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Water utilities have been chronically underfunded for decades and an estimate from the American Water Works Association found that a $1 trillion investment is needed to meet the drinking water system needs in the United States. To better understand how this industry is leveraging digital capabilities to its benefit in order to address these historical challenges, Dodge Data & Analytics and partner Bentley launched a new study and report titled, The Digital Capabilities of U.S. Water Utilities SmartMarket Brief, which established a benchmark for municipal water systems and the readiness of this market for digital transformation.

The findings showed that the ability to gather, share and analyze data and other digital resources are essential to improving the effectiveness of operations and maintenance, capital planning and emergency preparedness—and will play a significant role in digital transformation and their future capabilities.

While water utilities clearly understand the value of data, and 87% report that they gather data digitally, 50% of all respondents believe that they are gathering less than half of the data available to them. In addition, two common issues prevent them from conducting their work efficiently across their organizations:

  • 90% say that data is either isolated in disconnected IT systems, spreadsheets or paper records, which prevents effective operations and maintenance at their organization on occasion (45% say frequently); and
  • 68% report that lack of visibility across stakeholders interferes with effective capital planning on occasion (43% say frequently).

Nearly three quarters report that they are in the process of digital transformation at their organization, demonstrating a commitment to improving their digital capabilities. However, when it comes to how engaged they are with eight different types of digital capabilities, the findings indicate that they are still in the early stages of that process.

  • The strongest scores were tied to effective management and sharing of data, but even in these categories, only 12% or fewer report very good to excellent capabilities, around two-thirds have moderate to good capabilities, and between one-quarter and one-third still have limited to no capabilities.
  • Gathering information in real time, whether directly from the assets or from reality capture tools like drones and laser scanning, is a particular challenge, with around half reporting that they have no or limited capabilities in these areas.
  • Only about 4% report that they have digital twins in place (i.e., a digital version of the asset with real-time data that can be used for planning and operational purposes).

“In the four decades that we have been providing software-based applications and guidance for water professionals, a lot has changed. What hasn’t changed is this: the utilities that leverage their technology best will serve their customers best,” says Gregg Herrin, vice president, water infrastructure at Bentley Systems.

“Openness has been a driving focus for Bentley for many years, which leads to flexibility, interoperability and scalability.  That helps make the technology accessible to the people who need it, combining information from systems like GIS, SCADA, simulation tools, and beyond to create, extend and apply digital twins to help make better decisions throughout the organization.”

To achieve their digital priorities and future potential, water utilities need to overcome several challenges. While issues such as data quality and quantity are a concern for 80% of respondents, nearly as many are concerned about the lack of internal staff with the necessary digital skills (74%) and resistance to change (70%). In addition, when asked to consider the top means of advancing their digital capabilities, respondents most frequently rank increasing the skills of their staff and improving their understanding of the value of digital capabilities among their top three. Better technology is a distant fourth, suggesting that improvement in these areas is focused more on people than on making big technology investments at this time.

“We find consistently in our research that people are at the heart of a successful adoption of new technology,” says Steve Jones, senior director of industry insights for Dodge Data & Analytics. “The technology is the tool, but as the case study featured in the SmartMarket Brief reveals, the real value comes from the insights it provides to help them to do their work more effectively.”

The Digital Capabilities of U.S. Water Utilities SmartMarket Brief includes more detailed examination of the current status of many operations and maintenance, capital planning and emergency preparedness and response activities and functions, and helps to benchmark the industry’s progress toward its digital future. The report is available for free download at: https://www.construction.com/toolkit/reports/Digital-Capabilities-of-US-Water-Utilities

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