According to the 2017 Strategic Directions: Water Industry Report by Black & Veatch, customer education, infrastructure modernisation and the use of data analytics will be crucial to overcoming the water industry’s continuing challenges posed by ever-aging infrastructure.
Based on a survey of 397 qualified utility, municipal, commercial and community stakeholders, the report also looks at the role data analytics played, the true cost of delivery, the growing focus on sustainability, and the equally disparate strategies various industry users turned to in order to realise it.
“Sustainability has different meanings to different segments of the industry,” President of Black & Veatch’s water business, Cindy Wallis-Lage, said in a news release. “We pursue sustainable water supplies that can serve residents for decades to come. We look for ways to become more economically sustainable by balancing system and user needs with available capital. At the same time, we pursue a kind of social sustainability by engaging consumers as full partners in the pursuit of a supply that’s safe and resilient against weather events and long-term climate change.”
Although survey respondents considered maintaining or expanding asset life the most significant sustainability issue for water, they also showed substantial interest in uniting data from once-siloed systems to bring up the operational efficiency as well as inform smarter asset management.
“Data analytics provide new levels of system intelligence that can address many of the problems hampering sustainable water supplies,” Mike Orth, Executive Managing Director for the Americas in Black & Veatch’s water business, said. “Smart meters and new software-based management tools enable us to turn all that data into understandable, useful insights that can address everything from water safety, asset performance and leak detection, to integrated planning and energy efficiency.”
According to the news release, the 2017 Strategic Directions: Water Industry Report explored other key issues in the industry, much like cybersecurity, physical security, financing strategies, and trends in enterprise asset management. Additionally, the report also found that financial challenges related to sustainable systems have shifted, and less providers are now choosing finance-driven topics as their top obstacle on the path to sustainability. This may be a reflection of the rising confidence in funding from two vital channels: The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), and a higher level of assurance that customers and government leaders may be more prepared to accept increasing rates as a means to pay for critical improvements in the systems.
Other key findings include:
- Almost 40 per cent of respondents stated that data analytics figured into their processes, though not operationally. Yet another 20 per cent said that while data analytics was not part of their current processes, they were nonetheless used for strategic planning.
- Approximately half the survey respondents – 47 per cent – indicated that key stakeholders and the public understood the need for proposed increments of rates, though they still showed a preference for water providers to “do more with less”.
- Despite increased public scrutiny, when questioned about lead and copper corrosion, 55 per cent of water utilities proved that it was not an issue in their distribution systems.
- More than 30 per cent of utilities have indicated that they are planning to bring about advanced operational technologies like advanced metering infrastructure and enterprise asset management.
- The survey report found that integrated planning trends are higher in larger communities – the larger the population, the higher the rate of adoption. Of the respondents who already use the approach, 49 per cent hail from communities with a population of two million or more, and the acceptance rate falls as the population of the community shrinks.
“Sustainable and resilient systems will depend on industry leaders who can both collaborate and innovate as the water sector attempts to modernise its assets, optimise existing resources and convince customers that upgrades are important,” Wallis-Lage explained.
“Proactive, two-way engagement can help convey water’s true value to the community,” Executive Managing Director for Black & Veatch management consulting, said. “This deliberate focus on the customer experience can change cost and water quality perceptions and help secure the rate increases needed to upgrade aging infrastructure.”