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The digital transformation of the water sector in Latin America: challenges and expectations

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  • Author: Liliana Velasco Pérez, Manager of the Water Practice at Minsait, an Indra company
  • Latin America is in a privileged position when we talk about freshwater reserves, given that three countries in the region (Brazil, Colombia and Peru) are among the ten with the largest water reserves. The great challenge for the region is how to take advantage of this and turn it in a great opportunity to improve and transform the water sector.

About the entity

Minsait
Minsait, an Indra company, is a leading digital transformation and information technology consulting firm in Spain and Latin America.
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Themes

The Dow Jones Index list of emerging markets includes Latin American countries such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, countries where a booming economy, together with urban population growth, is leading to a change in water management. One of the challenges water managers face is that the sector is very conservative; although there are many innovative initiatives in place, in general, it takes from 6 to 7 years for a project to become a sustainable undertaking from a business point of view. This is partly due to a management approach that focuses on the intended water use (irrigation, hydropower generation, or water supply and sanitation services), which limits having a global, comprehensive vision of the issues involved in water management.

In terms of drinking water and sanitation services, in Latin America the management profiles are heterogeneous, but they face similar issues, mainly the coverage of services, drinking water losses, operational efficiency and the quality of services, in particular consistency. With regards to service coverage and the need to meet a constantly increasing demand, it becomes necessary, before undertaking projects to increase the sources, to engage in actions that entail lower investment costs and have less of an impact on the environment, such as those aimed to reduce water losses and reduce consumption.

Latin America is in a privileged position when we talk about freshwater reserves: the challenge is how to take advantage of the situation

The average water losses in the region amount to about 40% of the volume produced, and are due to field issues (leaks or filtrations) as well as commercial issues, such as frauds or issues with domestic drinking water consumption metering and monitoring. This situation leads to levels of unmetered consumption anywhere between 20% and 80%, and average late payments that are received from four to six months late. Therefore, it is necessary to take action to, on one hand, reduce the percentage of non revenue water in practically every country in the region; on the other hand, to expand water metering at individual dwellings (micro-metering) as well as meters for larger water flows (macro-metering), together with programmes to improve commercial management processes, mainly billing and payment collection.

In terms of operational efficiency, there is no solid data to perform a quantitative assessment in this context in Latin America, but it is frequently affected by service interruptions, with a direct impact on the consistency of the water supply. This leads to user complaints, evidence of the problems with service quality. Knowing more about the operational status of the network and how it impacts users is necessary. Also, actions should be taken to speed up the detection of potential issues and solve them, optimising the resources used to fix any breakdowns. Being aware of any work under way in the field will help minimise its effects, reducing the number of users affected.

The opportunities for improvement in Latin America are concurrent with a global digital transformation process

These opportunities for improvement in Latin America, recognised as priority lines of action, are concurrent with a global digital transformation process that invites water managers to explore new management and operating approaches that, just a few years ago, were inconceivable in such a traditional sector.

As a result of this new situation for the water sector, the IT departments of companies are becoming key players and working side by side with business areas in search of new solutions for integrated water cycle management. Latin America is thus becoming a promising region for ICTs to contribute to the smart use and management of water resources.

At Minsait, an Indra company, we have been working alongside water utilities in Latin America for more than three decades in this IT development process, and we are seeing that in the short and medium term the impact of the digital transformation on the models and processes in this business will increase.

In order to embrace the digital transformation and encourage new customer-oriented business delivery models, we developed Onesait Utilities, a complete suite of solutions that provides an answer to the new challenges and opportunities for utilities in the new digital era.

One of the major areas under development in Latin America is the deployment of Smart Grids, to encourage a more rational water use. This entails many difficulties, such as the development of appropriate and interconnected information systems. To do this, Minsait has Onesait Utilities Metering, a solution for smart metering management. It comprises the acquisition, management, certification and exchange of information from meters, regardless of the type and brand. In addition, it supports decision analysis and decision making using Big Data technology, and includes advanced functions such as demand forecasting, user behaviour and asset monitoring.

At Minsait we work towards optimising the deployment of macro-metering and micro-metering, very much needed in the region, to ensure that network information is always available and is a reliable input for the operating systems of water companies.

At Minsait, an Indra company, we have been working alongside water utilities in Latin America for more than three decades

Having flow measurement data, at the macro and micro scales, allows water companies to move forward and implement solutions to control water flow in the distribution network, thus reducing water losses, both technical and commercial losses. Thanks to our product, Onesait Utilities Metering, we can control real and apparent losses, and carry out assessments, in the network or in the different business areas of water companies. As well, it uses an end-to-end approach, from managing measurement to managing strategic actions to reduce the percentage of losses, since the work should not only identify losses, but also identify the type of loss, its cause and establish an action plan to address it. The solution also includes functions based on artificial intelligence to learn about the behaviour of the network and locate leaks with geo-referenced information. In addition, the system incorporates the standards in the methodology of the International Water Association and enables monitoring losses in terms of water volume and revenue.

The plans to reduce losses have to identify operational or commercial actions that will require efficient work in the field, thus contributing to reducing consumption and the length and frequency of service interruptions.  To do this, Minsait has Onesait Utilities Workforce, a solution that seeks to improve the performance of teams working in the field, conveying relevant information and optimising the operations through mobile technology.

On the other hand, it is necessary to integrate the commercial and operational areas so that water utilities can have an integrated vision of their performanceThroughout the years we have been working alongside large water utilities in Latin America in the implementation of the Onesait Utilities Customers commercial system, we have observed a growing interest in optimising commercial processes. Our solution allows them to integrate mobility and have an impact on the actions that involve the customer directly, ensuring a better service and reducing the costs of back office work.

Without a doubt, water companies in Latin America are showing an interest in digital transformation. Although there still is a long way to go, we see that the steps taken anticipate a change in the sector, leading to a future where technology in support of integrated management will be key, and where citizens will be interested in playing an active part in water management.