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The Vital Role of Water Consultants in the Smart Water Arena

The water sector is going through a period of change due to population growth in big cities and possible population decrease in rural areas, creating new challenges for water supply. Moreover, the growing need for the renovation of water networks and possible new plant investments calls for thorough planning. Digitalisation brings new possibilities for managing the water utilities more efficiently and resiliently, but at the same time new cybersecurity concerns emerge.  ATi UK’s Executive Director, Garry Tabor, discusses the vital role Water Consultants are playing within the smart water arena.

The water sector is evolving fast due to the speed of digital technology development and smart water is now a reality for most water companies across the globe.

In an effort to improve regulatory compliance and meet the challenges of the increased customer awareness of water’s commoditised value, along with a strong perception of what constitutes acceptability, many water companies are now busily drawing up ambitious plans.

During the past four years, the industry has projected this message through a new acronym, T.E.A.M, which stands for “together everyone achieves more”, or more commonly referred to as collaboration. It is well known that innovation is created through the collaboration of supply chain technologies coming together to develop new, superior solutions.  Collaboration has the power to spark innovation, with each strategic partner bringing a unique skill-set and knowledge.  Embracing these differences and the benefits that each technology supplier brings gives birth to new ideas through the blending of unique viewpoints.

Many technology providers within the supply chain are both open-minded and eager to collaborate in providing customers with smart solutions, however, we first need to know what it is the customers wants and this is the vital role that water consultants play.  By offering technical knowledge and in-depth understanding of operations, strategies and business environment of water utilities, consultants can provide the water sector with much-needed, long-term strategic, economic & financial planning, whilst also anticipating and preparing for changes in the operational environment.

A good water consultant begins the process by working closely with water companies to understand their business environment and the needs of their customers, establishing both what the problem is and the outcome they would like to achieve. Only then can they look at the business holistically and draw up the flight path to achieve a unified solution that delivers the operational objective to improve compliance, as well as delivering class leading customer service and shareholder value. By harnessing the collective skills and ingenuity of each stake holder, water consultants forge delivery models that provide end-to-end service and support.

Starting with the customer’s objectives and vision, consultants produce a GAP analysis and build a plan for a fully functioning smart water solution, identifying the different technologies needed, how to deploy them correctly, deliver the right data and most importantly, offer the true data insights. By maximising the long-term value of the utility’s infrastructure, it increases resilience and improves service delivery for their customers, reducing risk, optimising maintenance expenditure and improving the performance of water assets.

The recent article in the latest edition of the Institute of Water magazine by Stantec’s Water Consultant, Damian Crawford, who is working with Yorkshire Water on the UK’s largest and most extensive smart water project,  demonstrates perfectly how this is currently being done. Damian has brought together 17 strategic partners in the digital water space to further improve the essential water supply to Sheffield, using the latest cutting edge technologies, integrating data from multiple new and existing sources to provide a virtual model of the physical assets across the network, also known as a digital twin. Francis Rainey at Jacobs is another example of a Water Consultant who recently wrote an interesting LinkedIn post about the importance of sharing insights and innovations on digital transformation.  Francis successfully works with a number of visionary, forward thinking water companies to develop cross-technology partnerships, offering utilities prescriptive packages that are 80% off the shelf, based on tried and tested solutions, yet allows the opportunity for the final 20% to be a more bespoke design to best fit their exact needs.  This expert level of project management can only be achieved by experienced and proactive water consultants and both Francis and Damian stand tall in this field.

As part of this ongoing shift from traditional to smart water networks, the industry must now continue working as a T.E.A.M and utilise the expertise of water consultants to manage and collate the different technology layers of the networks.  To achieve true smart water networks, and smart cities of the future, the water sector should aim for a significant drive in multi-technology, innovative solutions. 

If water companies work closely with consultants and supply chain partners to apply trusted technologies in a unified way, we can achieve a fully collaborative innovation where utilities will gain insight on how to prescribe a solution to the challenges they face. By doing this, the industry might finally achieve a complete totex solution.

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