The Drive towards Digital Transformation in AMP7
It seems that everywhere that you go in the Water Industry at the current time somebody is talking about Digital Transformation…..or if we go back 5 minutes it was Water 4.0…..and 10 minutes ago (it seems) it was “Smart Water”, these are all very well used buzz words that the industry is destined to think about for a short-term and then promptly forget about. In reality though, we as an industry, have been hit by a number of different concepts for a number of different technological aspects for a good number of years now. For almost as long we have had a term for all of this, “widgets.”
Widgets don’t sell though and what the water companies need is a solution to the challenges that it faces i.e. technologies that will solve a problem, more of focus on application rather than technology.
So, let us go back and define what the “concept” of what Digital Transformation actually is. If we go back 10 years work by the SWAN Forum developed the SWAN Layers diagram. The diagram is loosely based upon a combination of the Purdue Model and/or the OSI model of ICT system that was developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In the SWAN Layers model there is everything from:
Layer 1 – physical infrastructure
Layer 2 – instrumentation & control systems
Layer 3 – communication
Layer 4 – visualisation
Layer 5 – analytics
The model itself is a technological based model which is layered and there is an argument that it should by pyramidical reflecting the fact that the layer above cannot work without the layer below reflecting the fact that there is no point monitoring a pipe with instruments if the pipe isn’t there.
Layer 1 is an area that the water industry is very good at but it is from Layer 2 onwards and its application to Layer 1 that the key to the Digital Transformation of the water industry really exists and it is in these areas that the industry has traditionally had challenges in its application. An example of this are the infamous phrases that are using in the industry around it being Data Rich and Information Poor mainly due to the vast collection of data and doing very little, at least proactively, with it. Layer 2 is key to the application of Digital Transformation as without data the whole concept fails to exist. The data that is collected must be of good quality and must be of use for the data to lead to information (and information that is useful) which in turn leads to situational awareness so that the industry can understand how the systems as a whole are operating so that informed decisions can be made. If the data at the heart at all of this is wrong then the industry will suffer from the phenomenon that was highlighted in the 1950’s by the American Army mathematician William Mellin which is of course “Garbage In Garbage Out.”
All of this is the technological solution and underpinning the Swan Layers are the elements of people and processes. The technological solution is worthless if there aren’t the people understand and operate it and the processes to maintain it. However, if a process is followed that identifies the need in terms of information then the data is valued and its utilised. With the value of data comes the need for the business process which in turn leads to the people skills to maintain the data being in place and the processes to make sure that the data is correct.
From this we can derive the first step that any company, especially the water companies, should take in order to Digitally Transform. This first step is not technologically based but is in fact people-based insofar as it has it roots in stakeholder engagement as it is to identify the informational needs of the organisation based upon the various business processes in terms of regulatory and financial drivers including such as aspects as compliance, operational efficiency and customer service just to name three of the most important aspects.
So, where is the industry right now with its Digital Transformation? Some areas are actually quite far advanced for both political and financial reasons with the most developed solutions around smart water networks which helps the water companies to manage both non-revenue water and per capita consumption. Programmes of meter verifications and maintenance are commonly delivered by external specialist companies are utilised by the leading water companies to make sure that the data is correct to enable identification of areas of unusual consumption using DMAs. More innovative companies are taking on the Dynamic DMA approach as well which relies on instrumentation to manage the system along with a high-end platform for data visualisation techniques. Advanced Pressure Management of the system to limit losses are also commonplace which is a solution that in reality covers Layers 2 – 5 inclusive. These are the successful technological solutions that have delivered as part of the “Smart Water Industry.” On top of this Smart Water Meters together with techniques such as social engineering are also delivering savings across the industry with reductions of 15-18% non-revenue water commonplace and an 8% reduction in PCC noted in case studies.
Note so far, the concepts of Big Data, Internet of Things or even Digital Twins have not been mentioned. They have their application and in fact NB-IoT (Narrow Band Internet of Things) is likely to become part of the industry in its niche in the future as are communications technologies such as 5G, Radio and Satellite but in reality they are part of Level 3 which facilitates the concept as a whole. They are vital pieces of the puzzle but they are just one piece of a much wider picture.
The barriers to the adoption of Digital Transformation
The first barrier is the barrier to understanding the application of Digital Transformation. The application has been understood for non-revenue water and potable water distribution systems and the technology is well matured with the value case well understood. Regulatory drivers within the UK are pushing the water companies passed the previous concepts of the Economic Level of Leakage and are in fact driving the industry towards lower and lower levels of leakage. Its an intelligent step forward as arguably, due to the water resource challenges within the industry, a megalitre of water saved is more valuable than a megalitre of water supplied as it delays the investment in critical infrastructure such as reservoirs that will eventually be needed. Where next? Where can we apply the technological solutions to address the challenging applications that the industry has? It is a big question that the industry will have to work together in collaboration in order to identify the applications and advances that are needed in terms of the technology, people and processes.
Meet the Digital Transformation in the current international discussion
The subject of Digital Transformation has been widely discussed at a variety of events with a particular emphasis in the past year. It will be discussed extensively in 2020 at the Water & Energy Exchange and the International Water Association Digital Water Summit (Bilbao, Spain | 27-30 April 2020) both being hosted in Spain in Spring 2020.