According to Teresa Martín, Water Operations Specialist at Idrica, the water industry has worked non-stop throughout the coronavirus crisis to keep providing an essential service. A lot of the maintenance and operations work has had to be done in the field, but many other tasks have been performed remotely. Thus, managers have had first-hand experience of the benefits of digital transformation.
Over the next year, utilities will continue to invest in digitally transforming all their processes. The aim is to continue optimizing a new remote, collaborative style of management among all the relevant stakeholders. The efficient use of water, and returning it appropriately to the environment, are two issues that are central to any future changes. These are the trends in water management in 2021, identified by Teresa Martín.
1 - Digital transformation of processes and infrastructure
2020 will be remembered as the year that triggered the digital transformation of the entire water industry and, by extension, their management and distribution areas. The roadmap drawn up by utilities already has digital transformation on its list of priorities. One of the major challenges along this road, although not the only one, is to ensure sufficient investment is made. Solid awareness of the range of options available on the market, their advantages and their compatibility with current utility infrastructures and systems is essential when choosing the right technology.
The drivers of digital transformation in water utilities must not only be successful in the process of change, but also be able to convey the benefits to the entire team, convincing those who are most reluctant to innovate. The advantages go beyond management efficiency, as they foster the streamlined, environmentally sustainable use of water.
2 - Greater control over quality data
The first step to successful digital transformation is having accessible, secure and high-quality data. It is not only a matter of fitting equipment with sensors; the data needs to be processed correctly, so that the information can be converted into knowledge.
Information must be collected about how facilities operate, and about the results of any work done on the infrastructure. In our industry, the fact that water networks are located underground adds complexity to the task, especially where there is no comprehensive inventory available.
However, even taking into account the scale of the challenge, no one doubts that the future lies in centralizing and interconnecting all data, making it a tool for decision-making. This will be the primary objective of many water utilities around the world, and one of the main trends in water management in 2021.
3 - Remote management
During the coronavirus crisis, water utilities have had to switch to remote management as a way of protecting their employees and customers. Resilience has largely hinged on the degree of digital maturity reached before this unprecedented scenario.
Although it is obvious that there will be an increase in remote management in the future, the challenges related to team motivation and team spirit are sometimes overlooked. In 2021, managers will have to develop different strategies to ensure that employees working in the field and those telecommuting preserve their team identity.
4 - Infrastructure-related working teams with occasional external support
The need for greater flexibility and immediacy, which is the consequence of current uncertainty, will lead to work on infrastructure being based on small, stable, specialized teams. We must not forget that water is a scarce, essential resource. As such, society expects companies to resolve incidents as fast as possible. These teams ensure faster access to the source of the problem, such as a major leak in the street, and to solving it.
The main disadvantage of this type of organization is the need for external support when the work required transcends the knowledge of the team members. In this scenario, specialists are called upon to provide their expertise. However, this is a small price to pay considering the greater resilience provided by stable, specialized teams, and this is why we will continue to rely on these teams in the future.
Idrica's Global Water Trends 2021 report provides a comprehensive list of trends for the industry, including the trends in water management for 2021.