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African Water Sector and the ‘digitally smart’ utility

African Water Sector and the ‘digitally smart’ utility

Mar 24, 2015

By George Hunt, global consulting partner for water, WCS, Wipro Limited; and Shailendra Singh, Country Head, South Africa, Wipro Limited

Water utilities across the world more than often tackle a similar set of challenges relating to service resilience, customer service, regulation, compliance and operational excellence. South Africa is no different and experience some of these challenges more acutely than other countries.   Fortunately, technology is available that can assist to resolved these challenges and improve operations significantly and importantly, service delivery.

When focusing on the African water sector, investments in this emerging market is booming, and as economies across the continent experience rapid growth, demand is outstripping the ability to supply. The delicate balance between supply and demand is progressively being felt in many countries, including South Africa, where limited water resources combined with massive growth in demand and an increasingly urbanised population are putting pressure on water and waste-water infrastructure.

The outcome of this has been a growing number of interruptions to water supply as much-needed upgrades to the existing water utilities infrastructure are delivered. In addition, rising cost of operations and increased consumer demand have created a highly challenging environment for water utility providers. Addressing these challenges requires a much smarter approach to using data and sophisticated analytics technologies to deliver greater insight, improved performance and enhanced efficiency – all of which are essential for aligning supply and demand.

Improving operational efficiency is one of the most crucial aspects to ensuring effective water utility service delivery, as this represents a significant cost. Predictive analytics and intelligent IT solutions can now assist utility providers to reduce costs by enabling them to forecast demand, or by understanding asset condition and criticality in a manner that would enable them to address potential supply or service interruptions before they become crisis. Accurate assessment of asset risk also allows for proactive or predictive maintenance of the infrastructure, which in turn reduces the need for emergency works, and thereby reduce the spending on contracted and hired services.

Another important aspect to improving service delivery is ensuring environmentally sustainable operations and reducing the environmental impact of adverse incidents, if any.  This is essential not only from a corporate responsibility perspective but also for ensuring improved customer service. Water leakage is one of the key areas that needs to be addressed, as it impacts both carbon footprint and efficiency. Using analytics solutions, subtle changes such as water pressure reduction can be monitored over time, which can help alert providers about potential water leaks. This enables them to be repaired far more quickly, improving customer service and reducing water wastage. Other common environmental considerations are the quality of water, pollution events and so on.

Leveraging the power of smarter analytical capabilities has enabled water utility providers to make more accurate, fact-based decisions, which in turn has enabled improved performance, better customer service and enhanced operational efficiency. Some of the areas that can be addressed using accurate data and insight include identifying water main burst events, interruptions to supply, low pressure and the time taken to address these issues. In addition, service requests and calls for the same incident can be more effectively grouped for greater efficiency. Proactive handling of leaks can prevent water loss, and faster response times to abnormal weather events such as flooding and water main bursts can reduce wastage and improve service. These insights can then be used to improve services and reduce time to address issues.

In addition, to effectively addressing such problems and challenges, predictive analytics solutions also enable real-time data analysis, which can be used to deliver accurate demand forecasting. This assists water utilities to optimise resource allocation, leverage deeper insight for planning processes, and predict future growth.

Growing populations as well as scarce water resources place additional pressure on infrastructure, and improving performance requires this infrastructure to be utilised optimally in order to ensure service delivery. Harnessing the power of data, analytics and technology can assist water utility providers to improve customer service, operational efficiency and environmental impact, while enabling more effective delivery of services.

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