By Ryan Collins & Kareen Moraes, Graduate Engineers from Greater Western Water
On 23 February, 2023, 180 people from across the water industry joined together for the second SWAN Asia-Pacific Alliance Workshop in Melbourne.
SWAN – the Smart Water Networks Forum – is the leading global hub for the smart water sector. The event drew in utility and industry experts from across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, and several European countries. It focused on how to optimise data-driven solutions to generate important outcomes for customers and minimise risks by improving compliance reporting and monitoring.
Three core themes shaped the nature of discussion:
- People driving change
- Technology as an enabler not disruptor
- The value of the process, the Digital Transformation Journey
As young professional graduates at Greater Western Water assisting with the event, these themes particularly resonated with us since we could access the current innovation taking place and understand its potential for greater use in the future.
The importance of people in driving change
“Make your last 10 per cent, your first 10 per cent.”
One of the core tenants for driving change in the water industry via smart water solutions is the placement of people at the centre of the design philosophy. In his keynote, Damian Wells, Managing Director of Coliban Water, focused on the 2022 Victorian floods.
“Trust can be gained in teaspoons, but lost in buckets,” Mr Wells said. “The public gets to decide what’s of value.” Customers are the most imperative people to get on board when implementing smart water solutions; at the end of the day, they are the ones who pay the price to implement new technologies and are the most impacted when technologies do not work as planned.
The key challenge is ensuring the community’s buy-in, such as by improving the data and water literacy levels and removing jargon from messaging. Another key issue is equity as summarised by Sean Cohen, Head of Smart Metering at SUEZ Australia & New Zealand. “Make your [project’s] last ten per cent your first 10 per cent,” Mr Cohen said. Such a mindset can help tackle complex and unexpected challenges.
Technology and data as an enabler, not a disruptor
A reminder that “the bots don’t connect the dots.”
Technology and data form the engine of the Smart Water Ecosystem by representing a compilation of “what if’s” that can be refined to help inform business decisions. Technology is the bridge that refines data into implementable solutions, which can then empower changes to people and process.
The use of technology and data is growing in importance across the industry to assist in asset management, the demonstration of compliance, and the optimisation of projects/service delivery solutions. The most impressive emerging solutions we saw that we think will impact the water industry are artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and digital twins (DT).
AI and ML are exceptionally powerful for sorting and assessing large quantities of data and can greatly assist utilities in their decision-making process. The development of DT models further allows utilities to streamline their asset management processes and significantly increase visibility of key issues moving from reactive to proactive asset management.
However, the integration of these solutions requires buy-in from key stakeholders through adequate change management frameworks. Our key takeaway is that technology will never replace humans and should be an enabler, not disruptor. As said by Damian Wells, “the bots don’t connect the dots.”
It’s about the process, the digital transformation journey
Having “A clear structure, priorities, and understanding adoption personas.”
A final key takeaway from the discussions was around the utility digital maturity journey. Process change is a continuous cycle that has people at its core, as pointed out by Jenny Francis, Executive Manager, Digital at Hunter Water.
Similarly, Klir’s Business Development Manager, Cillian O’Neil, said that the adoption of processes that drives change is thoroughly intertwined with utilities’ risk maturity journey, requiring an understanding of ways to monetise, prevent, and manage risk in a continuous cycle.
Another compelling case for driving greater perspective analysis for compliance reporting was demonstrated by Michael Howden, Data + Insights Manager at Taumata Arowai (New Zealand’s Water Services Regulator). Mr Howden expanded on the process of real-time reporting through condensing their drinking water guidelines into lines of code that is then fed into the API to enable analysis and determine the compliance.
A last value proposition for an outcome-driven process use was made through a technical case study of Bolivar’s North Wastewater Master Plan. As Optimatics’ Product Manager, Lucy Pocock explained, their software was able to provide an optimised master plan that focused on important main upgrades based on different input functions from over 4,000 iterations. This improved cost savings by leveraging intelligent automation, cloud computing, and evolutionary algorithms.
However, it was essential that the ‘process’ be thoroughly informed by the organisation’s risk appetite, comprehensive change management guidance, and system transparency. Thus, an effective framework for process implementation needs to be grounded in structure, prioritisation, and the understanding of the people impacted by the process.
The second SWAN APAC Workshop was a resounding success, bringing together regional industry leaders to share knowledge around the key themes of building trust, driving innovation, and delivering value. These topics were explored through the lenses of people, technology and data, and processes.
The overall sentiment was the need for collaboration and championing smart water solutions to ensure benefits to the community and country, while ensuring that the appropriate change management frameworks are in place to support technology adoption. This is needed to ensure long term water sustainability. As said in the Workshop by Indigenous elder, Uncle Bill, “It is not what the river can do for us, but what we can do for the river.”