In June 2018, the McKinsey Global Institute released a study titled, Smart Cities: Digital Solutions for a More Livable Future. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) is the research arm of McKinsey&Company, a global management consulting firm. The goal of MGI is to help leaders in the commercial, public, and social sectors develop a deeper understanding of the evolution of the global economy.
Digital water technology adoption begins with cities that adopt digital solutions. These cities are often called smart cities. There are three layers to a smart city: the technology (ex. smart meters), the applications (ex. customer portals), and public usage (ex. the number of customers using the technology). A smart city only works if the technology and applications are widely adopted by the public they are meant to serve.
Knowing this, how do we create an environment where technology adoption is prevalent? City officials need a better understanding of the value that investing in new technologies bring to both the city and its residents. Technology invites greater efficiency and when cities function more efficiently, they also become more productive places to do business.
Cities need to have a better understanding of their community’s needs and values to ensure they are adopting technology that offers a true benefit to the quality of life. These proposed benefits need to resonate with what matters most to the people they are seeking to serve. Smart strategies start with people, not technology.
The first step is to begin with the community in mind. The end goal of any new technology should be to respond more effectively and dynamically to the needs and desires of residents. This will vary from city to city and should not be an educated guess. Take the time to invest in surveying both your community and your staff to see where the biggest opportunity for improvement lies. Survey both of those audiences so you can compare and prioritize. Smart cities need to focus on improving outcomes for residents and enlisting their active participation in shaping the places they call home. This can only happen by asking your residents what their desired outcomes are.
Water is essential to the growth and sustainability of any city. However, water technology can be one of the most difficult to convey to customers. Customers don’t always have the highest perceived value of water to begin with. When communicating the value of smart water technology, be sure to focus on the aspects that most benefit the customer. Smart water technology can offer water consumption tracking, leak detection, water quality monitoring, and smart irrigation capabilities. These benefits offer customers greater control over their water usage, their water bill, and the convenience of service to them—all of which should be conveyed from their perspective.
According to the McKinsey report, smart city applications can decrease water consumption by 20-30 percent. Water consumption tracking, which pairs advanced metering with digital feedback messages, can nudge people toward conservation. It could reduce consumption by 15 percent in a higher-income city where residential water usage is high, although its effectiveness depends on whether it is paired with a pricing strategy.
The ability to detect leaks early not only benefits the customer’s bottom line but also greatly benefits the utility. One of the biggest sources of water waste in urban environments is due to leakage from pipes. According to McKinsey, deploying sensors and analytics can cut those losses by up to 25 percent.
The customer portal element of water technology creates an opportunity for residents to feel more connected to their local water utility. It can provide a mechanism for feedback and input that brings customers into the loop versus making them feel the only way they are heard is at city council meetings or on Next Door.
Of all the points addressed in the McKinsey report, what struck us most was the focus on using technology to build community. Technology is often blamed for making people feel more isolated and disconnected, but when beginning with people in mind cities can actually do the reverse. As water utilities are brought more and more into the forefront, water technology can be a way to take the pulse of public opinion related to water issues. The caveat is ensuring this engagement happens from the outset. Only then can technology help secure community buy-in and begin to build the trust required to secure a sustainable community water system.