ENVISIONING THE DIGITAL UTILITY OF THE FUTURE

Go back to main page

ENVISIONING THE DIGITAL UTILITY OF THE FUTURE

Posted on 24 August 2017 by cohu44
Posted in FluksAqua Community, FluksAqua insights, Innovation, Uncategorized, Utility management, Water and wastewater community, Tagged cloud, data center, digital utility, opendata, Water treatment,

data-analysis

Digital Utility of the future is a new trend. Innovation is disrupting every industry including the municipal water and clean water utility sector. Water utilities are slowly embracing innovation while working to abandoning old attitudes of staying out of sight and out of mind.

The spirit of innovation inspired the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) to publish the Water Resources Utility of the Future (UOTF) Blueprint in 2013. The UOTF movement goes beyond the Clean Water Act (CWA) – it “embraces innovative approaches and technologies related to energy production, water reuse, green infrastructure, non-traditional partnerships, and more – all to improve environmental performance while lowering costs and increase revenue.”

 

GROWING ABILITY TO GENERATE DATA 

A key component of the Utility of the Future is the growing ability to generate data, lots of it, at a reasonable cost, analyze it and derive valuable information that supports decision-making. Recent advances in autonomous sensors, cloud computing and communications combined with powerful analytic capabilities open new opportunities for water and clean water utilities to create valuable information from existing data, collect new data points at a fraction of what it used to cost and enhance the efficiency of operations and decision making.

In July 2017, NACWA (National Association of Clean Water Agencies) published a new foundational document entitled: Envisioning the Digital Utility of the Future that recognizes how data and information may transform utility management for the better. A Digital Utility of The Future will collect all types of data and generate meaningful information. It highlights that facts are power and they can help the industry become more valuable to their stakeholders.

Water and clean water utilities are facing ever mounting pressures from many different areas. This asset heavy industry inherits an aging infrastructure that requires costly repairs and replacements after decades of underfunding. Adding growth, changing demographics and the spreading of new contaminants in the environment, compounded by the results of new research on the impacts of these contaminants, regulators are strengthening their requirements and looking for more scrutiny from water and clean water utilities data. Bridging the infrastructure gap combined with new regulations, notwithstanding climate change, requires additional investments that demands new funding.

Customers are facing increasing expenses so they are reluctant to offer a blank check to an industry that is comfortable staying out of the spotlight. Recent surveys from Fluksaqua show how much the American public take water for granted, perhaps partly due to water utilities delivering its services regularly without issue. It is the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.

Customers will demand their utilities lead the way in becoming leaner and more efficient. Customers have come to expect information to be available at the touch of the screen in other aspects of their lives and water will be no different.  Water and clean water utilities have no choice but to embrace, in some form or another, the path to becoming a Digital Utility.

 

DATA-CENTRIC UTILITY 

data-center

For a Digital Utility, the benefits are numerous. Data collection, data analytics and benchmarking can only improve individual performance as well as monitor collective trends in the industry. It will leverage limited resources to do more, identifying issues early before they become serious problems and driving efficiencies that frees up funding for improvements and repairs.

A data-driven operation can stretch every dollar, drive down operational costs, improve process efficiency, maximize the use of existing systems. It can also support predictive management of the risks. When a utility is more knowledgeable about its operational performance, data can identify priorities so its planning capital can be spent more effectively. Managers benefit from up-to-date information at the touch of the screen, get a comprehensive outlook of its operation and focus its actions on reaching organization-wide goals.

Water utility organizations may be at various levels of advancement in managing data efficiently. The NACWA Digital Utility of the Future document provides an aspirational vision of how water and wastewater utilities may increasingly leverage data, analytics and integrated systems to:

  1. Reduce Operational Costs
  2. Manage and Mitigate Risks
  3. Enhance the Customer Experience
  4. Improve Financial Execution
  5. Optimize Asset Performance and Uncover Hidden Value
  6. Leverage Existing Communications and Computing Platforms
  7. Maximize the Engagement and Efficiency of Employees, and
  8. Integrate Water Quality, Policy, and Performance.

This vision of the Digital Utility may seem reserved to very large utilities that have access to more financial resources as well as specialized manpower. Having recognized this bias from the outset, FluksAqua wants to enable utilities of all sizes, small, medium or large, to transition smoothly to a digital water and clean water utility by providing easy to use cloud applications that will help enhance operational performance, industry benchmarking to compare performance to that of others, as well as a water forum for utility operators to help each other solve challenges others may have experienced.


Acknowledgements
I  would like to thank NACWA for having the privilege of participating in the Smart Utility Task Force that contributed to the production of the NACWA document, as well as a special thanks to Biju George, Chief operating Officer of DC Water and Chair of the NACWA Task Force who inspired the group and edited the document.

 


REFERENCES:

NACWA Utility of the Future Program : http://www.nacwa.org/resources/utility-of-the-future

Envisioning the Digital Utility of the Future: http://www.nacwa.org/docs/default-source/news-publications/White-Papers/2017-08-01digitalutilityfuture.pdf?sfvrsn=8
avatar

About the author