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Freddie Guerra, North American Digital Water Lead – GHD
GHD recognises and understands the world is constantly changing. We are committed to solving the world’s biggest challenges in the areas of water, energy and urbanisation. We are a global professional services company that leads though engineering and architectural skills and experience. Our forward-looking, innovative approaches connect and sustain communities around the world. Delivering extraordinary social and economic outcomes, we are focused on building lasting relationships with our partners and clients.
Established in 1928, we remain wholly owned by our people. We are 10,000+ diverse and skilled individuals connected by over 200 offices, across five continents – Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America, and the Pacific region.
GHD is focused on the nexus of innovation and technology within the water sector. How do you help utilities shift their mindset from “doing digital” to “being digital”?
There are two types of digital attitudes for organisations – “doing digital” or “being digital.” “Doing digital” describes companies that leverage technologies to enhance their capabilities or address issues while still relying on legacy operating models.
In contrast, “being digital” describes those that have shifted customer, employee and asset models into a new reality. A reality where agility is the new norm, technology and data are the enablers, human experience is the focus, and certainty of value is the outcome.
GHD is empowering and building capability within organisations to allow them to solve problems today, tomorrow, and beyond, and achieve their missions. We’re helping organisations implement digital functions so that they can do things faster, cheaper, and better while also reimagining the way they work, operate, plan, and more.
Utility digital transformation is driven by technological advances, heightened environmental awareness and evolving customer expectations such as affordability and equity. What are the key challenges to realise digital opportunities to foster this transformation?
True digital transformation is more than the implementation of new technologies – it requires an overhaul of organisational structures, governance, work processes, culture and mindset.
We also need to be prepared to address the challenges associated with digitisation:
There needs to be collaboration to figure out exactly how to scale up new processes enabled by digital technology. How are we going to capture, store and share valuable data across our system? Machine learning and artificial intelligence will play an integral role in this. We need to think about how to implement end-to-end processes from smart capital to intelligent operations.
Along with technology, it is essential we do our due diligence and phase in the right IT systems to support the switch to digital. It is imperative to have a planned transition strategy because being digital requires an overhaul of organisational structures and distributing new roles across existing staff to support the new technologies. By addressing these challenges, utilities will better understand their customers and deliver improved outcomes, provide services more effectively and efficiently, find new solutions for challenges, find new sources of revenue, and more.
As an experienced strategist in the water sector, what critical areas must utilities consider if they are to deliver on a 21st century mission?
In the past, the core mission of utilities like water, was to protect public health and provide quality water service. However, in a world that has been shaped by pandemics, extreme weather, and economic disruptions, today’s customers are expecting more from their water suppliers.
Digitisation is helping meet the demands of 21st-century consumers in several ways. Through elevating the customer experience, generating more public value and expanding citizen security, utilities are creating tools to encourage greater collaboration and participation by consumers, all while safeguarding and protecting them. Utilities must be prepared to protect their customers from a wide range of threats or risk losing trust. Active defense strategies and advanced threat intelligence that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) provide a basis for withstanding more sophisticated attack methods.
Utilities must also create the future workforce. Utilities need to augment their employees’ skills and capabilities to drive greater efficiencies, elevate customer focus while strengthening inclusion and diversity. In a competitive labour market, the public sector has not always been the first employer of choice for top talent. As utilities gradually build a more dynamic work environment, they will need to consider options to attract younger workers and millennials who are in search of purpose-led roles where they make a difference to society. Organisations ought to do more to attract, retain and develop people with the required skill sets across a wide range of areas.
Lastly, by developing smarter infrastructure, utilities can harness the latest technologies to maximise value and efficiency while creating resilience and sustainability. By taking on this outlook, companies will begin to apply digital technologies, such as smart devices, sensors, and software, to physical structures like pump stations or water treatment plants. These intelligent applications result in more efficient and effective monitoring and greater control of water and wastewater systems.
Please share your outlook on the value of intelligent asset management in the smart water world.
Utilities should consider leaving traditional asset management behind and developing a holistic strategy with robust data governance and cybersecurity at its core. Previously, infrastructure was managed based on historical snapshots from condition assessments. Digitising assets allows for the proliferation of smart devices and enables utilities to manage assets intelligently through real-time data and insights.
GHD’s intelligent asset management enables utilities to manage assets with near real-time data and insights vs. managing assets based on historical snapshots from condition assessments. These smart devices link data with communications technologies, then use analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to inform utilities about “what is going on,” “what may happen,” and if something does occur, “what to do.”
Intelligent asset management advances new ways to manage assets in near real-time while boosting operational efficiencies, saving costs, increasing asset life expectancy, improving reliability, and enhancing safety. This approach is the foundation for a smart water utility.
Carmen de Miguel, Strategic Marketing Manager, Water & Wastewater Segment – Schneider Electric
The purpose of Schneider Electric is to empower all to make the most of our energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability for all and acting as your digital partner for Sustainability and Efficiency.
We drive digital transformation by integrating world-leading process and energy technologies, end-point to cloud connecting products, controls, software and services, across the entire lifecycle, enabling integrated company management, for homes, buildings, data centers, infrastructure and industries.
As a founding member of SWAN, what do you see as SE’s role in advancing the smart water/wastewater industry?
Schneider Electric holds innovation in its DNA and sustainability at the core. When we co-founded SWAN back in 2010, we had the vision that technology was the way for the water industry to address its present and future challenges, and now more than ever we believe that the future for sustainable and resilient water is digital. We work with our customers and our partners to drive digital transformation towards decarbonisation, electrification, efficiency, and circularity in water. Our approach is focused on combining energy and process to decarbonise water infrastructures, enabling end-to-end asset management and optimised operations through our simulation-based digital platform and services, and achieving full management of water resources by unified operations solutions.
What was the motivation for SE’s new joint venture with SUEZ and how will this impact the water sector?
The motivation for the JV creation was to provide complementary expertise, strengthen agility and leadership in this fast-growing digital water market. This was communicated in March 2021 by executives of both companies:
Diane Galbe, SUEZ Group SEVP, Smart & Environmental Solutions global Business Unit and Strategy: “The creation of this joint venture is fully in line with the SUEZ 2030 strategic plan which aims to use cutting-edge technologies in order to offer all of our customers’ digital solutions that are 100% sustainable in terms of their impact on health, quality of life, environment, and climate.
Peter Herweck, EVP Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric: “…we are creating new solutions and services to empower our customers with actionable information to manage their process and assets more efficiently. With this joint venture, we look forward to becoming the digital partner of water cycle players, enabling them to reach true resiliency and sustainability.”
SE has received several ‘Sustainability’ accolades, including recently being listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). How does this influence your work, especially in emerging markets?
Being recognised as a world leader and trusted advisor in sustainability is a tremendous honour that makes all of us in Schneider Electric proud and even more committed to our job, since we have a clear purpose and we see a positive impact in what we do. Water is right at the centre of sustainability and having worked in the water industry for 25 years gives me some perspective about the role of our sector in life and environment preservation, as well as in the economic and social development. I am truly passionate about my job and about the opportunities that technology brings to improve the way water is managed. Since my role is globally positioned, I get the chance to see the impact in emerging economies, and how technology paves the way for the sustainable development of cities and communities. That makes me proud of our customers and my SE colleagues.
Looking back over your career in the water sector, what is the most important piece of advice you received and how can young professionals apply it today as they begin their career journey?
There are several of them from different people. If I had to pick one, it would be what my younger sister told me when I had to decide about a quite challenging job opportunity at the beginning of my career: “Whatever you decide, do not look back and rethink since you will always find reason to regret, just make your decision and go ahead”. This is applicable to all facets of life and I recognise I have followed that advice and never regretted a decision. Lastly, I would like to dedicate another one to young professionals, who are the future of our industry. The phrase is not mine, but I entirely subscribe to it: The future belongs to those who prepare for it!
Mason Throneburg, CEO & Co-Founder – Confluency
Confluency is a leading water startup that helps teams harness the full capabilities of simulation models through the integration of advanced data analytics, and deep insights of engineers and operators, to make better decisions. They collaborate with utilities and consulting firms to develop a clearer understanding of the water system and develop tailored strategies for utility digital transformation. Confluency sees an important gap in the digital water space, integrating insights from simulation models together with machine learning to support decisions across a range of timescales – operational, planning, and strategic. Confluency is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the SBIR program to develop AI solutions for water.
In working closely with utilities to integrate traditional modelling tools with analytics, how different have your approaches been based on where they are in their digital transformation journey?
Every utility is at a slightly different place in their digital transformation journey, responding to slightly different pressures and priorities – so we start by focusing on their desired outcomes and the technical capabilities and resources available. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to digital transformation. We specifically focus on value that comes from combining simulation-based models which provide “what-if” insights, together with data-driven machine learning models – but the customer needs to drive the technical approach, not vice versa. For instance, if it’s related to water distribution, the approach we take depends on the engineering models they are currently using, the data that is available, and their planning or operational goals. The utility’s digital transformation maturity and priorities also helps us determine how to help propel transformative solutions.
SWAN is all about collaboration. How do you partner with engineering firms and solution providers in delivering more holistic value to utility customers?
Confluency really values the importance of partnerships and collaboration. Being a small solution provider with an extensive consultancy background, we see how digital transformation transcends system boundaries and involves integrating people and expertise from different backgrounds. Our solutions embed various components like simulation, automation, analytics, sensors and metering, and engineering services, which naturally involves multiple stakeholders. Integrating these multiple perspectives and priorities is one of the biggest challenges – and we believe that better tools and at-a-glance insights can facilitate that alignment. One thing we emphasise is to not go for a one-and-done approach with our partners, but rather always look forward to collaborating beyond a single project or a process.
While working on operationalising a utility’s model, what are steps you take to account for the varying SCADA generations and compatibilities?
Yes, SCADA operations and accessibility are some areas that get tricky. One advantage of our hybrid simulation and data-driven approach is that we often begin to explore solution benefits in an offline context, where managing data privacy is important but security risks are reduced. This helps to establish a business-case and generate buy-in; we then incorporate real-time data to use the model to provide operational insight. Data from monitoring providers can often be accessed directly through their APIs. Accessing the SCADA data involves managing cybersecurity risk; we build security in at the base layer of our software – and we also reduce risk because our solution is advisory guidance, and so does require write-access to the system. This is also an area where partners with a deeper expertise with SCADA systems and network security can help with data acquisition and managing network security protocols.
As a solution provider, how would you address the counterargument that digital transformation is costly and runs people out of their jobs?
That is a question we come across often. Our belief is that software should augment the capabilities of engineers and operators, not replace them. The people who have worked with a system for 5, 10, 20 years have tremendous knowledge in their brains; we want to capture that knowledge in simulation and machine learning models to make it more systematically and broadly available. The great thing is, this then frees up time for the higher-value work that people are better at than machines. Regarding cost, we strongly believe that solutions need to be affordable – and that the costs need to make sense compared to the value provided. We are focused on developing a scalable platform that can be customised, enabling a utility to bring on additional functionality incrementally as the business case is established. In the medium to long term, improved operational efficiency and increased integration with planning objectives lead to improved system management and overall cost reductions.
Any words of advice for young professionals passionate about water and analytics on how they prepare themselves (ex. software development upskilling) to enter the workforce of solution providers like yourself?
The first piece of advice is to raise your hand and put your interests out there – I think all companies in the SWAN forum are looking for motivated talent to help deliver greater value from data, models, and automation. Once you know what you want, you may also need to invest in yourself. Go that extra mile to upskill, even if it requires some evenings or weekends – these skills will open up lots of opportunities for the rest of your career. I’d suggest young engineers spend time in the water workforce and master a particular technical domain (e.g. hydraulic modeling, treatment processes, etc.), so they really deeply understand the problems the industry is trying to solve. Lastly, look for opportunities to improve software development skills by participating in open-source projects, where you can obtain great feedback and further develop your network.
Carlos Tejedor, Instrumentation & Smart Metering Specialist – Idrica
With more than a decade of experience, Idrica is leading the way in digital transformation for the water industry. Idrica’s goal is to help water utilities navigate their digital journey, and unlock the potential from their distributed data. By providing services and technological solutions for the entire water cycle management, Idrica supports their clients in the areas of management, operations and maintenance, engineering, and consultancy.
Smart Metering has become an increasingly popular topic in the smart water sector. Why do you think it has gained popularity and what are some of the benefits it provides?
Many people view water as an unlimited and free resource, as something inexhaustible. In recent decades, there has been a paradigm shift where scarcity is increasingly present across the planet. All organisations and utilities are now aware of this serious problem, and many are interested in any mechanism that offers solutions. Traditional systems have reached their efficiency ceiling and it is in this scenario where technology is the best ally for innovation.
Specifically, in the field of micro-metering, there has been a conceptual change in the vision of meters, from being mere sensors to becoming an element that generates very valuable data-points and information. At Idrica, this has allowed us to develop new value-added services that bring significant benefits to our clients. They have enabled us to better analyse what we were already measuring, but also to develop new metrics.
- Tangible benefits: smart metering directly impacts water efficiency through the reduction of apparent or commercial losses, but we are now able to measure its cross-cutting impact on other business processes as well.
- Intangible benefits: some of the new algorithms allow us to offer tools for service improvement or to support vulnerable social groups.
The sum of all these benefits provides a more favourable ROI for our clients, fostering a growing interest within the whole sector. In short, we can now make better decisions to improve efficiency in water management.
How can utilities incorporate all these variables and new considerations into a Smart Metering strategy?
Digital transformation is no longer an option, it is a must. It is the only valid way to meet the increasingly demanding challenges of the industry. It is important to understand that a smart metering strategy is possible, and that it can be done.
At Idrica we are dedicated to help utilities assess their digital maturity level and to develop a digitisation strategy based on their needs. We work with water utilities in the design and implementation phases of smart metering systems and deploy agnostic digital platforms for their management and advanced algorithms. In Spain, we have already helped deploy and manage a fleet of more than 700,000 smart meters, under a single platform. We can achieve this by combining experience with the necessary tools and infrastructure.
What tools are needed to carry out this analysis?
It has always been clear to us that if data is not converted into information, it becomes useless. Approximately 90% of companies collect data from their sensors and business processes, but only 10% recognise that they use it to improve their decision-making. With this in mind, we have developed GoAigua, an agnostic platform capable of ingesting data from any source and in any format by running AI and ML based algorithms to transform data and information into business intelligence.
Idrica recently shared a case study on the deployment of 4,000 Smart Meters and the benefits driven by smart water decisions. Can you share how your partnership with the municipality of Gandia and with telecom company Vodafone enabled these results?
Our partnership with Gandía, the first smart city with NBIoT, is an example of Idrica’s commitment to cutting-edge technology. In fact, the first global communication test was done from one of our water meters. As part of the city’s digital transformation, we were able to detect 300 frauds each month, which resulted in savings of 5000m3 unbilled water in households. We have improved network efficiency by 35% with over 200 customer leaks reported each month. This also resulted in a 60% reduction in bill complaints over the past 5 years, indicating an improvement in customer satisfaction. From an operational standpoint, Idrica also saw 70% savings in system implementation costs or 15% energy savings in operation, and a 45% improvement in the efficiency of field equipment management. Achieving these milestones requires the commitment of all stakeholders and helps Idrica position itself as a leader in the industry.
How can organisations in the water sector attract young professionals to join these exciting digitalisation efforts?
As with water, the workforce paradigm is also evolving. Young professionals want to be part of projects with social commitment, with a collaborative internal strategy and in which they feel that their opinion counts. The digital transformation of the water sector meets all these requirements. This implies that it is possible to develop strategies for attracting and retaining talent.
We must offer goals and objectives that motivate their personal and professional development, where continuous learning and improvement are one of the main attractions. At Idrica we are aware of this and all our projects are based on our motto: Smart Water for a Better World.
Quinn Elliott-Jackson, Senior Director Business Development – Olea Edge Analytics
Your extensive career in the water industry spanned both the municipal and commercial sectors. Can you share how your professional development at the City of Atlanta helped shape your perspective working as a solution provider?
My experience with the City of Atlanta was very enriching because I had the opportunity to serve in many capacities. While collaboration across city departments was paramount, at times communication and information could be siloed. So, it became important to analyse data for interdependencies. The cornerstone of my professional development with the City of Atlanta was to listen, synthesise the information, and make good decisions for the city, employees, and customers. As I transitioned into the role of a solution provider, the same holds true as I work to meet the needs of the client and help resolve challenges and enhance the utility.
What is the value of partnerships in the water sector? Why is this important?
The water sector is faced with many challenges from infrastructure needs, resource constraints, to water scarcity all while making sure citizens have access to safe and affordable drinking water. This is no easy task and developing partnerships can help utilities innovate for the many issues faced daily. Think about the utilities that are partnering with local technical schools to train people to fill open positions; or perhaps a solutions provider partnering with an innovation team to bring new technology to the utility. The key is to build and develop the relationships that enable dialogue and confidence that most solid partnerships are built upon. The best scenario is where the utility and the solution provider are partnering to enhance outcomes for both the utility and its customers.
You joined Olea Edge in March 2020 at the start of the global pandemic. What are some industry trends that you have seen since you started in this new role?
Utilities had to pivot quickly and adapt to managing people, processes, and infrastructure remotely and in a more automated way. With uncertainty surrounding revenue stability given the pandemic, cities and utilities had to re-evaluate how they prioritised projects and initiatives. Initiatives such as smart cities and smart metering became even more important because of the need to leverage technology for several reasons. There also was an impact on the workforce in the water industry with people leaving roles for various reasons (illness, retirement, burnout, etc.). Solution providers have enabled utilities to mitigate some effects of the global pandemic. For example, Olea has been able to help utilities by continuously monitoring large meter assets and providing actionable data allowing utilities to make better decisions with constrained resources and have a mechanism to address revenue recovery.
What should a utility consider when starting a smart metering or meter accuracy program? Can you highlight the advantages and disadvantages?
The exciting thing is that the benefits of a “meter accuracy” solution will most likely extend far beyond accurate meter readings. For example, when there is data to verify that large, industrial meters are registering consumption accurately, customers have more trust in utilities and can also find ways to conserve water. In addition, when a utility’s largest consumers are accurately billed, we are seeing that they have more revenue to allocate to other programs or projects. There will be more ways to make utilities more resilient both financially and operationally. Like any other program or project, it’s important to know how to make a meter accuracy program work for specific utilities. For example, does a utility have more residential meters, how fast is your area growing, and is the area subject to drought or flooding, what type of meters do you have in your meter population? Extracting the most value from your program may mean integrating more than one solution, and prioritising based on your objectives and return on investment. Truly smart metering and/or meter accuracy programs are early in their development cycles. The good news is that utilities and city leaders can still work collaboratively with solution providers to solve issues that are at the top of their priority lists.
Finally, you have mentioned your interest in the water workforce development. What is your advice for young professionals hoping to start and grow their career in water?
Water is extremely valuable and is going to be the resource most affected by climate change. Careers in water are going to be critical to the quality of life for everyone. The water industry is very dynamic and can offer rewarding experiences. My advice for young professionals is to think about your interests and start applying for openings in the industry. There is such opportunity for movement and growth. The water industry has many paths to follow or cross into from plant operations, finance, customer service, to engineering. There are so many possibilities for career success in the industry and having mentors to help guide and grow your career is very important.
Kelvin Hurdle, Industry Manager Water/WW – Rockwell Automation
Rockwell Automation is a Global Leader in Industrial Automation with an overall mission is to improve the quality of life by making the world more productive and sustainable. Rockwell integrates control and information in a way that brings the Connected Enterprise to everyday Life. One of the industries that Rockwell is focused on is the Water/Wastewater industry. In line with the overall company theme of Connected Enterprise, they look to provide smart water solutions that accelerate the digital transformation of utilities and help them become integrated into connected, smart cities to support the sustainable use of water.
What drives the need for smart, data-driven initiatives in the water and wastewater markets?
There are many factors driving digital transformation in public water utilities. Those include population growth and movement that is adding pressure to meet increasing demand with existing assets; changing weather patterns and climate that is testing the resiliency of water systems; increased regulation making it challenging to monitor and meet reporting requirements in a timely manner; ageing infrastructure – the expected longevity for equipment operating in water and wastewater treatment plants is 10-20 years, and many of those systems are approaching end of life; and finally, the loss of institutional knowledge as nearly 1/3 of American water utility employees will be eligible to retire (as reported by the US EPA).
Many of these same issues are driving digital initiatives in private and industrial water and wastewater treatment providers, but their motivation is also driven out of necessity to increase operational efficiency and profitability.
What’s interesting is we see accelerated investments across hardware, software, and services, with software seeing the most dramatic increase. Many utility services including customer service, maintenance, and operations are supported by offerings that are delivered using SaaS models versus capital expenses, which also shift the annual budgets which were traditionally heavy with large capital investments but are now moving towards more balanced capital & operational expense budgets.
As the IoT proliferates into industrial environments, including public utilities like water and energy, cyberthreats are a major concern. Why should water utilities take cyberthreats seriously?
Cyberthreats are a global concern and not an exclusive issue for W/WW, but here in the US we’ve recently seen critical infrastructure, including water come under attack from cyber threats. A recent example is the February 2021 Oldsmar, Florida water treatment cyberattack. As assets in the utility plant become connected, digital assets, it is imperative they are protected.
For water utilities there is threat for legacy systems, unpatched infrastructure, and a lack of skilled resources to properly manage cyber risk. The adversaries know these environments have many vulnerabilities and if attacked this can mean major consequences.
Rockwell has responded to these threats by offering Network services and aligning ourselves with strategic technology partnerships with industry leaders such as Claroty and SWAN Member Cisco to offer solutions to customers that provide a proactive approach to cybersecurity that goes beyond waiting to be the next company to be the victim of a cybersecurity attack.
Rockwell Automation is active in an array of projects and cross-sectoral industries. How is Rockwell addressing sustainability?
We believe sustainability should be focused on three things – a sustainable company, sustainable customers, and sustainable communities. We refer to this as our Net Zero vision. Our path to achieving this is by helping accelerate decarbonisation, digitisation and electrification for future generations.
In the focus area of customer sustainability, we are working with our customers to reduce energy, water, and materials usage. Two examples are increasing water reuse and material recycling.
As the water industry adopts new technologies to make operations smarter, what key areas and skills do you recommend for young professionals to develop and learn?
With the increased amounts of data being produced from intelligent devices, there is a shift in the need for young professionals to be able to make sense of all the data and to utilise it. There will be value in enabling the use of real-time, contextualised data for improved ability to predict, detect, and respond to system upsets. We will all benefit from young professionals acting as “citizen data scientists” that can also specialise in security.
Young professionals can also gain value from participating in the SWAN Forum’s activities, such as Tara Norton, W/WW Industry Program Manager at Rockwell who is active in the SWAN Americas Alliance and is obtaining access to the professionals developing the technology that is being leveraged to realise smarter, more secure, and more sustainable water infrastructure.