"Don’t forget about who you’re doing all of this for – your customers, your community. Put them at front of mind and think about how you can work with them to achieve a better life."
"There are great platforms to learn more about the industry and build a good network of friends, colleagues and suppliers who can help meet future challenges."
"Boldly go where you need to in order to achieve what wish to accomplish. Immerse yourself in what we do- it’s a career, life’s calling, not a job."
"SWSM recognises that engagement isn’t about telling customers what to do; rather, it’s providing the tools to allow customers to find out for themselves – which leads to them placing greater value on what they discover."
Australian water utility and new SWAN Member SA Water provides safe and affordable water and wastewater services in South Australia for over 1.6 million people. The utility is a pioneer in the smart water sector, and is quickly expanding the use of its innovative technologies across the region. Dr. Helen Edmonds, Manager of Water Assets at the utility, talked to us about customer engagement, the water-energy nexus, and how to become a well-rounded water professional.
Q. Congratulations on SA Water being named the 2018 Australian Digital Utility of the year. How does SA Water prioritise its digital agenda?
There are various aspects to how we determine what’s important for us in the digital space, but first and foremost, it’s about developing solutions which benefit our customers, to continue to meet their increasing expectations and improve the ways they can interact and do business with us.
Our digital roadmaps are enduring and aim to build capability over time through the way we:
- Directly engage with our customers, e.g. service channels and communication on faults and outages
- Optimise new and emerging technology for our assets, e.g. smart networks
- Improve processes and technology for our staff, to ensure we continue to be safe and increase our efficiency
Another important element is cost efficiency. We have strong governance arrangements in place to ensure our investments are prudent but still allow us to deliver a high quality and valued service.
Q. What have been some unexpected challenges and benefits of your smart water technology rollouts?
We’ve been monitoring and collecting data through our smart water network in the Adelaide CBD since it went live in July 2017. Since this time, we’ve used the technology to prevent 29 main breaks and have increased our knowledge of the local system exponentially.
Following this success, we’re now expanding the use of smart technology to four more locations across South Australia. In total, 35 pressure sensors (including 15 transient loggers), 19 flow meters, 120 acoustic leak detection sensors and two water quality sensors are being progressively fitted across the four locations in coming months.
In addition to a reduced water main break rate, some other benefits we’ve seen through the Adelaide CBD trial to date include improving our understanding of dynamic water pressure behaviours, sources and ‘network calming’ requirements, as well as building our staff’s expertise on smart technology and the general management of water systems.
Our challenges are mostly related to IT capabilities, but we see these more as opportunities to change and adapt. Our smart network is producing a lot of data, so while at first overwhelming, we’ve spent the past 12 or so months working out what it all means and how this data can be used to drive value for the business and our customers.
Q. What are SA Water's main customer engagement strategies?
We create a number of opportunities to have conversations with our customers and community, whether for specific projects or on an ongoing basis.
Our largest engagement initiative at the moment involves working together with customers to develop a plan on how we’ll operate and deliver services between 2020 and 2024. Our customers are at the heart of everything we do, and we want to make sure we understand the services and outcomes they want us to prioritise. Outside of this set period, we work with Customer Advisory Groups – which were established in 2012 – to increase interaction with representative customer groups. They provide important feedback and help to ensure business and residential customer opinions are represented in our decision-making process.
Additionally, we have set our direction through to 2020 to be a leader in reconciliation for our customers, our partners, our people, and the communities in which we operate. With a Reconciliation Action Plan in place and actions actively underway, we are working in partnership with a number of Aboriginal communities across South Australia from the west coast through to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.
Our ongoing customer research program involves contacting customers through phone and online surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews to find out how the community perceives SA Water, and their opinions of how we are performing as an organisation. This helps to measure the impact of changes we make to the way we work. We also offer several free community and school-based programs throughout the year which provide information on topics such as water treatment and desalination in an easy to understand way.
Q. SA Water has an ambitious goal of achieving zero net electricity costs by 2020. Why is this important to the company and are you on track to reach this goal?
SA Water serves 1.6 million people across South Australia and we’re one of the largest electricity users in the state. Our energy-intensive pumping and treatment operations consumed 220 gigawatt hours in 2016/17, at a cost of around $55 million. We are looking to reduce our demand on the grid and increase our renewable energy generation and storage capacity, in an ambitious plan to achieve zero net electricity costs by 2020. We’ve already been reducing our electricity costs by more than $3 million a year since 2013, so we know that with a concerted push, our goal is ambitious, but within reach.
Every step we make towards this goal will deliver savings for our business, and therefore our customers. Reducing operational expenses like electricity costs will help keep our customers’ water and sewerage charges as low and stable as possible. Our sustained focus on renewable energy generation is also helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and contribute to greenhouse gas reduction targets. Since announcing our 2020 target in December 2017, we have begun several initiatives to help reach this goal. A trial solar photo-voltaic (PV) and battery storage system at our Crystal Brook Workshop is now operating – providing energy for the site and reducing our draw from the grid by around 30 per cent.
We’ve also recently completed the installation of up to five megawatts of solar photo-voltaic panels at some of our large metropolitan sites, including a 1.5 megawatt system at the Hope Valley precinct, where the generation will facilitate a trial of next-generation 120 kilowatt hour mechanical flywheel storage system. In addition, we’re currently working through a Request for Solution process with four participating shortlisted vendors, for contracts to deploy more than 500,000 rooftop and ground-based solar arrays at 93 SA Water sites. Contracts are expected to be awarded in the next couple of months.
Q. What motivated SA Water to join SWAN and get involved in the SWAN Asia-Pacific (APAC) Alliance?
We see benefit in having access to an organised forum to share learnings with other water utilities in the region who have trialled, implemented or are considering smart network technologies and analytics. There will be increasing value in the SWAN Asia Pacific Alliance if it grows to include the wider Asia Pacific region and involve more of the large utilities in Australia that have been undertaking trials of these technologies.
Q. What advice do you have for rising professionals in the water sector?
Take every opportunity you can to gain experience in as many areas as possible. It will make you a more rounded professional and set you up with the skills to be able to look at challenges and opportunities from multiple perspectives. In the same vein, don’t set a career path too early. See where life takes you and take the time to find out what you love to do so you can thrive in our professional life.
I also encourage you to say “yes” more often. Everything you do and experience – positive or negative – is an opportunity to learn and expand your horizons. Lastly, don’t forget about who you’re doing all of this for – your customers, your community. Put them at front of mind and think about how you can work with them to achieve a better life.
Royal HaskoningDHV (RHDHV) is one of SWAN's newest members. A global consultancy, Royal HaskoningDHV is an innovative leader in the smart water space. Through its smart water products, Royal HaskoningDHV takes a real-time holistic approach to water management, by applying Big Data analytics, machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to fully optimise, integrate and automate the entire man-made water cycle. See the full interview below.
Q. Royal HaskoningDHV is one of the newest members of SWAN - can you share how you are engaged in the smart water industry?
With over 15 years of work analysing, predicting and controlling water and wastewater through our internal platforms, Royal HaskoningDHV has been engaged in smart water solutions long before it became a buzzword. We focus on prediction engines for optimal control of any part of the water cycle and are constantly introducing models dedicated to detecting and localising leaks or bursts, analysing and controlling wastewater transport, analysing and optimising wastewater treatment and holistic control of bioresource processing.
Q. As a large engineering consultancy, how do you adapt in such a quickly accelerating field?
It’s an ongoing challenge - we stay on top of the field by constantly expanding our knowledge network and working with relevant partners to add on to our existing services. This is done partly through our partnerships and strategic acquisitions such as that of the data science company Ynformed (specialising in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data algorithms) and through our investment as a minority shareholder in data intelligence lab HAL24K.
Most importantly, we adapt to a fast-changing world by close cooperation and dialogue with our clients. Their feedback helps us both better understand their challenges and needs as well as the market. Having an existing large user base amongst water utilities helps us build the close partnerships which are required to move quickly and ensure we offer a truly innovative and useful solution.
We also believe in fostering internal cross-field cooperation and innovation from within with company, as this allows us to bring new thinking and innovations from diverse markets and industries. Since we operate across several sectors (incl. industry and buildings, transport and planning, maritime and aviation), this really helps us keep on top of interesting innovations and developments which could be adapted to the water sector too. We have also formed active academic partnerships with universities, such as with TU Delft in the Netherlands.
Q. What do you think is the main challenge facing the water and wastewater industries today that data-driven solutions can address?
Data driven solutions can help across the entire water & wastewater industries; we don’t think machine learning and AI should be pigeon-holed to specific themes. In our view, it is important to allow digital analytics, control and optimisation to help provide input and novel solutions wherever they can provide benefit.
Q. As a global organisation, how different are the water sectors you work in and how do you share best regional practices?
Our global focus is on Smart Water Solutions and Flood Resilience in Urban Areas and offer other services based on local demand. There is certainly a demand for these services at a local level and at the same time we definitely see different priorities in different parts of the world. These may be triggered by a variety of macro factors. For example, South Korea has a very mountainous topography and a high density population so space is at a premium. They are now building wastewater systems underground and considering our Nereda Wastewater system which has a small footprint. However, all parts of the water sector share similar goals of ensuring efficient management of a scarce resource and ensuring all wastewater is treated to the best possible standard.
We share best practices by ensuring good internal communications using a wide variety of virtual communication tools to ensure we reach everyone in our global team from Europe to Africa to Asia and the Americas. We rely heavily on internal social platforms as well as traditional communication tools such as (digital) newsletters, virtual meetings and email. This helps us generate dialogue between professionals located all over the world and provide everybody with the opportunity to cooperate easily, sharing best practises and knowledge across several fields of business. We also have specialised global teams that work with local teams to promote and encourage take up of smart water projects.
Q: Can you share some advice for rising professionals entering the industry?
The water industry is an interesting and innovative place to work – it can, however, take a while to understand the intricacies of the sector. My advice would be to take time to listen, learn and understand as much as possible and even then never really expect to know everything! There are great industry bodies, such as SWAN, where people take time to share experience and understanding. These are great platforms to learn more about the industry and build a good network of friends, colleagues and suppliers who can help meet future challenges. I would always advise rising professionals to keep an open mind and be open to new ideas and innovation; only with change and innovation can we meet the challenges of the future and enhance society together.
In a reboot of the SWAN interview series, we spoke with Mike Lunn, Utilities Director at the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was one of the first US utilities to join SWAN. Mike remarked, "Joining SWAN is an opportunity to expand our reach, share our knowledge, and stay on the forefront of the future of the water industry." See the full interview below.
Q: How did you learn about SWAN and why did you decide to join?
We learned about SWAN from our partnership with South Bend, Indiana based company EmNet. We’re working with EmNet to create a smart watershed platform as part of our effort to improve the quality of life in Grand Rapids. Traditionally, our work culture drives us towards emerging technologies but we haven’t always been great at telling our story. As we challenge ourselves to be better at that, we’ve increased our visibility by meeting leading utility innovators, developing new relationships, networking with our peers, and being involved with leaders in the smart water sector, like the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Water Research Foundation. Joining SWAN is an opportunity to expand our reach, share our knowledge, and stay on the forefront of the future of the water industry.
Q: How do you see the state of new data technologies in the NA water industry?
Just as with the growth of technology across all sectors, the water industry is seeing the use of technology move our work forward in new and exciting ways. New technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things) allow us to manage water systems more efficiently, something that is very important as a municipal utility, in a city determined to give our residents not only the best quality of life, but also balance our investments with affordability and return on that investment. Integrating data from multiple platforms and sharing information openly is expected from our community. Just as with other government development, keeping regulations moving along with the growth of technology can be a challenge and will need focus going forward.
Q: Are there specific local challenges that data solutions are helping you address more effectively today?
The City of Grand Rapids considers itself “right-size,” meaning we are nimble in our launch of new technology or advancing ideas. An example of a public-private partnership in new technology we are currently working on is a low-cost air quality sensors currently being deployed across the city. The sensors will monitor things like PM2.5 and ozone at a granular level across neighborhoods. The air quality sensors relay the data over a new LoRaWAN network and communicate with other air quality sensors to an online platform in an open-source format. These kinds of collaborations are what we feel sets Grand Rapids apart. There is always interest in our community to improve quality of life and we can bring everyone together to participate in these conversations - representatives from the City, major corporations, local minority interest groups, NGOs, economic development, and others all at the same table working together on improving our Grand Rapids.
Q: What are your expectations from an organisation like SWAN?
We’re excited to be part of the conversation that drives utilities forward! We pride ourselves on being innovative and challenging how things have been done historically. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the resources to pilot every idea we have. SWAN allows us to collaborate with other innovators and see case studies that can help us inform our decisions and allocate our resources to the best ideas. We are also excited to develop more partnerships and collaborations to advancing water quality.
Q: Tell us something that our members should know about your city.
Grand Rapids has become known for its beer industry, with more than 30 breweries within the city limits. In fact, we’ve held the title of “Beer City USA” for many years! This has meant a great deal to us as we help grow the city as a tourist destination. Great beer starts with great water but breweries can create large amounts of wastewater that must be treated. The large number of breweries in our city has forced us to increase our capacity and look for special opportunities. We formed a collaborative partnership with Grand Rapids based Founders Brewing, the 15th largest brewery in the country, to handle their aggressive growth and support their economic prosperity. Supporting their growing success, while maintaining water quality was an important goal. We needed to find solutions to handle capacity for their growing concentrated waste. Of course, doing so means more beer for everyone, and we have coined the term “Save the Ales!” as part of that effort. Being involved with the initiative from the American Water Works Association called “No Water, No Beer” has helped to bring awareness to how we can work collaboratively to handle this growing industry state and nationwide.
Q: What keeps you excited about working in water?
Every day we do something important for others. We take pride in our work because our work matters to everyone in the community. We are providing a quality of life improvement to all. How many people can say that?! Achieving this impact, surrounded by others with the same passion for their work, is a privilege. And being in Michigan, a state surrounded by lakes, we are all water people who love clean water. Our efforts mean that we, along with others, can enjoy the water for boating, swimming, fishing and more. Water matters, and our work matters.
Q: What recommendation do you have for rising professionals entering the industry?
As someone who has worked in the water industry for over 40 years, I can say that it’s easy to stay focused on meeting regulations and seeing things in terms of black or white. As my career progressed, my viewpoint shifted to be more forward-thinking and I try to see challenges in a broader way now, and from different viewpoints. In Grand Rapids, we look at decisions through the four pillars of sustainability and impact; governance, economic, environmental, and social.
My best advice to rising professionals: Boldly go where you need to in order to achieve what wish to accomplish. Immerse yourself in what we do, it’s a career, life’s calling, not a job. Read, do your homework, keep up with the latest trends in the industry, and never be afraid to ask people why something is done a certain way. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo and speak up! The wisdom from those who have been doing the work for decades, along with the new voices from this new generation, will help lead us into the future! We must change as an industry.
We recently met Save Water Save Money (SWSM) at the SWAN 2018 Conference in Barcelona and enjoyed discussing their innovations within the realm of water efficiency. This month, we are pleased to officially welcome them as one of SWAN’s newest members. With years of experience in the water industry and a holistic approach to encouraging water savings across water companies, businesses and consumers, SWSM is playing an instrumental role in realising a sustainable water future.
Q. What motivated you to work in the water sector?
Back in 2004, I decided to quit my marketing agency job to become a volunteer Backcountry Ranger in Olympic National Park, Washington State. My role required me to patrol a 17-mile coastal strip bordered by pristine rainforest, cutting trails, checking visitor passes and from time to time, conducting Search and Rescues for missing persons. I had to source my water for drinking, cooking and bathing from a river half-a-kilometre away from my tent. You really get to value water when you have to carry it across soft sand every day.
On my return to the UK, I saw there was a disconnect between Water Companies telling people to cut down on watering their gardens and leaving people to spend as long as they liked in the shower.
That’s what got me into water – along with a very understanding wife.
Q. One of the central themes of the recent SWAN 2018 Conference was the need for improved customer engagement. How does SWSM help water utilities better interact with their customers?
My conversations with Water Companies around the world tell me they’ve limited opportunities to actively engage customers – in a non-competitive industry, most customer engagement tends to be reactive and negative i.e. my bill is too high; there’s a leak outside my home, etc.
SWSM recognises that engagement isn’t about telling customers what to do; rather, it’s providing the tools to allow customers to find out for themselves – which leads to them placing greater value on what they discover.
Our aqKWa Savings Engine™ is a uniquely interactive, personalised online tool designed to help customers save water, energy and money. It takes no more than 5 minutes to complete a series of questions which customers tailor to their particular home. Then, through a single personalised portal, customers get to understand the value of water, which includes a series of simple, relevant actions to help them reduce their water consumption.
The real value of the aqKWa Savings Engine™ is in the data it provides on customer usage at a granular level. Conservation starts conversations that yield far richer information – on potential leaks, on energy savings and on opportunities to migrate customers to online bill payment. By digitally engaging utility customers with offers that help them see how to save water, energy and money, aqKWa closes the loop, making it easy for customers to access answers and solutions all in one single place. For example, we provide links from each personalised savings tip to relevant Water Company pages, service providers or even product pages, if desired.
Q. From your experience, are there any specific lessons you think can apply from the UK water market to the rest of the world?
Without giving away our trade secrets (!), there’s several lessons that spring to mind.
Our 11 years in the industry working with 90% of the UK’s Water Companies provides SWSM with a strong track record in water efficiency – and arguably the UK is one of the world leaders in this field, providing us with unrivalled expertise. It helps open doors.
However, we still require patience. Water Companies take time to consider adopting new, innovative approaches to customer engagement. What’s important is to listen to specific requirements, and to offer a sufficiently agile solution to enable Water Companies to receive a bespoke software product that meets their ambitions, delivers their values and looks the part for their customers.
Delivery is also key: it ensures we maintain solid long-term relations with all our Water Company partners. I’m proud of my dedicated team who continuously apply the very highest standards of project management to everything we do. In addition, software development is an extremely costly and complex field to be in, which is why we decided a couple of years ago to make a commitment to digitalising water efficiency by investing heavily in growing our own internal team of software developers. This provides us with the control to ensure we can deliver a flexible product when we say we will at the low cost that makes it universally acceptable. And importantly, that we believe whole-heartedly in the software product – as a company – to ensure every one of our staff buys into the focus, energy and individual commitment required to deliver a world-class product.
To summarise then, I’d say Patience, Legacy, Agility, Delivery and Belief are the most important lessons we are exporting from our experience in the UK.
Q. We all read about Cape Town this year and Los Angeles the year before - what do you see as the greatest need to invest in water efficiency?
Cape Town did a brilliant job to drastically reduce per capita consumption – I think the challenge will be in encouraging people to maintain this level of use over time.
For me the greatest opportunity to further water efficiency is for Water Companies to invest in providing customers with personalised water use targets, reinforced through direct online (and low cost) communication. This will enable water efficiency to be addressed on a relevant one-to-one basis, avoiding the need to publish broad-based heard-it-all-before messaging such as: ‘Take a shorter shower’ which I don’t believe resonates with many people.
Q: Why did SWSM join SWAN and what do you hope to achieve through the global network?
That’s simple: SWAN is about data-driven water management and SWSM provides additional data to support visibility and drive operational efficiencies. By providing this data to SWAN’s utility members and technology solution developers, we bring additional insights on the customer that can also help to automate processes. And where the regulatory framework permits, provide opportunities to grow ancillary revenue and services by better serving this customer.