Lessons from the SWAN 2017 Conference

By Shoshana R. Cohen, SWAN Research Analyst

Published May 26, 2017                                                           

The SWAN 2017 Conference brought together smart water and wastewater industry leaders to collectively share experiences in transitioning towards a smarter and more resilient water future. In this blog, I will highlight three, important reflections I made and how they can impact the water industry. By encouraging smart water policy, multi-level coordination among key stakeholders, embracing ICT technologies, and creating a centralised vision of a community’s water consumption, global cities can ensure the resiliency of their water and wastewater systems.


Cities face numerous water governance challenges such as water scarcity, wastewater overflows, aging infrastructure, pollution, overpopulation, and catastrophic events – see OECD figured below. By adapting to changing conditions, cities can better prepare for shocks and stresses in their system in the long-term and strengthen their ability to bounce back after a disturbance.

(Source: OECD 2016 Water Governance Survey)

Based on the main insights from the Conference, here are three recommendations for improving the resilience of smart water processes.


Lesson #1:  Multi-Level Management

Coping with water risks requires the implementation of technical, financial and institutional solutions. With the increasing effects of desertification, water scarcity is proving a more prevalent stress on municipalities and utilities. Improving a city’s ability to absorb shocks requires a resiliency plan that identifies the weak points in the system. These plans represent strategic tools to increase the line of sight between day-to-day and long-term goals. Therefore, it is necessary for urban water management to have a multi-level functional approach to water functions, one that involves both national and subnational coordination. In this regard, Will Maize, Senior Research Analyst at Bluefield Research stated that “market drivers, such as water scarcity and operational efficiency, are causing utilities to turn to new technology. There is no-one-size-fits-all solution, but a need for place-based policies and overarching frameworks, strategy and rules.”


In an online poll (see above), 87% of Conference attendees selected that the adoption of data-driven technologies within water utilities is a “management,” rather than a “technological challenge.” Thus, smart water adoption is often about changing traditional mindsets to embrace digital solutions.


Lesson #2: Digital Transformation

In the past, utilities relied on acoustic listening devices and field team sweeps for leak detection. Eddy Segal, VP of Sales for Utilis Ltd, stated that instead of checking an entire area for leaks, utilities should utilise technologies, such as pressure sensors and satellites to detect the precise location of leaks. Meanwhile, innovative data analysis processes such as OSIsoft’s Process Intelligence (PI) system and SUEZ’s Internet and Communication Technologies (ICT) are revolutionising water management practices. The SUEZ diagram below displays how these technologies can effectively transform the process of infrastructure-utility communication to analyse data flows and make timely predictions.

(Source: Didier Sinapah, SUEZ)

OSIsoft’s PI System can further capture and store data to create real-time, self-learning artificial neural networks. In this way, data can be collected from numerous sources, encouraging data sharing among a community of utilities, regulatory agencies, customers, governments, and private companies with the ultimate goal of optimising water network management.


Lesson #3: Connected Customers

In order to improve their daily processes, utilities must include the customers in their water management plans by sharing the data with them. This way, customers can more closely monitor their household water use. At the same time, utilities can also have a better understanding of individual household water consumption and be able to enhance segmentation within the system. For instance, Jan Gooijer, Innovation Manager at Vitens, explained that “with the development of technology within the smart water sphere, only customer-centered companies will survive.”


One example of engaging the customers within the data collection process is the integration of digital meters and social media. George Theo, CEO of Unitywater in Australia mentioned that tapping into data is an “analytics revolution for the business and the customer. Unity has used data to create knowledge and use that knowledge to create solutions.” Utilities can further provide incentives for the households that decrease their water consumption the most in a year.


To build a resilient water future, we will need sound management and policy, reliable infrastructure, ICT communication, and connected customers. 


To view the SWAN 2017 Conference presentations, visit:  https://www.swan-forum.com/swan-2017/

The Need for Water Service Resilience

By Shirley Ben-Dak, SWAN Marketing Manager

Published on March 9, 2017

The need for adopting sustainable water resilience strategies is becoming more apparent than ever. By 2050, the global population living in cities will increase from 50% today to 70%. A McKinsey study on transforming water economies reveals that cities are already facing increasing water stress, with demand expanded to outstrip supply by 40% by 2030. On this note, according to Arup’s recent publication, Water Resilience for Cities, “Ensuring a resilient water supply as climate patterns change and populations grow requires cities to introduce active water resource management measures.”


With this mind, city officials and water operators will need to take into account long-term thinking and planning, support the deployment and implementation of ICT and smart water technologies, as well as collaborate with global industry stakeholders. As the Global Resilience Partnership explains in their piece on fresh water resilience, “A 21st century approach to water and to development is one that builds resilience. This means that we look for ways in which people at risk could actually thrive under recurrent water challenges – to anticipate, mitigate and rise above floods, rather than being swept away from them.”


Let’s take a closer look at what’s involved in developing a resilient water management plan.


Defining Resilience

Common definitions of “water resilience” focus mostly on climate change and mitigating the impact of natural disasters. For example, according to the UK water regulator, Ofwat, resilience is “the ability to cope with and recover from disruption, and anticipate trends and variability in order to maintain services for people and protect the natural environment, now and in the future.”


Another key component highlighted by SWAN, the Smart Water Networks Forum, relates to “water service resilience,” which can be broken down into four, key pillars and applied to both the water and wastewater sectors: (1) Safe Water – Quality; (2) Reliable Service – Customers; (3) Secure Systems – IT; and (4) Efficient Operations – O&M.

The Four Key Pillars of Water Service Resilience

The above pillars can all be optimised by transforming collected network data into actionable information using smart water and wastewater technologies, explored further below.


Pillar 1: Safe Water – Quality

Traditional water quality sampling relies on time consuming and often costly monitoring techniques such as ‘grab’ sampling and field/laboratory analysis. However, there are now online sensors, which can communicate real-time data about various quality parameters to a software platform to rapidly locate the source and spread of contamination. Such efforts help manage and avoid quality issues before customers are impacted. This is also relevant to the wastewater industry, as there are technologies preventing harmful sewage overflows through the deployment of data technologies.


Pillar 2: Reliable Service – Customers

The concept of water service resilience doesn’t only refer to the infrastructure and the network itself, but also the end users that can be impacted by water flow and quality – namely the customers themselves. More and more water utilities are already seeing the importance of improving online customer engagement and are embracing the advent of smart water meter solutions and relevant smart leak detection technologies such as fixed, acoustic sensors and remote alert systems.


Pillar 3: Secure Systems – IT

When discussing water service resilience and the transition towards smart water networks, we must consider the importance of securing our systems from an IT perspective. The move to smart water networks is supported by ICT, as automation and cybersecurity technologies and systems are helping reduce risks involved in moving towards digital water and connected grids.


Pillar 4: Efficient Operations – O&M

Improving water service resilience will require utilities to maximise their operational resilience, including making strides towards adopting robust hardware, predictive modeling systems, and making intelligence decisions that are based on data collected and analysed. These and similar efforts are essential when looking to provide for more efficient O&M of water networks.


Securing Resilience

Building a sustainable water future will require not only understanding the now, but will require planning strategies 20-25 years down the line. According to a joint Arup-Siemens report, to become resilient, cities will need to think in in terms of robustness, redundancy, diversity and flexibility, responsiveness and coordination. To help streamline the process, water utilities and policymakers should first consider defining their main water service resilience indicators and goals, and then determine which individuals and/or team members will be needed in order to meet certain milestones. As this undertaking will require both management and employee support and collaboration, it should be neither rushed nor launched from a top-down approach.

To effectively secure resilience, forming industry partnerships and collaborative platforms will be essential. By taking into account different global perspectives and learning from best practices worldwide, cities and water utilities will be better equipped to handle the main shocks and stresses that infrastructure networks are facing due to both climate change and increasing water demand.


Gaining a Global Perspective

We encourage all those interested in learning more and exploring the topic of water resilience to join us for the upcoming SWAN 2017 Conference from 9-10 May in London. This will be the leading smart water conference of the year featuring 20 global water utility speakers from 13 different countries. Participants will have the opportunity to hear about more in depth case studies about the four key pillars of water service resilience as well as contribute their own insights on this increasingly important topic.


What are your views regarding water service resilience? Please share your thoughts: shirley@swan-forum.com.

Streamlining Innovation in the North American Water Sector

By Amir Cahn, SWAN Executive Director

Published on February 2, 2017

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Smart Water: Tapping Technologies for Water Utilities, a joint-Workshop hosted by the SWAN North American Alliance and Cleantech San Diego at the Qualcomm headquarters in San Diego. The Workshop attracted nearly 200 attendees, several of whom were water utilities interested in learning about the vast opportunities in the smart water sector. The cross-industry panels sparked engaging discussions, particularly about the innovation processes of North American water utilities. Utility speakers highlighted the need for a “reverse pitch,” the challenges stemming from rigid RFP processes, and the idea of an “innovation lounge.”


Gary Eaton, Chief Innovation Officer at the San Diego County Water Authority, cited the importance of three “C’s.” First, creating a culture receptive to innovation in a risk-averse environment. Second, becoming agile, or building the right capabilities for staff to be innovative. Thirdly, creativity is necessary to take staff ideas from conception to implementation. Gary also stressed the idea of a “reverse pitch,” or gathering internal organisational feedback to develop a “wish list” of desired solutions. However, he stated that a significant challenge to enabling innovation is the long and arduous RFP cycle where desired technologies can become out of date or companies can even go out of business. To effectively manage the procurement process, adopting an open architecture format for other public agencies to utilise would be beneficial.


The need to be cutting-edge, not “bleeding edge” was emphasised by Joey Randall, Assistant General Manager at Olivenhain Municipal Water District. He mentioned that his utility needs to change the way they think about water to work smarter, not harder. In the end, it’s about how they do business and they must decide how their water service will change. Meanwhile, the concept of an “innovation lounge” was advocated by John Arena, Business Outreach Section Manager at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Such a lounge would be an open platform for utility staff members to collaborate and suggest different projects and improvements.


Paul Gagliardo, Innovation Director at American Water further spoke in depth about their evaluation process to work with outside vendors and how they decide where to invest their resources. Below, is American Water’s seven step innovation process, which can also be applied to other utilities.


Source: Presentation by Paul Gagliardo, Innovation Manager at American Water during Smart Water Workshop, Jan. 25, 2017 in San Diego.


As the leading global hub for the smart water sector, the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) brings together key players in the water industry to collaborate and share knowledge in order to accelerate the development of data-driven technologies in water and wastewater networks worldwide. For example, the SWAN North American Alliance is now free to join offering free workshops such as the recent one in San Diego, specialised webinars, as well as a soon to be centralised source for smart water resources. By joining SWAN or participating in the Alliance, utilities can leverage best practices from other global utilities and access a global innovation lounge.


View the recent Smart Water Workshop presentations: https://www.swan-forum.com/smart-water-workshop-2017/

Join the SWAN North American Alliance for free: https://www.swan-forum.com/swan-na-alliance/

7 Smart Water Trends for 2017

By Shirley Ben-Dak, SWAN Marketing Manager


Published on January 5, 2017

After waving goodbye to an exciting year for smart water, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and welcome in 2017. Given concerns related to water scarcity, reliability and security, it’s now imperative to implement digital solutions to improve operations and efficiency, as well as build the right organisation and processes to support it.

For water utilities, the emergence of smart water tech providers and Internet of Things (IoT)-related devices offers ample opportunities to increase resilience and streamline operational performance. According to Deloitte, data-driven insights “have great potential to transform the way consumers, the government and utilities think about water as a resource and how the industry plans, invests and manages water infrastructure for the future.”

While there are many exciting developments in the water sector, here are 7 smart water trends to look out for in 2017 based on insider and SWAN expert analysis:


1.   Online Customer Engagement

Today, water utilities are coming to understand and embrace the advantages of customer engagement. Through the advent of AMI solutions, utilities can now utilise direct two-way communications from customer meters to the utility, then back to customer web portals and smartphone apps. This allows utilities to deliver high quality service by alerting customers about possible leaks, blockages, pollution, etc. Customers can also proactively track their water consumption and monitor their monthly bills. In 2017, customer engagement technologies will play an even more crucial role as customers seek increased transparency and available solutions become more personalised.


2.   Smart Irrigation

The global irrigation industry is undergoing a transformation with the help of technology, widely known as precision or “smart” irrigation. The irrigation industry faces significant challenges due to water scarcity, increasing crop production, and climate change. By adopting smart irrigation technologies, farmers can maximise yield rates by pinpointing where and when to irrigate through sensors or water flow controllers. This current $8.34 billion market will likely generate increased interest in the coming year.


3.   Smart Wastewater Management

With increased environmental regulation, climate change, aging infrastructure, and the need to improve customer service, cities are now turning to “smart,” data-driven solutions to improve their wastewater systems. These solutions allow operators to detect infiltration and inflow, prioritise actions, quickly respond to system failures, and apply predicative modeling. In 2017, there will be a growing shift towards smart wastewater solutions. For instance, the latest SWAN research report shows how four U.S. cities are already preventing harmful sewage overflows through data technologies.


4.   Real-Time Water Quality Monitoring

The ability to effectively manage problems associated with water networks, both at the source and at the distribution level, is related to detection capabilities. Contamination events such as the Flint water crisis in Michigan and the recent incident in Corpus Christi, Texas, drew global attention to water quality issues in developed countries. Utilities can proactively manage and avoid potential threats through real-time water quality monitoring. In 2017, an increased emphasis will be placed on the need for such solutions to ensure water network security.


5.   Mergers and Acquisitions

2016 was highlighted by “game changing” deals, which consolidated the industry and formed strategic partnerships. Xylem acquired Sensus and Visenti. GE Water & Process Technologies signed multiple cooperation agreements with WaterSmart Software and Smart Earth Technologies. Also, Belkin, a leading consumer electronics company, announced a joint venture with Uponor to “bring water up to speed with the rest of the smart home.” 2017 will likely produce similar partnerships to offer integrated solutions.


6.    An Automated Future 

Automated solutions for the water sector are evolving and being rapidly deployed. For instance, today, drones can collect data and inspect operations and a wastewater pumping system has integrated intelligence. The industry is changing with the development of cloud computing, big data analysis, and machine learning through remote control systems. These sophisticated systems include technology devices which can interact with one another and feed information in an optimised process. 2017 will continue to see the emergence of new automated solutions which will likely change the face of the water sector.


7.   Industry Collaboration

The importance of the smart water sector will require key industry stakeholders to collaborate and leverage best industry practices. Such synergy will be needed in 2017 in order to best explore ways to address global water sector challenges. To help facilitate and expand these relationships, SWAN, the Smart Water Networks Forum, invites all smart water professionals and enthusiasts to join the upcoming 7th Annual SWAN Conference to be held May 9-10, 2017 in London. This year’s Conference will focus on creating smart, resilient water and wastewater systems from an IT and service perspective. Register today to reserve your spot.


What are your views regarding the future of smart water in 2017? Would love to hear your thoughts: shirley@swan-forum.com.