How data can transform the water sector

The global water industry today is facing multiple challenges, including leakages, contamination and managing limited resources. These challenges are not limited to developing countries. For instance, Melbourne, Australia, recently suffered contamination of its water supply following a storm.

Two particular challenges are the need to reduce water consumption, while also decreasing wastewater pollution, and its environmental impact, all while relying on limited funding. So how does the industry achieve this?

In my opinion, the first step to address this problem is not technology-based, but people-based. The water industry has long been known for being ‘data rich’ but ‘information poor’ because informational needs have not been fully defined. The way to define these is through stakeholder engagement, to discover what type of information is needed and what data will satisfy stakeholder needs. Once these are defined, a gap analysis can be utilised to consider the role of instrumentation.

Instrumentation, as a data source, is one of the fundamental building blocks of a future ‘digital transformed water industry’. This will use data and convert it into information, situational awareness, business and operational insight to both serve customers and protect the environment.

Many projects have failed due to poor instrumentation, which results in either a lack of data or unusable data due to poor quality. If the industry is to achieve digital transformation, we have to get the basics right.

By installing instrumentation in the appropriate way and using it for the right applications, we can ensure that it is operated and maintained properly to allow for suitable data and information quality. This guarantees that the data and insights that ultimately come from the instrumentation are based on correct fundamentals, and that both tactical and strategic views are not compromised.

The general belief is that the digital transformation of the water industry will lead to an increase in instrumentation and maintenance burden. However, this may not be the case. It is conceivable that proper analysis could identify some instrumentation as being superfluous and suitable for being decommissioned.

I am passionate about this agenda and am an active participant in the IWA Digital Water Steering Committee. I believe that by working with people through the people/process/technology triangle, we can increase the value of the data and instrumentation. Using data visualisation and analytics will transform the water sector by actively facilitating informed decision-making. Ultimately, this will lead to tangible benefits for people, in terms of the quality and security of their water supply, as well as improved environmental outcomes.


Additional information:

Oliver Grievson is the author of the latest IWA white paper: The role of Instrumentation in Digital Transformation.

You can download the document here.

To learn more about the importance of instrumentation in digital transformation, watch the video Importance of Data in the Digital Transformation or read Oliver’s blog! Please join the conversation on Digital Water on IWA Connect.

Oliver Grievson

Chair of IWA's Digital Water Programme
Oliver is a highly experienced water industry professional with particular skills in both process engineering and instrumentation. He started his career in the laboratory after finishing his bachelors degree in London. After this he went into water &... Read full biography