Report May 2021

The Value of Smart Water During Crisis

In late 2020, the SWAN Americas Alliance surveyed 50 diverse water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities across 14 countries, about the value of smart water during crisis, both now and in the future.

LEAD AUTHORS

Eric Bindler, Bluefield Research

Bobbi Harris, Smart Water Smart City

CONTRIBUTORS

Steph Aldock, Bluefield Research | Susan Ancel, EPCOR | Roberto Aranda, Essbio | Melissa Ariss, RS&H | Shirley Ben-Dak, SWAN Forum | Reid Campbell, Halifax Water | Yvonne Carney, WSSC Water | Wagner Carvalho, AEGEA | Sandra Cooke, Canadian Water Network | Peter Diffley, Trihedral Engineering | Javier Fernández Delgado, Canal de Isabel II | Walter Graf, GHD | Orpaz Harush, Orpaz Art | Chris Hornback, NACWA | Andrew Lee, Seattle Public Utilities | Sielen Namdar, Cisco | Sebastián Otero, Essbio | Dr. Peter Prevos, Coliban Water | Aditya Ramamurthy, Kennedy Jenks | David Rubinstein, OptiRTC | Ketan Shah, Kennedy Jenks | Kelli Talbot, Bluefield Research | Ken Thompson, Jacobs | Saša Tomić, Burns & McDonnell | Katie Whittington, Rezatec | Gary Wong, AVEVA

Foreword

Ken Thompson, SWAN Council Chairman
Gary Wong, SWAN Americas Alliance Chairman


COVID-19 has been one of the most impactful events in recent history, challenging all aspects of society globally, and requiring a new paradigm in how business is conducted today and into the future. The SWAN survey provides some very insightful information on COVID-19 impacts and challenges facing utilities around the world, and illustrates new sources of value that smart water systems can provide.

One area that stood out was the need for digital transformation for the water workforce, as the majority of us shifted into a new virtual environment working at home. I remember the first virtual workshop with a client who had always conducted such meetings in person – the teams were challenged to create a new approach for interaction and information sharing, and it took a number of tries to be effective. This demonstrated to me the need for training and acceptance as we dive deeper into the digital world.

We have also seen the increased reliance on, and need for, operational data and remote monitoring, which are critical to sustaining operations safely and efficiently. These digital tools and technologies will continue to play a significant role in our drive for resilience, and our efforts to be ready for the next unknown.

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the water industry to rethink many of its established business practices and operating models, opening the door to innovative new methods and tools for maintaining network performance, ensuring business continuity, and serving customers and communities amid the crisis. In particular, utility operators around the world have increasingly turned to smart water technology – data-driven hardware and software systems which support water, wastewater, and stormwater management – to remain digitally connected to their colleagues, customers, and critical assets while maintaining physical distance.

Industry experts agree that the role of smart water has fundamentally changed during the pandemic – but how? How have utility operators around the world leveraged their data, devices, and software systems to help weather the crisis? How has the disruption caused by COVID-19 led utility managers to reconsider their smart water investment and implementation plans moving forward?

Most importantly, how will utilities apply the lessons learned during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to the other shocks and crises that they will undoubtedly face in the future, whether they be healthbased, security-related, financial, or environmental?

To answer these questions, the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) surveyed 50 utility workers from 40 diverse water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities across 14 countries, ranging in size from 15,000 to 11 million people served.

We suddenly realised we can work remotely for a big part of our operations, thanks to the smart water solutions we implemented before the COVID pandemic.

-Sebastián Otero, Network Manager, Essbio

WHERE ARE YOU ON YOUR SMART WATER JOURNEY?

SWAN Interactive Architecture Tool

A product of cross-industry collaboration, the SWAN Interactive Architecture Tool allows you to navigate through smart water solution diagrams according to your specific business drivers and challenge areas.

DISCOVER THE TOOL

UTILITY COMFORT LEVEL WITH DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY BEFORE & AFTER COVID-19

UTILITY COMFORT LEVEL WITH DIGITAL  TECHNOLOGY BEFORE & AFTER COVID-19

Collectively, these responses provide important insights into the value of smart water during crisis, both now and in the future.

Smart water technology has been a valuable tool in utilities’ toolkit during COVID-19.

With lockdowns and social distancing measures in place throughout the world and utility staff working from home in unprecedented numbers, it is of little surprise that smart water technology helped utility operators maintain critical systems and services. More than two-thirds of survey participants said that smart water technology has played at least a “moderate” role in their utilities’ COVID-19 response efforts, with more than 40% indicating that smart water plays a “significant” or “essential” role.

The pandemic has changed how utilities think about smart water, perhaps permanently.

Survey participants indicated that their colleagues’ comfort with digital systems increased by, on average, a full point on a five point scale, in just a few short months after the onset of COVID-19. This increased comfort is expected to translate into an acceleration of smart water adoption with more than three-quarters of participants indicating that their utility had either increased investment, or plans to, in at least one digital technology as a direct result of COVID-19.

The benefits of smart water are clearer than ever – but significant obstacles remain.

Survey participants highlighted a number of key benefits driving their utilities’ post COVID smart water investment plans, reflecting the lessons they’ve learned about the value of digital technology as a result. Foremost among them include the ability of smart water tools to support continuity of critical operations, ensure worker safety, and achieve cost savings and optimisation – particularly important given the financial impact that the pandemic has had on utilities around the world.

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