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"DaaS can enable operators to accelerate smart water adoption with a low-risk profile"

Traditionally, water monitoring and testing have been manual and static. With a goal of making water safer and sustainable, today and into the future, KETOS provides qualitative and quantitative data in real time, enabling a proactive approach to efficiency and quality challenges.

The water industry is rapidly moving towards the digitalisation of operations. Since 2015, KETOS is helping to solve water industry challenges with automated monitoring processes and a user-friendly business model. The Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) is a versatile model in which a technology provider operates and maintains equipment to collect, transmit and process data, and the utility pays for the delivered results. In this interview with Meena Sankaran, Founder and CEO of Ketos, she gives us her view on the role of digital technologies in water management, and specifically DasS as a model that can accelerate utility innovation.

Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at Ketos?

As an engineer in multiple disciplines by training, I knew that I wanted to seed an idea that leverages technology for elevating the lives of human beings and has a positive impact on the planet we all are nourished by. Growing up in India, safe water was always top of mind but subtle in its existence. I founded KETOS in 2015 with a vision to potentially prevent a disease outbreak someday and save lives lost due to waterborne diseases. The mission to transform the water industry to make water safer and sustainable has been the foundation of why KETOS exists. Specifically, the innovation built by an exemplary class of interdisciplinary and brilliant minds is transforming how water operators measure, manage, and forecast water quality and efficiency. KETOS is able to have an impact across industrial, agricultural, and municipal applications in real-time where the status quo is cost-prohibitive, labour intensive, manual and reactive.

How can digital solutions contribute to addressing water challenges?

Digital solutions can automate testing, monitoring, reporting, analysis, and forecasting, enabling water operators to proactively solve mission-critical efficiency and quality challenges in real-time. This helps ensure that water used in municipal, agriculture, and industrial applications meets specific compliance and sustainability standards.

The mission to transform the water industry with the goal of making water safer and sustainable has been the foundation of why KETOS exists

Real-time monitoring and understanding of water, both quantitatively and qualitatively, helps address both water efficiency (leak-detection & usage) and water quality (safety), ultimately increasing water availability.

KETOS offers industrial-grade patented hardware, an IoT communication framework, and a robust software platform to address global water management issues. The unique amalgamation of robotics, IoT, data science and material science in the space of water has led to a breakthrough like never before. A single system completely decoupled from a fixed model of constituent monitoring has revolutionised how many parameters and which ones a customer can care about and the flexibility with how they interact with the system. This includes toxic or otherwise harmful chemicals in water (e.g., boron, lead, arsenic).

Can you comment on the potential of Data-as-a-Service models to facilitate the digital transformation of water operators?

Digital solutions enable water operators to proactively solve mission-critical efficiency and quality challenges in real-time

Traditional approaches to driving smart water adoption have relied on outdated and/or ineffective procurement policies, often limiting technology and innovation to large utilities with extensive capital budgets. For water utilities, finding new approaches to data-backed water management such as Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) can enable operators to accelerate their adoption with a low-risk profile.

Rather than older, traditional systems that require high up-front costs and investments in complex infrastructure with extensive labour commitment, DaaS seeks to streamline automation, encourage integration with existing systems, and promote real-time smart water applications by shifting the technology adoption risk from the customer to the solution provider, thus allowing for a joint, aligned vision to realize mutual success.

Is there increased interest in remote monitoring and DaaS models post-COVID?

Yes, COVID-19 has accelerated digital technology in the water industry, as automated solutions can help water operators work more efficiently, adapt to problems faster, and, ultimately, conserve more water. Automation has certainly helped reduce both unnecessary contact with equipment and other personnel. It has also ensured that the testing process can be continuous and scheduled at the proper intervals so that tests aren’t missed, and that results can be recorded and analysed in real-time. Automating processes has allowed many water operators to keep their operations consistent even in uncertain times while being remote and focusing on personal safety but not compromising on the water safety of the constituents they serve.

Traditional approaches to driving smart water adoption have relied on outdated and/or ineffective procurement policies

How does a DaaS business model compare to purchasing and maintaining data collection and analysis solutions in terms of affordability? What about concerning data confidentiality and security risks?

DaaS shifts the technology adoption risk from the customer to the solution provider, thus allowing for a joint, aligned vision 

The DaaS (Data as a Service or providing actionable insights as a service) allows customers to de-risk their investment in innovation, and allows them to share mutual responsibility for ongoing success where a purchase resulted in all of the risk and the responsibility on the end user. The ability to not fret about the shelf-life of the system or the cycle in which you are adopting the solution and its potential for becoming end of life, all of those go away since you evolve at your pace as technology evolves. In addition, with DaaS, high CAPEX costs and internal personnel demands are reduced as the solution provider’s value is measured based on system uptime, availability & accessibility of the data and other success criteria mutually agreed upon with the end user on encryption, access controls and more... Without large capital budget investments, hiring specialised IT, data and other resources which aren’t the core expertise of the utilities also reduces the pressures of maintaining the right workforce for growth.

What kind and size of water operators can benefit most from DaaS models? Can you share a success story of DaaS implementation in the water industry?

We have operators of all kinds and sizes who benefit from the KETOS solution. For example, we have small communities that use the KETOS as well as some of the largest companies in the world. Because the solution is modular and interoperable, it’s flexible enough to be used in nearly any environment - regardless of size. Small utilities, especially the ones that struggle with resources and budgets could be a great target as they can leapfrog years ahead in transforming their organisation into a sustainable and effective operator for a very affordable cost while still experiencing strong ROI.

With DaaS, high CAPEX costs and personnel demands are reduced as the provider’s value is measured based on success criteria agreed upon

One example of this is vertical farming. We have a customer that has a global operation with over a dozen locations. We started in one location with two devices and are now installing across their entire network of farms. We’ve helped this customer have both a farm-by-farm view of water quality and a centralized network view of water quality across nearly 20 farms. They have been able to better understand water quality - which impacts plant health and product quality - and even identify anomalies that showcase the inefficiencies in their overall water management system for proactive resolution. The centralised network view allows for several predictions and integrated analytics that can help improve optimal yield for farmers while maximising their footprint on water reuse.

Could you tell us about recent trends in relation to digital technologies for real-time water quality monitoring?

KETOS has seen rapid adoption across industries including municipal, controlled environment agriculture and a variety of industrial verticals like manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas. As a result of lower worker availability, organizations are focused on automation and autonomous operations like remote sampling and testing, self-calibration, and self-cleaning. In addition, there is greater comfort and interest in real-time data, alerts, and data aggregation for analysis and reporting.

What are your expectations for the modernisation of water infrastructure as a result of government funding becoming available in the U.S.?

Because the solution is modular and interoperable, it’s flexible enough to be used in nearly any environment - regardless of size

Improving and upgrading water and wastewater utility systems is a capital-intensive endeavour. These upgrades to water and wastewater systems are necessary to ensure safe drinking water delivery for communities and guarantee that wastewater is treated and appropriately discharged to protect water bodies, wetlands, and downstream users. In the past, these services and infrastructure upgrades have been funded by increasing taxes, issuing bonds, or obtaining low-interest loans through State Revolving Funds (SRF) or grants from federal agencies. The passage of the recent one trillion-dollar infrastructure bill authorizes 55 billion dollars for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades and improvements across the country. However, this is only the latest funding round aimed at improving aging and dangerous water infrastructure. Other bills have passed recently to address potential health and safety issues in water and wastewater treatment systems. These bills aim to increase the capacity to handle growing populations and improve the resilience of water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. Finally, some of these funding initiatives are directly funding digital water and water data initiatives.