Digital Water Adoption Curve that serves as both an assessment tool and as a roadmap to guide utilities on moving through the digital adoption journey. This curve begins with utilities at an immature digital development phase and expands through to utilities that are digitally sophisticated, having embedded digital in the culture and decision making processes of the organisation. There are a number of lessons learned from utilities in their digital journey, but two of the most important include the need to set a digital ambition at the CEO and Board levels; and the need to start small and experiment.
Chapter 4: Accelerating Digital Water Adoption looks at what is needed for uptake and integration of digital water in utilities. External pressures from customer needs, market competition, and increasing water scarcity along with internal demand for efficiency, cost-savings, and improved risk management, are forging the way for water utilities into the digital future and opening the door for digital technologies to address both new and old challenges within the water sector.
Chapter 5: Concluding Remarks on the Digital Water Journey closes out the report by reflecting on the impressive progress made to date by many in the water sector towards extracting value from digital technologies and summarising key findings. As stated in the beginning, “digital water is already here.” However, we recognise that the water sector is incredibly diverse and there is significant progress to be made, both in expanding the number of utilities taking part in the digital journey and in accelerating the impact from digital solutions. This is where the International Water Association (IWA) – and the broader water industry – has a significant role to play.
This paper should ultimately serve both as a guide and as a source of inspiration as the water sector works together to embark on the journey of solving our toughest challenges with digital solutions. From proactively managing our aging infrastructure, to ensuring water quality from source to tap, to advancing water equity, and much more, we have the proven solutions to address these challenges in an effective and affordable way. There has never been a better time to be a utility professional than today
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