Where are you on the road to water digitisation? | Infrastructure news

Municipalities are looking for opportunities to improve service delivery and cash flow. Yet many still don’t realise the hidden gains of digitising their water systems.

By Chetan Mistry, strategy and marketing manager, Xylem Africa

Non-revenue water costs our economy R7.2 billion annually. This drain primarily hits municipal pockets, for example, eThekwini Municipality’s 50% non-revenue water losses amount to R700 million annually. Tackling non-revenue water is far easier than increasing rates and taxes. Investing in water infrastructure builds a municipality’s financial and service future. And it is within reach through water digitisation.

Water digitisation

Water digitisation can occur without removing current systems and infrastructure. It represents a range of benefits: cost-savings, automation, greater efficiencies, and data-driven strategic planning. Whether to improve wastewater, manage pipe infrastructure, enhance billing capture and delivery, or reduce pollution, municipalities can achieve great things quickly with digitisation.

Every municipality should consider digitising their water systems. But where do they start? The first step is to know where they currently are. A landmark paper by the International Water Federation and Xylem explores this question and identifies a maturity spectrum for water digitisation.

The digital maturity of water operations runs through five categories:

  • Not started: These are sites with only legacy analogue infrastructure. There are no digital strategies or technologies in play.
  • Basic: Basic sites have begun incorporating digital technologies into their operations. They are developing online monitoring capabilities by combining Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Internet of Things (IoT) systems.
  • Opportunistic: Sites qualify as opportunistic; they start redesigning their operations with digital automation and control enhancements. A clear sign is the presence of analytics tools utilised for process optimisation.
  • Systematic: In systematic sites, digital technologies are well established. There is evident inter-process automation and control, and the site’s internal resources and platforms work with digital infrastructure.
  • Transformational: In the most mature stage, transformation sites incorporate digital technologies across business and operations processes, using advanced analytics for decision-making.
Many water-management systems in South Africa still fall in the first two categories, with some moving up the stack. But this is not a race. It’s not imperative that water sites all graduate to ‘transformational’. Every digital addition to a site will deliver benefits in costs and performance. A ‘basic’ site will produce considerably more benefits than one still at the starting line. Every step forward leads to outsized results.

Moving up the maturity spectrum: the IWA and Xylem report offers some advice:

  • Not started: Acknowledge digitisation as a business priority and develop a digital strategy. Pursue pilot projects to explore digital implementation.
  • Basic: Mobilise pilot projects and learn from industry peers and research. Inform customers and employees of the new direction, and look at how to transition recording, billing, and similar processes from paper to digital.
  • Opportunistic: Enhance and stabilise data infrastructure and align operations around data-driven goals. These steps will lay the pipes for incorporating next-level technologies.
  • Systematic: Use new digital technologies to develop new products and services through digital technology. Develop an evolving digital framework and align projects with the new digitally powered business strategy.
  • Transformational: The work is not done! Continue using digital technologies to implement increased efficiencies. Exchange best practices with other utilities and study the breakthroughs in the modern water industry.
Municipalities can increase revenue and service delivery, often through a few straightforward deployments of digital services. They can analyse their current stockpiles of data, add digital dashboards and alerts for site personnel, inspect pipes and other infrastructure cheaply and without service disruption, activate smart billing, reduce pump energy and maintenance, and much more.

Additional Reading?

Request Free Copy