The 2019 Smart Water Summit, which took place in Arizona at the end of August, marked 2.5 days of boardroom meetings and solution showcases with more than 120 utility guests and 50 vendor partners. The summit offered an opportunity for utility leaders to see the next best smart water innovations available.
Master Meter was honored to deliver the keynote presentation at the summit luncheon as the Premier sponsor. Our VP of Marketing, Ian MacLeod, spoke about the rise of artificial intelligence, or AI, and other smart technology that promises to evolve smart water devices into intelligent solutions—with the help of our greatest asset, the human beings behind the technology. We’ve summarized some of the key themes from the presentation below.
The Rise of Artificial Intelligence and Its Role in Water
“The s*** is happening now”—that’s what the great innovator Elon Musk said of artificial intelligence. His point? This “AI” thing isn’t a “someday” thing—or even a “not in my lifetime” thing.
But what does technology like AI have to do with the water industry?
We’re facing some pretty significant challenges in our industry. Water utilities are struggling to secure funding for maintenance and repair, due in large part to the fact that their customer base has no sense of the true cost (or value) of water. They often don’t think about the incredible amount of time, resources, and people it takes to not only deliver clean drinking water but also treat wastewater.
Evolving from smart water to intelligent water is not about replacing people with technology. It’s about empowering people with the data they need to optimize their own decision making. These decisions directly impact the communities you serve.
The Human-Technology Balance
We are a human-centric industry by nature. The balance between humans and technology comes from acknowledging our lanes and recognizing the respective strengths and weaknesses each brings to the table.
It’s a collective intelligence—the ability of humans and machines to achieve far greater intelligence when working together, versus on their own. The old “two heads are better than one.”
So, what are our lanes?
Tech: It’s best to let technology like AI handle analyzing the data to generate the best possibilities.
Humans: We should pick the best alternative based on our knowledge of strategy, values, and market conditions.
AI and Infobesity
In the coming decade, the U.S. municipal water and wastewater sector are expected to spend between $15 billion and $20 billion on information technology and related hardware upgrades. Most of this money will go toward some form of sensor, which means even more data that needs to be analyzed.
Data-driven tools like AI can crunch and summarize an enormous amount of data. So, why couldn’t it also help a manufacturer optimize and minimize their inventories down to the day and widget volume, or consider things like delivery transportation time?
All of the sensors we now have in place—pressure, flow, temperature, measurement, and water quality—have created enormous infobesity (information overload).
AI is attractive because it makes delineating the excessive amounts of data flooding our control rooms and dashboards seamless. It does so more quickly and easily than what was imaginable even just a few years ago.
Using AI and predictive analytics in advanced asset management tools empowers leadership with the data they need to address these critical issues. According to Bluefield Research, it’s estimated that these technology tools have the potential to save water utilities a total of $17.6 billion in capital expenditures in the next decade.Those cost savings trickle down to customers as major expenditures.
How close are we to “intelligent water” solutions?
Digital transformation continues to be a struggle for many utilities. Only 20% of water utilities are using big data to gain insights about their system.
The good news? Marketing investment continues to grow. Since 2009, more than $150 million in venture capital has been allocated to digital water solution providers.
Communicating Innovation to Your Stakeholders
Nothing kills innovation faster than lack of employee buy-in. Engage them early in the process. This ensures you’re not investing money in a potential solution for the wrong problem. Your teams are in the field every day; they know the problem. Mine that anecdotal and experiential data from the vast wealth of real-world understanding your utility personnel possesses. And instead of simply throwing new tech at your employees, make sure you properly train them first.
Communicate with stakeholders (funders) through their value lens. Ultimately, people want to understand what’s in it for them—notably:
- How does it relate to them?
- What capital improvement costs are you delaying by extending the life of your current water supply?
- What added benefit do they receive?
- What can they do now that they couldn’t before?
Tell Innovation’s Story
The water industry’s value proposition can be hard to sell because it’s hard to see. Our solutions don’t improve stock prices; they improve quality of life. Once we find the optimal balance of strengths, the sweet spot that brings us from smart to intelligent, we can truly usher in more sustainable, resilient water systems that benefit the quality of life.
Regardless of where you are on the adoption profile—whether your utility is a fully adopted innovator or a member of the late majority—don’t discount the innate human-centric nature of intelligent water solutions. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. Intelligent water will be the catalyst that drives the future of water.