Veolia Water Technologies has a lot of experience, 160 years to be exact. The French-based firm offers its water customers its last solutions and technologies to reduce operating costs, improve competitiveness and strengthen social responsibility. The company is especially proud of AQUAVISTA™, a digital portal that gives clients access to all of Veolia’s water cycle expertise. To review the latest developments in the digital water market, its future and what impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on this growing sector, and the benefits of AQUAVISTA™, we spoke with Aude Giard, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Veolia Water Technologies.
Question: Firstly, we would like to briefly know your career path and your current role.
Answer: I joined Veolia Water Technologies over 10 years ago, initially in the IT department, after having worked as a consultant on the energy markets. I am currently Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Veolia Water Technologies, a position I have occupied since late 2016.
Over the past 10 years, I have worked on Veolia’s digital transformation, starting with the digitalization of IT assets and then moving on to improving the services the company provides to its customers by looking into how water treatment technologies can all be connected, and how we can make Veolia’s global water treatment expertise easily accessible through digital. The outcome has allowed water treatment plants and systems all around the world to optimize their operation, from chemical dosing to energy consumption, environmental compliance and a stronger resilience.
Q: Globally, the current health crisis has made the digital water market unclear. What are your predictions for the future?
Everything we thought about and had planned for the future has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, a reality that we now integrate into our daily lives. The world during, and most certainly after, the pandemic will look quite different than before, but one thing is certain: digital solutions are key elements when it comes to business continuity and resilience planning.
Globally, we will witness a downgrade of capital spending in the water sector but the opportunities in the digital sector will remain unchanged. Water utilities will stay the course on digital implementations that ensure easier remote operations and better asset performance management. Customers who haven’t yet embraced the benefits of digital, will be attracted to digital opportunities; they have learned through COVID-19 and the new work-from-home reality that technologies have changed a great deal in the last years and that digital is no longer an expensive add-on but a business-saving essential.
We will witness a downgrade of capital spending in the water sector but the opportunities in the digital sector will remain unchanged
Now that over six months have passed since the pandemic hit, what digital water trends have you been witnessing? Do you think these have changed compared to previous years?
The COVID outbreak and the experience of lockdown has shed light on digital solutions that facilitate remote working (e.g. augmented reality), ensure operational resilience (e.g. predictive analytics) and reduce operational expenditure (e.g. prescriptive maintenance). The needs remain unchanged.
However, the economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic is shifting the buying behaviour of the water utility sector. Both municipal and industrial customers are becoming less reluctant to use cloud solutions than before. Along with the cloud solutions, we see a rise in interest in new business models.
The Software as a Service (SaaS) model has already gained attractiveness thanks to the “pay as you go” flexibility offered to the client. Now we are witnessing a shift from SaaS to Anything as a Service (AaaS): clients will be reluctant to invest large sums of money on sensors and IoT, they will be looking for a holistic and cost-efficient solution that bundles hardware, software and human expertise. This opens up new perspectives in terms of revenue model and knowing which metrics really matter to the customer.
Water utilities will stay the course on digital implementations that ensure easier remote operations and better asset performance management
Q: How can digitalization help water operators in their daily work?
A: When placed at the service of human expertise, digital facilitates the daily work of water operators in many ways. Here are a few examples:
- Data visualization and alarm management, for example, reduce the necessity of on-site presence of operators.
- Augmented reality combined with remote assistance shorten the delay response to critical problems, especially for difficult-to-reach sites.
- Access to online content and innovative e-learning courses allows the operator to stay at the forefront of knowledge in a context of scarcity of operational skills.
- Predictive maintenance ensures efficient planning for interventions and gives better visibility beforehand in terms of stock management.
At Veolia Water Technologies, we are developing the Smart Membrane product that relies on machine learning techniques to predict when membrane fouling is likely to happen. This is very important for a membrane operator, because he or she can reduce the risk of shutdowns and maintain the integrity of the membrane.
Q: Veolia Water Technologies is meeting the needs of customers in terms of control with AQUAVISTA™. Could you tell us a bit more about this modular solution? In which countries is it successfully implemented?
A: Thanks to AQUAVISTA™, our clients can now easily face their daily challenges: they can effortlessly meet their compliance requirements, optimize their facility while generating OPEX savings (by reducing energy and chemical consumption, for example), and with a glimpse on their phone or tablet, have real-time access to their operations anytime, anywhere, and in a secure way.
The outbreak and the experience of lockdown has shed light on digital solutions that facilitate remote working, like augmented reality
Our digital offer tightens a long-term relationship with our clients: with IoT, cloud solutions and advanced analytics, the know-how of our technologies and expertise on the whole water cycle is “digitally” at the service of our clients.
AQUAVISTA™ is currently being deployed in China and is already available in more than 25 countries.
Q: How can AQUAVISTA help municipalities and industrial companies to better operate their plants?
AQUAVISTA™ provides solutions for the whole water cycle, for both industrial and municipal clients.
For process water or drinking water, IoT and cloud computing, combined with our expertise, help the client to enhance the plant’s availability by maintaining water quality. For example, the use of AQUAVISTA™ on ingredient water in the Food & Beverage industry can help track the quality of water throughout the process, monitor the operational performance of the plant (ratio between incoming water and finished product liquid) but also better prevent plant shutdowns that can be very costly for customers. The pharmaceutical market has also warmly welcomed our digital solutions in order to monitor the water quality and compliance to the industry standards, but also to optimize and benchmark the operational performance of several water units located at different sites. Our customers in this industry have also told us that the use of AQUAVISTA™ helped free up operator’s time for tasks of greater added value, avoid unnecessary call-outs and ultimately increased the team’s morale.
The Software as a Service (SaaS) model has already gained attractiveness thanks to the “pay as you go” flexibility offered to the client
For wastewater treatment, we propose AQUAVISTA™ Plant which optimizes the operations of the plant 24/7 by reducing the operating costs (energy and chemical consumption) or increasing the hydraulic or biological capacity of the plant thus decreasing the investments required for a possible expansion of capacity (ensuring that the discharged water quality meets the regulations).
An example comes from Milan in Italy where commissioning of the AQUAVISTA™ Plant real-time optimization tool at the Nosedo wastewater treatment facility allows annual operational costs savings of close to EUR 400,000. Significant energy savings come from aeration, mixing, return of activated sludge, grit chamber aeration, and nitrate recirculation activities. In terms of chemical usage, there is a 40-60% reduction in the use of precipitation chemicals like ferric chloride, while sludge reduction is at around 65-90 tons per year.
There is also the example of a coke production site in Northern Europe which has reduced total-N in its effluent by 50% — allowing the facility to comply with new and more stringent regulations and eliminate the need for significant capital expenditure that would otherwise have been incurred.
Q: Veolia also created the performance control centre Hubgrade, conveying data in real time from thousands of sites to 15 digital platforms across 13 countries. How can this centre help water companies?
A: Hubgrade is Veolia’s smart monitoring solution which brings together the company’s vast digital offering. Hubgrade relies on a set of SMART tools that can be used to remotely display, assess and optimize the management of water, waste and energy resources.
The use of AQUAVISTA™ on ingredient water in the Food & Beverage industry can help track the quality of water throughout the process
A key element of Veolia’s digitalization strategy is how we relate to customers. The goal is to use digital technology to be more customer focused in how we interact and deliver services. By gathering real-time data, analysis and human expertise, Hubgrade creates new opportunities to optimize the management of water, waste and energy resources and to ensure the delivery of our value proposition to our customers.
There are tremendous advantages to having a global (water/energy/waste) approach when operating a site to maximize processes and savings. Hubgrade allows the advanced modelling of these services while optimizing resources and infrastructures, and reducing operating costs. The features of AQUAVISTA™ fit well into the HUBGRADE offer and HUBGRADE will help us to make all of Veolia’s know-how available to our customers in a safe and modern digital way.