Digitalisation, a smarter approach to water management?
20 March 2020
Vice President, International Water Association
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How is technology shaping the water industry?
It is completely changing how many processes are viewed. It will even influence how services are managed in the future. Today, with the virus crisis technology is already helping smart utilities to manage a great deal of things remotely, thus protecting the health of their employees.
What are the potential barriers to implementing digitalisation?
There are several. Some of them are cultural barriers, as the management culture needs to shift. Others are size barriers, as smaller utilities will have problems to implement the same solutions as the big utilities. Finally, financial barriers may prevent utilities in poorer countries to have access to the same technology and solutions, although I believe that digitalisation will democratise how services are provided, leveling the play field. Finally, we need to keep a system’s perspective in mind, avoiding creating silos with the use of individual tools and technologies that do not talk to each other.
What solutions can we implement to overcome these challenges?
One size does not fit all, and solutions need to be developed and tailored for developing environments and for smaller and rural utilities. We also need communication and training so the water professionals can transition to the digital world. I am sure that IWA will play a crucial role narrowing that gap.
Are we able to implement this digitisation within the water industry in every country?
E.g. the differences of implementation depending on stages of development?
Yes, we are. We just need to think about digitalisation as a very powerful tool that needs to take into account individual needs. Once we understand what is needed, solutions should be selected according to those needs.
What are the uncertainties within technology and digitisation and how can we overcome these?
There are great expectations on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and I do not think we can see where that path will take us. I hope it will take us very far. At the same time, I think that security and reliability are issues that need to remain at the forefront of the discussion, since a greater dependence on digital tools and automation will also increment the consequences of security breach or a system malfunction, and we need to remember to develop very secure and reliable systems.