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Navigating the Digital Journey to Prepare a Utility for Success

Technology exists today to answer many of the most critical water challenges we face, says Ian Sykes, Regional Director, Sensus

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Ian Sykes, Regional Director, Sensus
Ian Sykes, Regional Director, Sensus

‘Digital water’ is increasingly becoming a buzz word across the world, and rightly so. In the face of aging infrastructure, rapidly growing urban centres and changing climates and demographics, it’s important that utilities tackle the issues of sustainability, and take steps to reduce water consumption and secure water resources for future generations.

Today, GCC governments, and in particular the UAE leadership, are forging smarter, more efficient and sustainable ways of providing water, whilst supporting global efforts to protect the environment and conserve our most precious resource.

‘Be water smart’ is the call to action the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) has put out to utilities and the wider public, as part of the city’s aim to become the smartest city in the world by 2021.

Whilst there have been important, notable strides made to help achieve this goal, there is still a lot more to do. The good news is that the technology exists today to answer many of the most critical water challenges we face – and it’s up to utilities and the water industry to leverage the right digital solutions to address these. 

In fact, the era of digital revolution has had many positive effects on the industry – not only are we seeing the reinvention of water management, but also the creation of water, energy and cost efficiencies which were unimaginable just a short decade ago.

Perhaps most importantly, digital innovation is creating unprecedented opportunities to leverage data and analytics, to inform better system-level choices and improve future outcomes for watershed management, operations, maintenance, capital planning and customer service.

This is an exciting and decisive time for the water industry, with digital intelligence holding the potential to deliver powerful and game-changing results, particularly for “early adopter” utilities.

As utilities migrate their business models to embrace new digital solutions and address these needs however, there are a number of crucial considerations to be made for the best possible chance for success.

From our research, we’ve ascertained that the key to success is to understand where utilities stand today in their digital journey, and then put in place key steps to accelerate and cultivate their digital maturity. The following are four of the most important elements to be incorporated in this journey.

1. Putting digital strategy at the heart of the business

Since digital transformation requires organisation-wide changes in operations and strategy, having the support of the executive team is critical for the successful implementation of digital technologies.

Putting the digital water journey at the core of the business and ensuring buy-in at boardroom level must therefore be the first priority for utilities. These days, people buy into causes and like to feel like they’re part of the greater good. When those at the top put a collective goal at the heart of their business, it has a trickle-down effect, instilling a feeling of unity across the organisation.

2. Empowering a Culture of Innovation

Human capital is one of the most important links in the water utility supply chain and our people are our greatest asset. Central to futureproofing for success is to create a culture of innovation and possibilities, where employees are empowered with the freedom to be curious, creative and forward-thinking. In this way, talent can be leveraged to master the latest digital solutions ahead of time, helping to create a cycle of continued digital maturation and address both current and future water challenges.

3. Creating a holistic digital roadmap

‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ as the old adage goes. The road to digital transformation is long and complex, but it doesn’t have to be fraught with obstacles. By implementing a strong and holistic roadmap and a clear business strategy before embarking on the digital water journey, you create a clear foundation for success.

Issues may occur along the way, this is to be expected. However, outlining and planning for each stage of the digitalisation process from the outset will help utilities overcome any surprises or unforeseen barriers.

Education is also critical to this process – educating consumers, key shareholders, employees and management – not only on the cost-benefit of digital technologies, but also on the utility’s intentions for change throughout the digital transformation process. Create a roadmap and bring your people along through every step of the journey, and you’ll be on track to futureproof your utility for success – and create an everlasting experience for your employees, customers and community.

4. Developing architecture to optimise data use:

Data is the most valuable asset we own; it is the one thing we have at our fingertips which offers instant, actionable insight to deliver truly revolutionary innovations for utilities. The catch? Data is only valuable and actionable when it’s extracted, analysed and the insights shared across the entire organisation. The development of a ‘data warehouse’, whereby each department has access to the data to convert to intelligence and optimise business processes is fundamental to the effective digitalisation of a utility infrastructure.

So, what learnings can we take from this?

In summary, the dawn of the digital water economy is upon us and increasing global change pressures mean ‘digital water’ is no longer just a buzzword, but an imperative for future survival.

As we seek to achieve our ambitious goals and implement ever smarter solutions to social and environmental issues – both here in the Middle East and globally – utilities of the future must prioritise the inevitable transformational shift towards new parameters of water management.

Water is one of humanity’s most precious resources and a vital component of our economic, social and environmental development. We therefore owe it to ourselves and to the future generations to put the necessary processes in place to protect it.

As His highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, commented earlier this year, “our country is blessed and so are we, living in this good land. Wise words to live by indeed.

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