Paul Whitelam | 10.11.17
Summary >

You might assume a nation surrounded by water, with a rich history of naval exploration, and an advanced privatised water management sector wouldn’t face a water or wastewater crisis. But many experts agree that the current population boom and climate change are forcing the industrial, national, and regional water and wastewater situations towards crisis in the United Kingdom.

So what do these mounting challenges mean for field service management organizations? And how can they innovate to overcome each challenge while satisfying end consumers? In the following paragraphs, we discuss how water and wastewater service organizations can get ahead of the looming crisis.

Population boom, climate change, water scarcity combine to create the perfect storm

Ofwat, a government water management programme overseeing England and Wales, recently published a report outlining key challenges for water and wastewater services in these regions. They cite population growth and climate change as key drivers of change, and growing pressure to address water scarcity, environmental quality, and resilience of systems in the face of rising consumer expectations as major hurdles. Key among these challenges, you will find:

  • The UK population is forecast to grow 20% over the next 20 years
  • Rising environmental standards may drive up costs
  • Technology to manage new customer expectations is lacking
  • Major climate change has left specific regions at risk
  • Water scarcity poses immediate threat to supply
  • Customer expectations for the service sector and water continue to rise

In reality, many of these challenges intersect.

This report cites that a full 60% of Thames Water’s customers are concerned about the environment. In addition, 85% of Wessex Water’s customers believe protecting rivers, lakes, and estuaries is critical.

But the reality is more dire than consumers may realize. Given the uneven population distribution across the country, freshwater resources are often pulled from areas that are already under pressure. And new regions have been identified that previously threatened just years ago.

As the report cites, “Water catchments across Wales, south-west and northern England are predicted to experience significant unmet demand under many of the scenario combinations that the Environment Agency has considered.”

Can water management and field service teams get ahead of this looming crisis, or will consumers simply have to cut back on consumption altogether as the population booms?

3 ways UK service organizations can innovate to overcome crisis

Luckily, the field service industry is experiencing a renaissance in service technology that could solve current and future water problems. The Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and predictive maintenance technology could each provide innovative solutions for both meeting growing demand, and minimizing environmental impact.

1. Invest in (and inform customers of) water reduction faucets, shower heads, high efficiency washing machines, and emerging technology

To be fair, this first recommendation is about customer satisfaction, not just technology. But the fastest way to avert a water and wastewater crisis is the simplest: reduce the amount of water usage in businesses, factories, and homes. This will require service organizations convincing customers that these new faucets, shower heads, and high efficiency machines will both save them money through reduced water usage, and save the environment. And if that doesn’t work? A healthy bit of policy should do the trick.

With the number of consumers who have expressed care for environmental issues, couldn’t a nudge from service providers push many over the edge to adopting more efficient technology?

With even a 10% increase in the number of homes, businesses, and facilities equipped with smarter end-using devices, we could improve our water usage future in short order.

2. Enable IoT sensors on industrial water facilities and natural resource hubs

The Internet of Things promises to bring advanced real-time diagnostic capabilities to equipment that, for decades, has required a human to perform a diagnostic task. By embedding internet-enabled sensors on all the equipment that cleans, processes, transports, and delivers water, we could improve the efficiency of the entire water lifecycle by significant margins.

Would this require an up-front investment? Most certainly. But, privatised water and wastewater organizations and service companies would certainly be keen on efficiency gains, especially if margins could move up incrementally.

Using IoT sensors for advanced real-time diagnostics could allow organizations to get predictive about water usage, resource allocation, and more. With the right application of IoT technology, equipment and processing, diagnostics could stand to become more efficient than ever.

3. Use AI and machine learning for ultimate efficiency gains

While seemingly intimidating at the outset, artificial intelligence and machine learning technology are in fact well within reach for organizations willing to embrace a healthy technical challenge. And the payoff? Datasets that take a team of data scientists several weeks to interpret can now be crunched by AI algorithms in seconds.

Upon gaining results, future-oriented field service organizations will soon apply machine learning models that are ready-built for various service scenarios. Sound like a bunch of nonsense? Stick with us.

Think of machine learning algorithms as software with a brain. First, you develop an algorithmic model. Let’s use flooding, a common water crisis scenario, as an example. By coding your software to understand all the steps a human would take in a flood scenario, and then enabling artificial intelligence algorithms to process information in real-time, you can effectively combine real-time flood data and your algorithm to unlock an immediate decision tree.

The software acts upon data in an instant, making airtight decisions and optimizing your entire field service chain the same way your dispatch or service executives would, given the parameters of your programmed scenario. But the main difference between AI software managing a service chain, and a human being? Software will make fewer mistakes.

As the UK continues to seek a resolution to current and future water scenarios, a health balance of policy, innovation, and customer support will be required.

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