How digital technologies contribute to universal drinking water

Digital water technologies have an important role in ensuring universal access to safe drinking water by 2030, according to a new report from the WHO. Johnny Alexander Gunneng, chief executive of InfoTiles, shares his insights.

Two billion more people have gained access to safe drinking water in the past two decades. However, a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and the World Bank also reveals that the same number are still without access, and an increasingly volatile climate will only heighten water insecurity, disrupt supplies, and devastate communities.

Johnny Alexander Gunneng, chief executive officer, InfoTiles

The State of the World’s Drinking Water details the links between water, health and development, and gives achievable recommendations for implementation. It states that that to achieve universal access to safe drinking water by 2030, “Governments should ensure they have relevant data and information to be better informed, understand gaps and inequalities in drinking water services, and make evidence-based decisions.”

Digital water technologies have a key role to play in achieving the shared goal of realising the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, and the report says governments should work “towards ensuring digital water technologies are supported and prioritised to realise their full potential.”

As a technology company operating in the water sector, InfoTiles shares this goal in the work undertaken with water utility clients.

Building capacity

The report also recommends “building capacity within the water sector by developing a capable and motivated workforce through a range of capacity-development approaches based on innovation and collaboration.”

The real strength in leveraging digital water technologies lies in the usability of a central data platform and its capacity to model, visualise, and present data across all assets and operations, accessible to all relevant personnel to develop the capacity to work smarter.

The InfoTiles platform, for example, can capture existing and new data that shows the likelihood of critical failures in water and wastewater infrastructure and resources, including treatment failures, sewage overflows, equipment breakdowns, and infrastructure damage.

Visualisation of InfoTiles digital analytics platform

By capturing data that is continually assessing the health and effectiveness of assets, water managers can anticipate, detect, and resolve potential problems before they happen, and maintenance teams and investment can be deployed much more efficiently. 

How the InfoTiles digital platform works

Additionally, it is possible to carry out these actions remotely though handheld devices such as tablets or mobile phones so water managers and other users can physically see what the data is telling them, wherever they are.

Availability of data

The report also recommends “ensuring relevant data and information are available, to better understand inequalities in drinking water services and make evidence-based decisions.”

UNICEF report front cover

One of the ways InfoTiles makes data and information available to utilities is through smart metering of drinking water processes, along with sensors in the connecting pipe network, to evaluate domestic and municipal water consumption. InfoTiles can help transmit this data to its central data platform to map domestic and municipal water usage at a granular level – with the data available to both consumers and water managers.

As well as helping utility customers better understand and reduce their domestic water use, this technology can also help water managers detect any unusually high consumption and identify leaks, either at a property or in the connecting pipework. This allows for better maintenance of a drinking water network and more efficient repairs.

Internet of things (IoT) technologies are used to transfer data from the meters and sensors into a central data platform, where it can be analysed by water managers. These include long-range wide area network (LoRaWAN) transmission, a wireless telecommunications network which transmits data over long distances, and a narrowband IoT (NB-IOT) radio technology, which transfers data over mobile networks.

Encourage innovation

A further recommendation of the drinking water report is “to encourage innovation and experimentation through supportive government policy and regulation, accompanied by rigorous monitoring and evaluation.”

After establishing itself in Norway, InfoTiles is now making “significant” progress with water utilities in the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, encouraging the development of its market leading digital software to meet the fast-changing demands of digital transformation in water.

To keep InfoTiles constantly improving and to enable healthy competition, data generated for a customer through InfoTiles is always under ownership of the client.

This means that they are free to collate and process their own data, and input it into alternative software, collaborating with other digital water solution providers where necessary.  This supports a vibrant digital environment, which supports new collaborations. It also reduced the risk of software incompatibility and investments being wasted.

Value for money

Trained hygiene promoters from UNICEF community partner MOSEP test water sources. Credit: UNICEF

The WHO report estimates the return on investment in water, in terms of health, productivity and other socio-economic factors, to be more than three times the cost in urban areas, and more than six times the cost in rural areas. Yet despite this understanding of the huge benefits of providing people with safe drinking water, and the progress made in the last 20 years, one-quarter of the world’s population still go without.

Digital water technologies like InfoTiles provide cost effective solutions which can help utilities and municipalities become more resilient, not only to future challenges, but now.

Investment in these technologies is on a steep upward trajectory, between 2018 and 2030, US$405bn will be spent on new water infrastructure, according to Global Water Intelligence, and US$178bn on rehabilitation. Due to the potential of digital water technologies to unlock new levels of resource efficiency in new infrastructure and rehabilitation, the market is expected to reach US$63 billion by 2025.

In the near future, it will be the norm for all water utilities, wherever they are in the world, to have digitally transformed to some extent.  The good news is that the digital water technologies needed to tackle the challenges of today are already here. Additionally, the learnings from those forward-thinking water utilities and governments embracing these innovations, can, with, the right measures in place, help realise universal access to safe drinking water much more rapidly.

Johnny Alexander Gunneng is the chief executive and co-founder of InfoTiles in 2016.