The waters of change: The digital transformation needed in water management is a matter of people & technology 

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The water industry faces an interesting duality. Our water demand is quickly outpacing our tenuous and diminishing supply. Fresh water supplies are falling, we are pumping groundwater much faster than it can replenish itself, and weather disasters are happening more frequently.  And even though this resource is under increasing pressure due to climate change, the industry ironically pumps about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere.

This duality underscores the complexity and urgency of addressing sustainability within the water sector. Digital transformation is the critical step toward more efficient and sustainable water operations. It requires integrated technology that optimizes operations and allows for more informed, data-driven decisions.

Aerial shot of sewage treatment plant placed near a river, Denmark.  Aerial view shot with drone.
The need for digital transformation in water management is critical. The key to successful transformation is working with experienced consultative partners who can guide your company to enhanced, optimized operations.

Let’s delve into what digital transformation means, what it entails, and how water companies can leverage this technology with the help of transformation experts.

Navigating the digital currents of water management

Despite the importance of human actions in operating it, water infrastructure has a high level of automation due to its continuous process nature and the large number of remote sites managing water flows. At its core, digital technology integrates with all aspects of water operations. It fundamentally changes how the industry operates and delivers services. The goal is to achieve greater efficiency, reduce waste, and provide more sustainable management of water resources. Digital transformation harnesses data to streamline operations, enhance decision-making, and meet diverse objectives. By leveraging data, the water industry can make proactive decisions that improve everything from infrastructure management to customer and community engagement. It shifts focus from traditional practices to data- and eco-centric operations.

And the transformation isn’t just operational; it’s strategic. It empowers every level of an organization, from the technicians on the ground to the executives, to make informed choices. These choices reduce GHG emissions, increase profitability, and even lure new workers. Digital transformation equips utilities with the tools to adapt swiftly to changing environments, drive efficiency, and foster innovation.

Streamlining the flow: Key digital transformation technologies

Today, thousands of water and wastewater utilities, including some of the industry’s largest, have committed to net-zero targets. By adopting existing high-efficiency technologies – “smart” pumps and digitally connected leak detection sensors – global water utilities have the potential to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50%. Because of this, these transformative solutions can significantly decrease the energy consumption required for water treatment and distribution.

Still, there are challenges. Data is underutilized in the water industry. This highlights the potential that digitized operations – IoT sensors, cloud-based services, energy and asset management software, artificial intelligence, and machine learning – can have to revolutionize this industry.

This includes the real-time monitoring of water quality, connected leak detection solutions, and the predictive maintenance of aging infrastructure – which are critical for the proactive management of water resources. Cloud computing, big data, and advanced analytics also lift the burden of heavy on-premises infrastructure. Vast datasets can be analyzed, decisions are data-driven, operations become streamlined, and potential system failures are detected early.

The digital wave of success

Many companies have pioneered digital transformations in water management with significant success. They have integrated cutting-edge technologies as enablers to improve operation processes and empower employees at various layers of their companies.

Padania Acque provides water services for 113 municipalities in Cremona. It deployed intelligent water solutions to monitor and optimize its water supply systems and take predictive actions. The solutions digitized the control of about 500 water plants and used digital twin technology to assess new processes. The company cut its water losses to almost half the national average. And it had a 22% increase in EBITDA over three years (an annual average growth of 7%).

Veolia Water digitized its operations with an IoT-enabled solution. Its goals were to reduce CapEx/OpEx, meet stringent regulations, and protect the environment and public health with a sustainable solution. It now has annual energy savings of around 15% and a 20% improvement in production efficiency. This successful transformation means the company will replicate its digital transformation in future projects.

Navigating the digital transition with a consultative approach

The key to a successful transformation is to work with experienced consultative partners who can guide water companies from their present state to enhanced, optimized operations. Working with trusted partners is critical to seamlessly integrating new technologies and methods within existing processes and people. This helps operations adapt to new demands and opportunities while maintaining service continuity.

A consultative approach is vital. It allows solution-tailoring to meet each company’s unique needs, aligning with their ambitions and capacities. It includes comprehensive dialogue to establish the groundwork and a digital maturity assessment to identify opportunities and craft customized solutions that fit within a company’s operational and technological environment.

These client-specific strategies – sensitive to regulatory, environmental, and community factors – ensure that digital initiatives are technically effective and resonate with the local context. This methodology cultivates robust partnerships, transitioning companies from service providers to strategic advisors. And it fosters trust and collaboration between water utilities and their communities.

Given the significant emissions the water industry creates, it must not only join but also lead the digital transformation.

The digital water era is here

Schneider Electric is an essential partner for water utilities looking to transform their operations. Recognized as a leading advisor for the water and wastewater industry, our consultative, customer-focused approach can help you optimize your operations and embrace digital technologies’ full potential.

Explore our water and wastewater solutions and discover our water industry success stories for a deeper dive into our smart water solutions and strategic focus on digital transformation, which covers the entire water cycle in water and wastewater treatment plants, desalination plants, and supply sanitation networks.

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