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.