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Embracing the Digital Transformation of Water Utilities

February 23, 2024

In today's rapidly evolving world, water and wastewater utilities are realizing the benefits of a digital transformation. Businesses all over the globe are looking to integrate digital technology into their operations — leveling up their strategies to keep infrastructure safe and resilient while keeping costs competitive. The water and wastewater industry are no exception.          

Managers of water and wastewater utilities are realizing the immense benefits that come from leveraging digital tools to improve efficiency and address operational challenges. For smaller water utilities in particular, digital transformation provides a way to overcome their unique challenges and set the stage for success.

Smaller water utilities face numerous challenges, including a lack of skilled operators, climate impacts, new regulations, cyber threats and limited funding. To overcome these hurdles and do more with less, digital management of water systems is the way forward. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has identified 20 major challenges faced by water utilities, and digital tools have the potential to address 15 of them.    

Defining Digital Transformation in Water Utilities

Digital transformation in water utilities is the process of translating data into actionable information for improved decision-making and asset management. Effective water utility management starts with assessing your current systems, identifying the challenges to address and performing a gap analysis. This analysis helps determine the digital tools needed to bridge the performance gap and achieve your goals.

Getting Started with Your Digital Transformation

If you're wondering how to get started on your digital journey, Stanley Consultants is here to help. To start your digital journey, you’ll need to design a roadmap tailored to the unique needs for water utility management. A typical roadmap starts with a thorough site assessment and gap analysis, followed by research on technology providers and products that can address the identified gaps. A cost-benefit analysis is then conducted, leading to a four-step digital modernization plan. This roadmap helps make cases for capital investment and secure budgets that provide long-term value.

Getting started on your digital transformation requires understanding your utility's current state and desired digital systems. The costs vary depending on the extent and sophistication of the digital tools implemented. The benefits far outweigh the costs, as digital systems lead to more efficient operations and reduced risks over time. A well-designed digital roadmap will clearly outline the costs and benefits of your digital transformation.

Benefits of Digital Transformation for Water Systems

Our team of water management consultants can guide you through the steps of embracing digital transformation and show you how it can revolutionize your water utility.

Breaking Down Data Silos

Many water utilities have various systems in place, such as GIS, CIS and SCADA. However, these systems often operate in isolation, creating data silos that make effective data-driven decision-making challenging. Digital transformation breaks down these silos by integrating data from different sources into a centralized digital decision support dashboard. This real-time integrated data model provides operators with meaningful information at their fingertips, enabling better-informed decisions.

Digital Twins for Water Systems

Beyond digital decision support platforms, digital twins offer even more possibilities. A digital twin is a virtual replica of your water utility that allows you to model changes, compare scenarios and conduct training offline. By applying data science methods like machine learning and artificial intelligence to the digital twin, you gain early awareness of risks and receive optimized recommendations for set points, leading to cost savings and improved efficiencies.

Let's consider a theoretical small community in the western United States with 10,000 water connections. This utility has already implemented a GIS system to locate system assets. Their next step is to integrate a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) with the GIS system. This integration enables better tracking of work orders and asset conditions, leading to informed capital investment decisions. By gradually adding relevant technologies and utilizing a digital platform, this utility can prioritize asset improvements based on data, rather than guesswork.

Partner with Stanley Consultants to Unlock the Full Digital Potential of Your Water Utility

Digital transformation is revolutionizing the water and wastewater industry, and smaller utilities can benefit from technology. By embracing digital tools, you can improve operational efficiency, make informed decisions and address the challenges faced by your utility. Our water management consultants are here to guide you through the digital transformation journey, from assessing your needs to implementing the right solutions. Reach out to us today and let's embark on this journey together.

Contact Steve Green, Client Services Manager - Digital Water, at 503-318-9290 or GreenSteve@stanleygroup.com.

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