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IoT-Powered Digitalization Of Water Utilities, Enabling Outcome Driven & Efficient Systems

Supriyo Das, Vice President, Wipro Technology

Supriyo has over 25+ years of experience in the IT industry focused on product engineering and has led multiple software product development & life cycle management for various customers worldwide at Wipro.

Availability and quality of water is a critical factor for the sustainability and resilience of any city. Typical problems in any water utility today are aging infrastructure, tight budgets as most of them are funded by taxpayers and a visible lack of real time responsiveness. These factors result in water wastage through absence of timely leak detection, overflow in water catchment, and inadequate wastewater management. Investments to the tune of billions of dollars per year are turned ineffective and result in higher water bills for the consumers. Hence, it is imperative that water utilities (being an asset intensive industry) look for affordable, easy to implement OpeX based solutions with a vision to transform themselves into Digital Utilities.

Advent of Integrated Service Delivery Platforms (ISDPs) for Digital Utilities
Water utilities are now rapidly adopting affordable IoT solutions which use low cost sensors with a cloud-based backend in an “as a service” model. With public cloud based IoT platforms, CapEx is minimized compared to traditional telemetry mechanisms. Also, customers can build bespoke products leveraging the public cloud based IoT environments rather than opting for standalone third party products.

These public cloud providers offer most of the building blocks such as edge gateways, IoT hubs for data acquisition & aggregation, low cost data storage, secure infrastructure including device authentication and authorization, along with IoT analytics to provide useful dashboards and insights. It is easy to build a completely unified system leveraging the cloud native services and aforementioned subsystems.

With the advent of multiple connectivity technologies like WiFi 6, Lora WAN & 5G, it is easier to connect devices to the cloud. But the key challenge which remains is to IoT-enable the legacy devices and build an integrated management system where both IoT and existing SCADA based monitoring systems can coexist and provide an integrated service delivery platform. The integrated system should help in effective collection, management and intelligent use of water data; responding to current public & political scrutiny and to enable the facilitation of government reforms; reimagining processes and enabling automation wherever appropriate; and transitioning existing legacy systems, that are at risk of failure and loss of data integrity, to systems that are resilient and meet modern standards aligned to operating models of today’s water utilities.

Recommended approach towards designing and building Integrated Service Delivery Platform (ISDP)

The design of an integrated service delivery platform must encapsulate the IoT subsystems (sensors, gateway, and connectivity and data aggregation), device management & monitoring applications, CRM systems, user interface, industrial governance and compliance systems, billing & metering systems and so on. This integrated service delivery platform should not only help with the status and data collection through IoT enablement but also integrate different service elements into one single unified system. We should consider the following four dimensions while designing such an integrated system:

Concept: Create the blueprint considering human centric design, user experience, strategic objectives, and technology architecture inclusive of all key elements in the water distribution system. As utilities need complete, accurate, centrally located data to perform compliance and enforcement activities, all the ecosystem participants need to be integrated to create a unified data platform.

Build: The system needs to be built around a people, process and technology-based architecture that enables integrated data, API based solutions, and plug and play mechanisms to deliver tailor made solutions for specific user needs. For example, in order to deliver highly efficient customer support services, the system/platform needs to leverage real time information enabling effective routing of customer queries, increase first call resolution, reduce management effort, and enable future digitization by building data-rich relationships.

Run: This dimension ensures that the service management systems and processes are geared towards delivering the ideal service experience. It ranges from providing efficient and responsive operations that leverage digital technologies to ultimately deliver a predictive, intelligent, self-healing and zero touch operations system.

Change – This dimension institutionalized a reverse feedback loop into design/concept that covers systemic data feedback and the changes that are required to enforce new user experience in the marketplace.

Case Study
Sydney Water, Australia: Sydney Water’s Customer Hub has won the Global Water Award for 2019 Smart Water Project of the Year. The Customer hub has changed the way Sydney Water serves its end customers – being more proactive & predictive. The technology comprises a geo-spatial situational awareness tool (Spatial Hub), online customer portals, automated customer notification and feedback channels, and an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor pilot.

Frugal innovations, digitization, data driven operational systems and centralized service delivery platforms are some of the new ways of working for the water utilities in current times

This has simplified Sydney Water’s complex water and wastewater networks and makes identifying and scheduling maintenance simpler. IoT sensors are used to better understand complex network performance and identify problems before they can become customer issues – for example identifying sewer blockages and taking actions before it becomes a potential issue. Spatial Hub reduced water outages by around 100,000 properties in 2018, shrinking the number of customers affected by service interruptions by 25-30 percent annually. By reducing negative customer experiences and service impact, Spatial Hub has already saved Sydney Water over $800,000 in customer rebates in 2019.

The challenges in water utilities segments are many. CIOs have a limited budget. At the same time, the industry is struggling with many problems such as Water Scarcity & Quality, Aging Infrastructure, Stricter regulatory requirements, Climate change and environmental footprint pressures, Rising operational and capital investments costs, and Customer expectations with respect to better services at a lesser cost.

Frugal innovations, digitization, data driven operational systems and centralized service delivery platforms are some of the new ways of working for the Water Utilities in current times. IoT adoption and related innovative digital solutions are central to addressing the majority of these issues. Hence, key focus should be to reskill the utilities’ workforce on Digital Technologies and automation and move away from manual and procedural modes of work. These Digital Utilities shall then in turn help in delivering better experiential outcomes to their customers at a lower cost.

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