So far, the digitalization journey has mainly focused on exploiting technological possibilities in terms of data collection and advanced control monitoring.
Now, a new era of advanced control systems is expanding to brand-new parts of the industry, as sensors, wireless data communication, smart devices, storage, and computer power have decreased significantly in price.
The big question now is, how will the technological evolution affect the water industry in the near future? And which benefits, possibilities, limitations and obstacles for using data and data processing does the industry face when water installations become more digital?
Gartner defines digitalization as "the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business."
What is interesting here is the focus on the fact that digitalization, new ways of solving challenges, and business opportunities go hand in hand. And this reflects exactly what is happening in the water industry, where digitalization has opened doors to brand-new areas of industrial applications and opportunities for expansion e.g. pump integration to the entire water installation. Thus, linking energy optimization, monitoring, advanced system protection and pump control to process performance of the surrounding equipment.
Digitalization is wide-ranging and can be roughly split into four different areas: firstly, data collection, analysis, and optimization e.g. through algorithms. Secondly, customer touch-points, sales channels and services. Thirdly, production technology, planning, and distribution. Lastly, data flow, storage, and security.
Each of these – admittedly overlapping – areas have a significant impact on very different parts of the organization:
- Business Development and Service.
- Sales and Marketing.
- Production and Logistics.
- Infrastructure, IT, and legal.
Knowing this, it becomes clear that the digitalization process cannot be seen as 'another large project', due to the fact that it is scattered over a wide range of functions, processes, and products. Thus, successful companies in the industry are those which recognize that digitalization requires a new mindset, fast response time, unallocated resources, and a willingness to take risks.
Internet of Things (IoT) is a major driver behind the digitalization of the water industry.
IoT refers to the trend of integrating internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, internet connectivity, and other forms of hardware such as sensors, these devices can communicate and interact with others over the internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled. And, not least, they can share data.
Data has been gathered for analysis and optimization over the past decades through BMS2, CTS3, and SCADA4 systems or control systems. However, what is new is the drastically growing amount of data and storage – combined with the limitless accessibility that is provided by electronic devices and information technology.
Computer power, communication, and data storage have developed exponentially while becoming less and less expensive, and nothing indicates that IoT will slow down. However, over the past decade, we have seen new standards and platforms come and go – and this has, to some degree, hampered digitalization and fostered a need for a standardized framework for managing digitalization on a global scale.
Industry 4.0 is standardizing digitalization
Industry 4.0 represents the fourth revolution that has occurred in
manufacturing. Even though some dismiss the concept as merely a
marketing buzzword, Industry 4.0 is a German industry-initiated attempt to set standards and general guidelines for digitalization.
The true power of Industry 4.0 is the acknowledgment that individual
initiatives and propriety standards are outdated. Real value occurs when data and information is shared. The more connected and interlinked things are, the more we gain. The more access, the more viability.
This means that in order to harvest full value of digitalization, companies in the water industry have to follow present global standards for connectivity,
data storage, availability and legislation – and provide easy integration with other systems.
Thus, new water technology systems need to be developed – based on new data sources, more intelligent products, and robust planning tools. Also needed are more service-based business models, collaborative systems based on intelligent water technology components, and multiutility systems that combine water treatment, energy, and resource recovery in a cyber-safe framework. Hence, having the right products together with an understanding of customer needs and applications, combined with intelligent connectivity, are key factors for success in the water industry for the years to come.