The adoption of digital water technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), will be accelerated from the COVID-19 pandemic, yet challenges will continue to remain.
Furthermore, one of the lessons being learnt from the pandemic is that “analogue solutions to water management are no longer viable” to ensure sustainable and resilient operations.
That’s according to a recent white paper entitled ‘Business Water: The value of Artificial Intelligence in achieving sustainable and resilient corporate water strategies’.
Co-written by AI company Plutoshift together with consultancy Water Foundry, the paper addresses the role of digital technologies, such as AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), in helping to address water risks to “business continuity and growth across their value chains”.
Will Sarni, founder and CEO of Water Foundry, told Aquatech Online: “We have now entered the “digital age of water” with the rate of adoption accelerated by the pandemic.
“While there is a significant increase in interest in digital technologies such as AI and blockchain and integration into the utility and industrial sectors, we need to be even more mindful that the human capital needs for training and capacity building are more critical.”
He added: “Investment in digital technologies must be accompanied in parallel with investment in our new digitally-enabled workforce.”
The digital water supply chain
Describing the ‘Digital Water Value Chain’, the white paper listed three areas:
- Watershed, including real-time water quantity and quality
- Operations, including predictive analytics
- Supply chain, including customer and community engagement.
While businesses play a key role in solving water scarcity and quality challenges, they also face three types of water-related risks: physical, regulatory and reputational.
To help solve these challenges, digital technologies are now at the forefront – the paper added.
Examples listed included digital tools being used at the watershed to improve the monitoring of water supplies, through to improving communication with customers.
An earlier white paper produced by Bluefield Research echoed the message that the COVID-19 will accelerate the “digital buildout”.
Overcoming the “last mile” in AI implementation
Despite the listed benefits of digital technologies for water, challenges continue to remain, particularly when it comes to the implementation of AI.
Plutoshift interviewed 250 manufacturing professionals at the end of 2019 on AI. One of the key findings was that 61% of companies said they need to “revaluate the way they implement AI projects”.
A second challenged raised from the survey was “defining realistic outcomes and goals”, the white paper added.
Just over half of the survey respondents admitted to not keeping AI projects in scope and focused on clear deliverables.
The “Last Mile”, relating to how information gets delivered to frontline operators, was also listed as a major hurdle.
In order to ensure AI is delivering value, the “information on the screen has to be converted to actions taken in the real world”, said Plutoshift and Water Foundry.
Adopting a digital culture of innovation
Echoing a message from the IWA who predicted a “human-and-machine environment” will need to be embraced, the white paper concluded that organisational culture should not be neglected as part of the digital transformation.
It said: “Digital technologies and transformation in the water utility and industrial sectors alone will not solve 21st-century water challenges.
“Public and private sector enterprises need to adopt a culture of innovation and learning to scale digital technology solutions.”