Bluefield Research recently attended the 7th annual SWAN conference in London and it was an exciting two days. Well over 200 attendees took part in the conference and a diverse mix of utilities, vendors, and investors provided engaging content throughout the sessions. It was a great opportunity to meet new colleagues, gather updates on technologies and trends, and offer a glimpse into our recent research covering Europe and U.S. smart water markets. My three main takeaways from the conference:
Takeaway #1: Technologies ready, but maybe the utilities are not?
Before the first panel a question was posed to the audience; “Adoption of data-driven technologies is not a technological challenge but rather a management challenge within utilities.” Approximately 80% of the attendees who voted agreed– keep in mind attendees from vendors likely outnumbered their utility counterparts 2:1– but it still reveals that vendors are clearly frustrated with the pace of technological adoption within the municipal water sector. The question is; if the technologies are ready, why aren´t the utilities? Change management. Smart water solutions inherently alter the way utilities operate, impacting daily operating routines, reporting structures, and even long-term job security. Martin Wood, grid design manager of Wessex Water, described the business transformation that resulted from implementation of a new supply grid using Servelec´s Optimiser. The new system centralizes network control, and it was vital for Wessex´s management to proactively communicate the transformation with operators and field staff, actively sharing information at all stages of the project. A proactive management style for innovation was also promulgated by George Theo, CEO of Unity Water, who has spearheaded Unity´s efforts towards best-in-class customer service. Vendors who reframe sales strategies to incorporate utility change management efforts, in addition to robust business cases and proof of ROI, will help increase speed of adoption.
Takeaway #2: Bluefield´s ranking of European water utilities generated a buzz.
I presented a wide overview of Bluefield´s smart water insights, starting with a summary of global trends, an overview of smart water players across the network operating spectrum, and deep-dived into leakage management, before providing some data from our recent Europe Smart Water: Market Forecasts and Utility Strategies, 2017-2025. The slide I presented from the report was a visual representation of our ranking of 46 European utilities (using 8 operational metrics) vs. smart water adoption. Harnessing our database of utility operational performance, the research identifies key drivers influencing migration toward smarter water networks. The slide generated much debate and questions from both ´sides´ of the floor– the utilities and the vendors– increasing the discussion, and potentially the competition, around smart water networks. If you´re interested in my presentation, feel free to download from our website.
Takeaway #3: Emerging low power wide area network technologies will drive communication cost per device down, help improve ROI for smart water solutions.
I had a few conversations around the impact that low power wide area networks (LPWAN)– both unlicensed spectrum (Sigfox, LoRa) and licensed spectrum (NB-IoT, LTE-M)– would have on the sector. It is clear smart water players are keeping a close eye on the horse race to become the IoT communications standard, not wanting to commit resources to an unsuccessful technology. As I highlighted in a recent research note (see: Utilities Pilot Nascent IoT Protocols for Efficiencies), utilities like SMAT Torino are piloting NB-IoT in partnership with global ICT giants like AT&T, Huawei, Olivetti, and Vodafone, to gain market confirmation of licensed LPWAN protocols in the water-sector. The ability of ICT players to scale across existing LTE networks will rapidly shift the competitive landscape of market-ready products and services.
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