Seizing the Digital Opportunity for Water
The latest UN data estimates that around 3.6 billion people – almost half the global population – live in areas that are potentially water-scarce at least one month per year. World Bank data projects that by 2050, population growth and rapid urbanization alone could put 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets at risk to river and coastal floods.
As water stakeholders, we are all aware of the massive challenges the world now faces when it comes to water. Yet, the significance of these threats is so profound that they bear repeating, because they clearly show that nothing short of step-change is needed.
Digital innovation holds the key.
As we have seen in so many other sectors – from transportation to aerospace to financial services to health care and beyond – digital innovation creates new paradigms, transforming the economics and possibilities of industries and advancing the way we work and live.
As a global innovation & technology leader who came from the aerospace and auto sectors, I have had the great privilege of participating in the transformation of both industries, including working to advance vehicle electrification and aerospace power management systems that drive energy efficiencies and lower emissions. By harnessing data and digital technology, these innovations have created significant operational and environmental gains, and helped change the way we move and live. It was the opportunity to help apply technology and innovative business models as key enablers to address massive water challenges – with the purpose of creating both economic and social impact in the world – that prompted me to join Xylem to work on water.
We are an industry on the move with a vitally important mission – to protect the planet’s most valuable resource – with an imperative to keep pushing forward to seize the opportunity before us. Through my experience, there are some key approaches for advancing innovation that I believe will help accelerate our sector’s migration to digital:
- Embracing a best practice that has been a critical catalyst for aerospace and autos: co-development, or engaging customers very early on to develop solutions and create proof points jointly.
- Driving innovation by focusing on our culture: establishing Centers of Excellence, championing diversity and inclusion to advance the cross-exchange of ideas that fosters bold ideas, and breaking out of linear thinking through scrum and design thinking.
- Launching creative partnerships to develop new solutions and form an innovation “eco-system”: in the case of Xylem this has been teaming with innovation leaders like MIT, start-up companies and aligning with water influencers like the International Water Association and Water Foundry to advance the conversation about innovation across the water sector.
To help foster dialogue, IWA, Xylem and the Water Foundry have engaged in a comprehensive effort to survey utilities from around the globe about their digital migration.
We are very excited to release a thought leadership paper this week at IWA’s Leading Edge Conference on Water and Wastewater Technologies in Edinburgh. The report, “Digital Water: Industry leaders chart the transformation journey,” traces the digital journey of more than 40 utilities and shares knowledge from utility leaders and other key water experts.
Just as water stakeholders can model digital success stories from other industries, there is so much to learn from early adopters in our own space, and this paper provides a comprehensive resource and map.
In the paper, utility leaders share perspectives on critical issues facing water managers today and offer actionable insights that water stakeholders across the water cycle can benefit from and leverage for the communities and customers they serve.
The technology to transform water is already available today. By tapping into the experiences and knowledge of innovation trailblazers throughout the water sector, we can advance the dialogue around digital water and help build a movement.
The future of water is here. Let’s seize the moment. Let’s solve water.
For further information, please consult the IWA Digital Water Programme,