Australia’s water industry is on the path to major technological change and the introduction of Digital Water Metering (DWM) is part of the journey.
The challenges faced by the sector are complex, balancing Smart Cities strategy, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, big data, analytics, cyber security, and other converging technologies and trends that will alter how water is delivered to customers. This disruption is creating a two-paced industry, with some advanced in DWM pilot roll-outs, and others still working through the impact to their business.
With market forecasts of reduced revenue, government pressure for efficiency savings, and increased customer demands for service quality, water businesses would be unwise to deliberate too long on their value.
With few industry pilots progressing to implementation, the roll-out of digital metering across the Victorian electricity distribution industry provides a strong case study.
Here are some of the key considerations and challenges, based on our personal experience of supporting Advanced Metering Infrastructure deployments, and the regulatory impacts of this change.
The value of data
Data ownership and management are central topics for digital metering. The whole business should be involved early to determine what data needs to be captured to drive strategic and operational decision making. Working through the digital metering data requirements of an organisation is a time consuming exercise to determine how the business will best collate, analyse and manage the vast datasets. But if performed early in the program, it will reduce rework post deployment, assist in determining the functional scope of the metering technology and help plan for the impact of change.
The communication network
Network ownership is a key consideration for water businesses about to embark upon a DWM rollout. The business must decide whether they wish to use a public or private network, and what additional services they want to promote.
Network optimisation is critical to success. Picking the appropriate communications network will not follow a ‘one size fits all’ approach with careful consideration to determine both the current and future services it must support, the spatial reach to reach all customers (especially for regional and rural water businesses), the exact sizing requirements, and any carrier network charges.
Putting the customer at the center of digital transformation
Early customer engagement is paramount to ensuring a smooth adoption of DWM. A lack of engagement and knowledge regarding its impact and proposed benefits will lead to significant challenges in advocacy and adoption.
Business cases must be customer-centric, delivering improved customer engagement and empowerment that comes with metering self-service and better visibility of data.
The operating model
The digital age of water management is inevitable but apprehension exists regarding how water businesses will manage this transition.
Few water businesses, when they started, considered the implications of operating a metering business that involved digital meters and integrated electricity networks. But their strategy must consider what impact this will have on the size and structure of their organisations and how this is best managed. When determining the best approach, they must establish the appropriate business model and IT environment to adopt and integrate DWM technology.
Their current IT environment typically acts as the burning platform as the success of digital metering relies on robust IT compatibility.
The complexity and lead times associated with IT transformation, combined with the need to embed changes before embarking on the digital metering rollout, create an imperative for water businesses to commence planning IT systems and architecture as a matter of priority.
Whilst the benefits of digital metering are obvious for business and the consumer, the biggest obstacle facing water providers is in transforming their broader business, to ensure they can embrace digital transformation and the possibilities it brings.