The water future is now – a call to action
We live in a world with ever-changing new normals, technological disruptions, groundbreaking solutions – and countless buzzwords. We can do things today that were unthinkable just a couple of years back. The International Water Association’s Strategic Plan, from 2019-2024, even highlights the need for innovation to address urgent global water challenges. But only looking ahead would be a mistake. These new solutions are presented at such rapid speed, that while they inspire, they can also overwhelm. They also raise questions like: What will be next? When is our time to digitalise? Maybe we should wait and see.
So are we creating a paradox where innovation is both an enabler and a barrier? In other words, does the buzz make us paralysed to implement solutions in the here and now? Because the reality is that water challenges are here today. We face water scarcity while demand rises, the old infrastructures are starting to reach their limits and water loss increases, just to name a few.
The good news is: the technology exists today to solve many of the urgent water issues of our time. We are at the tipping point on the digitalisation curve with results and experience from early adopters that prove digital solutions are a powerful tool to change the way we work with water.
From buzz to action
Navigating in these waters is challenging. How do we move from the talk and buzz to action and results? From my experience with starting digital water journeys, I see three main steps to get started:
Shifting to digital solutions impacts the entire workday of the water business and requires letting go of the old ways of operating. Often it’s about breaking down the internal silos and shifting the mindset across departments, so the entire utility is ready to pull in one direction. Essentially, you have to consider what are the most important challenges for your water supply and what solution makes sense for you. Every utility has unique conditions and demands, that require a tailored approach. It is about finding your starting point and building your own journey. Here I see scalability as key, as you stay independent and can take each next step at your own pace.
After looking inwards and considering your needs, the next step should be to look outwards at what has already been done. Exchanging experiences gives you an idea of what to consider and pitfalls to avoid. We need inspiration, discussion and sharing with the utilities and suppliers that have data and valuable experiences, have looked into business cases, and built their solutions. This creates best practice examples to guide and lower the perceived risk. The IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition 2021 and the digital events leading up to it will be excellent platforms to meet and discuss this, and we are excited to partner with the IWA on that.
Innovation that creates real value requires working together, testing, getting feedback and adapting accordingly. Therefore, I encourage more utilities to do trials and tests in the field, to see how products and solutions work in your network. I would not call it fail fast, but succeed fast with practical findings at hand. We see that the closer utilities and suppliers work together, the better the solutions address the real problems. One of our biggest innovation projects on acoustic leakage detection was developed and tested in cooperation with seven Scandinavian utilities. With the constructive feedback and open process, we gained new knowledge on the sound and noises generated by leaks and breaches in the distribution network.
The conclusion: the water future is here. Therefore my call to action is that we need all water stakeholders to come together and rethink, collaborate and trial to break down the journey into concrete steps. What can you do now? Make sure to attend IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition 2021 and use their forum, get in touch with peers and partners, and stay curious. Let’s act together to accelerate the worldwide adoption of digital solutions – so more water systems and the communities they serve can reap the benefits.