Digitalisation: the future of the water sector

Water Show 2020During the Water Show Africa 2020, Katrina Zlobich, marketing director at Grundfos, one of the event’s sponsors, encouraged digitalisation and innovation within the water sector 

Zlobich said digitalisation and innovation should be embraced within the water sector and not feared as she hosted the webinar entitled: ‘How digital is your water utility?’ on 3 November at the show.

She outlined that the International Water Association’s five-year plan already identified the need for innovation to address global water challenges, which was aligned with Grundfos' own belief that digitalisation will play a critical part in the water sector and the water utility market in the future. 

Although there are difficulties in implementing digitalisation and innovation, Zlobich was keen to emphasise that "there is nothing to be scared of, it has lots of benefits not just for individual companies but also on a higher economical level", and declared that Grundfos was happy to share more about their journey to anyone seeking to progress or begin their digitalisation process.

At the webinar, Zlobich was joined by Valerie Nadoo, executive manager of innovation and business development at the Water Research Commissions; Dan Naidoo, regional manager of Umgeni Water; Loreen Grobelaar, junior process engineer at WEC Projects; and Roseline Shumba, project manager at Rand Water. 

The panel described the positive impacts that digitalisation can have within the sector. Dan Naidoo reported that previously water was monitored manually before the gradual introduction of remote monitoring of hard wire devices and all data was paper-based. New innovations within this sector have paved the way for more sophisticated methods of remote monitoring (which can produce far more data) and storing data through the internet on bigger platforms. 

Big data 

Large databases can now be accessed by different departments within a company and even shared with outside partners, allowing for data collaboration on a much bigger picture. Valerie Nadoo noted, the Water Research Commission is now working on a national data programme in South Africa to identify issues on a countrywide scale. She added that access to “big data” can lead to early recognition of problems such as droughts, leading to quicker solutions.

The path to innovation and digitalisation is not an easy journey and the panelists stressed that there are many factors to consider. It is not a one step process, but requires architectural planning, understanding of progression and a skilled workforce to accommodate it. Progressing into higher levels of digitalisation brings new costs and innovation, which can lead to job insecurity. The panelists also emphasised that it is therefore essential to start the process with a honest inter-company discussion to plan the journey, understand the financial requirements and social implications, and ensure that everyone involved in the project is comfortable in order to nullify any potential future problems. 

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