From innovation to impact. Five key lessons for scaling smart waste water networks
While waste water is a relatively new comer in the water industry, the level of innovation in network management and performance is notable. Now, with the emergence of smart networks leveraging data for improved efficiency, performance and resilience, there is an explosion of new possibilities.
Yet while the real benefits of smart waste water networks are becoming clear, the challenge for water companies is around scaling solutions and growing the value of the many pilots and proofs of value that are out there.
I’d like to share five lessons from the work we’ve been doing with water companies to scale and sustain the value of their smart waste water networks.
- Align around an ambitious, quantifiable ‘North Star’ objective The first lesson is to get focused on a ‘North Star’ outcome that you can measure to minimise impacts on customers and the environment. This could be around reducing the impact of a number of instances of all floods, unplanned escapes, and so on – and developing the ability to predict and prevent them. So, for instance, numbers or percentages of unplanned escapes to address, numbers around how many impacts to reduce, and around how many incidents to predict and then prevent from even occurring. This normally requires working from a pilot perspective and showing what is possible in terms of predictive capabilities within the waste water network before taking this on and scaling it.
- Build confidence by evolving a minimum viable product Identifying and creating a minimum viable product (MVP) requires an analysis of the key objectives, existing activities and the gaps between these in order to develop an initial set of components. Using these, you can devise and evolve an MVP, bringing it together as a coherent concept, taking it through a simulation with test data, and then moving to scale it. While MVPs can be developed very rapidly, the benefits and deployment assumptions must also be tested before scaling.
- Use participative design to ensure the smart network will achieve the targeted impact While the first iteration might be a relatively simple concept, when you need to address and analyse all the requirements of different user groups within the waste water network, it starts to get quite complex, from the people in the field who are attending and diagnosing incidents, to those who are using intelligence from the field to decide CapEx and improve network. You need to map these requirements to the evolution of the MVP and use ‘day in the life’ and participative design approaches to prototype solutions for each role/persona. These design approaches bring the solution to life, helping to build ownership and momentum and determine what kind of investments are needed.
- Map how the smart network fits into your wider transformation and regulatory context The solution needs to be placed into its wider context to point how the smart network is positioned and planned within the company transformation roadmap and within the regulatory period. It is important to understand the stepping stones required and what each destination looks like.
- Channel the data and integrate critical enablers to support decisions for the right outcomes Ultimately, this is all about getting the right data to the right people to support the decisions that matter. It’s often underestimated how much work is needed to bring data from the field and make it usable for a range of users; a coherent data strategy and model is essential. And last but not least, you need to bring all the critical enablers, such as analytics and hydraulic modelling, together to ease integration and to support the right decisions.
A virtuous circle
Water companies understand the criticality of their physical assets better than most other industries; the informational value of each asset needs to be recognised in the same way. In terms of waste water smart networks, we see two cycles of continuous improvements that underscore this value: firstly, through work in responding to and preventing incidents; and secondly through increases in confidence about design interventions that improve the network. Both these cycles come from the combination of system and sensor data intelligence and field intelligence, creating one virtuous circle to enhance intelligence for incident prevention and performance improvement.
The contribution of critical enablers, such as analytics and hydraulic modelling must be brought together to achieve the decision support needed to deliver desired outcomes.
This type of virtuous circle is starting to take shape as smart waste water networks are developed and scaled. This is key to the transformation journey for water companies to create the intelligent self-adapting water and waste water networks of the future.
Finally, it’s important to understand how Intelligent Networks play into the wider company transformation and how they can be placed into context of what the transformation is within the regulatory period. It’s crucial to understand the steppingstones required and how the destination looks like. At the end, it’s all about getting the right data to the right people and support the decisions that matter. It means bringing data all the way back from the fields and making it presentable and usable for a range of users. Finally, bringing all the critical enables such as analytics, hydraulic modelling, together to ease the integration and to achieve the decision support the real impact comes from.