Digitisation will bring smarter solutions to water industry as well as better water management 

Water industry has traditionally been slow to embrace change. As all was well and water kept flowing, there was limited incentive for change. With increasing awareness, higher per capita water consumption and scarcity of fresh water resources, the adoption of new systems and digital technologies is no longer optional. Not only this, the advantages that digital technologies can produce have become more obvious to all industries across the world. 

As per the Water Use in Indian Industry Survey by FICCI, the water demand for the industrial sector is on a rise and will account for 8.5 and 10.1 percent of the total freshwater abstraction in 2025 and 2050 respectively. As the demand continues to increase due to industrialisation, fast paced urbanisation and emergence of smart cities, there is a considerable growth opportunity in the water and wastewater segment. Moreover, as we continue to navigate challenging times, there is a growing increase in water consumption levels due to necessity for hygiene and improving lifestyles. Consequently, there is a huge demand for modern water treatment technology in the sector. 

Although the sector offers huge opportunities, utilities will have to allocate higher spending on automation and modern technology, such as IoT enabled predictive management. The industry needs to become more digital and connected. This will guarantee resiliency, productivity and, in turn, sustainability. The adoption of digital technologies will help manage the scarce fresh water better, ensure equitable water distribution and become consumer centric. Driven by the mission to assure clean water supply and service delivery to the people of the country, the Government of India has been boosting investments in the water infrastructure for expanding water network, building water treatment plants and desalination plants. However, there is a need to escalate investments in smart water management technology.

With digitisation, the industry will have the ability to anticipate and respond to everyday demands and emergencies faster resulting in equitable distribution and customer satisfaction.

The proof is in the pudding 

Digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and blockchain enable the water industry to analyse, automate, predict and minimise the risks that are continuously present across the sector. It enables the industry to address ongoing challenges, can improve overall water quality, reliability of supply and can increase revenue through operational efficiencies and premium purified product.

 In fact, recent studies have highlighted that digital technologies have delivered around €300 billion in capital and operating expenditure savings to the global water industry in 2016-2020, targeting water segments such as water treatment, distribution, wastewater collection, and treatment, customer management and metering of drinking water.

Reinventing sustainability in the industry 

We know that today, consumers have higher expectations when it comes to the quality of the water we drink or the way we treat industrial water as a society. Therefore, utilities are seen as increasingly important players in the sustainability and net zero equation. It is vital that they modernise to cater to changing market expectations and adapt to increasing pressures, to deliver a smarter and more sustainable service through digital solutions, including enhanced monitoring and analytics. 

The emergence of new water technology has brought about a new age where performance of water services must be seen through the lenses of both sustainability and efficiency. Digitisation can make this co-existence work. It can, too, spur the growth of water management business opportunities for the local value chain. Reinventing sustainability in the management of the water cycle involves optimizing its energy efficiency, increasing circularity by connecting with other sectors and encouraging decarbonisation, as well as staying deeply involved with the community in which it operates.

Likewise, reducing water losses, ensuring its quality and optimising the use of hydraulic and treatment infrastructure is essential to sustaining an efficient use of the resource throughout the entire hydrological cycle. The implementation of micro grids at desalination or water treatment plants makes it possible to have alternative, renewable energy sources, and to manage them in an optimal way to increase the autonomy and energy sustainability of the plants.

Overcoming the obstacles to success 

When it comes to change, there is always hesitation. For the water industry, it’s no different. The main barrier to the successful adoption of digital technologies is the mindset: the reluctance to digitise operations due to data sharing concerns and cybersecurity threats. The two shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, the risk of cyber-attacks is only increasing. It makes organisations vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated attacks that can prove detrimental in the long term, unless they mount best-in-class digital defences in partnership with trusted industry players. It is vital that considerations are made when implementing digital technologies to ensure success but also to provide peace of mind. 

Operators of water and wastewater treatment plants and networks need to be prepared to develop a culture of cybersecurity within their organisations to avoid such incidents. Water and wastewater utilities are at a particular disadvantage with a plethora of distributed assets that need to be monitored and controlled. With the rapid transformation of technology, it’s imperative to assess how it can be useful for varied industries and how it can help in securing the system of water consumption and preservation.

The future is digital 

The good news is that the future is digital, and is the only path to profitable, sustainable and safe operations, which is a win-win for the utilities themselves, as well as consumers, industry and the planet. Modern digital technologies help us understand, where the supply and demand is coming from, how much water is available at source, where there could be hidden leaks and losses, and whether your water quality is good enough to command a top price? Only data, coupled with AI and analytics could help – managed by the increasingly digitally savvy and dependable workforce of the future.  

Fully integrated, transverse and interoperable digital systems and predictive capabilities will transform the way companies in this field operate. Digital transformation isn’t limited to investment in technology. It is also an investment in people, customers and consumers alike, leading to an overall cultural change; organisations must be aware of it and be willing to embrace it. 

With new smart water solutions creating jobs and protecting cities and livelihoods, the future instantly looks brighter. What’s more, with baby boomers retiring and the digital natives as the next generation of talent, utilities have no choice but digitise to attract future workers and retain customers developing a palette for clean premium water. 

Expertise shared by: Senthil Kumar Venkataramanujulu, Head of Industrial Automation, Schneider Electric India.

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