As the world rushes forward into the future, it feels like the water industry is being left behind. But that is not quite the case. To those on the inside, doing the great work of providing clean potable water for our homes, it feels like every other company is coming in trying to sell technology. Some of the technology is directed at customers and some is directed at the utility producing the water. One thing that is missed by upstarts coming into the industry is that product pitches that suggest ‘Product A’ will solve the inefficiency issues of the water utility miss a critical point about the water industry; inefficiencies in the system are a feature, not a bug (a separate blog on this some other time). That statement provides the lens through which the production manager assesses your product.
For the production teams at a water utility, the need to be discerning about what is required can be based on a stepwise approach that ensures you procure the right product for the right need every time. So what are the steps involved in a world where the technological tools that the utility will need to effectively run their systems in the future are coming from outside of the industry? A recommendation on the steps are below with some additions to the traditional product/service procurement approach that ensure that you as a utility leader becomes an educated buyer.
Determining what the technology is required for: There are tools for every step along the process of sourcing, collecting, treating, storing and distributing water to a customer’s home. All these steps require upgrades to the technology currently being used to ensure the delivery of clean potable water. There is also the requirement to identify what additions to the water system, e.g. to handle new sources of water like reclaimed water, will require new technologies.
Auditing the current technology: The next step in the evaluation is to determine what tools are being used for each step, whether the tool is successfully serving the needs that the water utility has and whether there is a need to change part or the whole of the system. An audit will not cover the future technology requirements but the final list of needs should include these future purchases. In the era of connected devices, it is now necessary to include an audit of the security systems that are in place with the tools/technologies that the water utility is auditing to ensure a full understanding of the current state of security.
Develop some level of expertise in the new tools and technologies: As artificial intelligence, connected devices, blockchain etc start to seep into the lexicon of technology and are being utilized by forward-thinking companies there is a need for the procurement folk at a traditional utility to ramp up their basic understanding of these technologies before jumping into procurement.
Source technologies using new approaches: Most technology companies are now willing to provide their technology for free in a small pilot controlled environments that enable the water utility to test out the full capabilities before modifying the utility systems wholesale. This freemium/pilot approach is one that does not fit into the normal procurement process. Utility executives will have to get used to this because other industries are accepting of it and are gaining the benefits of their willingness to push forward with products that enhance their capability to serve their customers. We need to do the same in our industry.
and then do the procurement process with all stakeholders, especially the end users of the technology, involved in the rollout: the success or failure of any tool that purports to enhance the utility’s ability to deliver clean potable water will be based on executives ability to get the buy-in of the end-users. Executives will have to be realistic and patient in finding the members of the user group that will be early adopters/champions for the product and train these early-adopters in the technology and in ways to get the buy-in of the rest of their team.
Things and times are changing fast, our approach to adopting technology will have to adapt right along with the rest of industry. It’s the only way we can ensure that continued relevance in a world where customers are willing to pay 300X more for a bottle of water than they would pay for water coming out of their taps.