What is a Smart Water Network?

Smart water solutions improve the use of a utility’s physical assets by better measuring and acting upon network events.


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The Smart Water Architecture
The Smart Water Journey
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A Layered View

Smart water solutions improve the efficiency, longevity, and reliability of a utility’s underlying physical assets by better measuring, collecting, analysing, and acting upon a wide range of network events. This impacts all aspects of a utility, including daily operations, maintenance, and network planning. With such knowledge, utilities can accurately set goals, plan investments, and address challenges like leakage, energy efficiency, regulatory compliance, or customer service.

A Smart Water Network can be defined as:

A fully integrated set of data-driven components and solutions which allow water utilities to optimise all aspects of their water distribution, wastewater collection, and treatment system.

When describing Smart Water Networks, it is useful to separate its various technology components into layers. Thus in 2010, SWAN developed the “SWAN 5 Layer Model,” which is now commonly cited around the world. A utility’s overall network can become more intelligent by adopting the proper technology components from each layer.

“Physical Assets” include pipes, pumps, valves, reservoirs, and other delivery endpoint components.

“Sensing and Control” contains equipment and meter components which measure different parameters such as flow, pressure, noise, and water quality, as well as remote-controlled devices such as remote-controlled pumps and pressure-reducing valves (PRV’s). This layer connects the intelligence of the Smart Water Network to the physical network.

“Collection and Communication” features technologies responsible for storage and transmission of information. The main task of these technologies is to collect information from remote locations and send it to the upper layers where it is analysed and processed. By using two-way communication channels, commands are then given back to the second layer to instruct sensors and actuators about which data to collect or which actions to execute. For example, a fixed cable network, radio, cellular, Wi-Fi, and other communication technologies related to data transfer are all part of this layer.

“Data Management and Display” enables utilities to aggregate and process collected data into information and then interface it for a human operator via a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, geographic information system (GIS), or other network visualisation tools. This layer also interfaces with cyber security systems and business-function support tools such as work order management and customer information systems.

“Data Fusion and Analysis” provides tools that integrate data analytics and modeling software, leveraging communication channels and sensing devices within the network. As a result, utilities may conduct network management tasks remotely and automatically including online water quality monitoring, automated leak detection, pump optimisation, and more. Solutions in this layer can further utilise machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and Digital Twin capabilities to help operators assess the potential impact of network changes, respond to them in real-time, and consider likely what-if scenarios.


The Smart Water Journey

Expanding upon the 5-Layer Model, SWAN introduced a New Circular Framework in 2021, emphasising the human element in smart water, from how operators interact and engage with proposed smart water solutions through to increased data transparency made more accessible to customers. The model further supports viewing smart water from a sustainability lens and how it drives value for the organisation undertaking the smart water and digital transformation process.

The SWAN layers have been a core part of Anglian Water’s smart journey for a number of years, enabling clear communication and understanding of what smart is at all levels of the business. The new circular model will enable organisations to focus not only on the technology aspect of Smart Water, but the people and processes that interact with the technology enabling full alignment to the outcomes required and ultimately the goals and purpose of the organisation.

– Andy Smith, Smart Water Strategy Manager, Anglian Water

The circular shape reflects that this smart water journey is a continuous process, with the goal being to reach a desired, strategic outcome that addresses a main driver.

User and Technical Interaction

The smart water journey is an iterative process that involves some back and forth between the layers to ensure the user interaction is achieved as intended during the value creation stage. The circular framework recognises that some smart water adopters have found some overlap between the layers, with certain solutions covering multiple applications. 

Value Creation

Value Creation refers to people, processes and technologies that deliver smart water value across the organisation. This is essentially the rationale behind the smart water journey. Its placement within the centre of the model recognises the core role of value creation and how it is relevant for assessment at each level. It demonstrates that you can deliver value to an organisation at each level and not only as an end result.  

Business Drivers

Prior to beginning a smart water journey, there is often a fundamental driver or push factor to consider. Whether this is an environmental driver or an economic barrier, drivers provide focus for those along the journey. Drivers help management prioritise strategies and solutions and ensure that they have the right processes and buy-in in place to produce successful outcomes as they relate to the organisation’s strategy and core values.

Strategic Outcomes

A journey should have some type of end point or goal to reach, even if this is a continuous learning process. Building off of the 5 layer model, this circular framework presents all layers as having a logical flow that leads to a strategic outcome, whether business, economic, environment, social or otherwise. This could be an outcome in the form of a direct result such as a reduced NRW rate, or a macro-level outcome such as influencing future investment decisions and risk appetites in smart water technologies.

Final Reflections

While the traditional 5 layer model focuses on the what and how, the circular model further addresses the “why” and rationale behind a smart water journey. It is SWAN’s goal that both of these models assist organisations to uncover value throughout the smart water journey and improve their strategic planning.

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Further navigate your smart water journey through the SWAN Interactive Architecture Tool.

More Resources:

The Customer Benefits of Smart Water Networks
(in English and Spanish)

What is Smart Water to You?
Global water utilities provide their unique perspectives