It is inevitable that water utilities will continue to face various challenges, but technology can be used to ensure visibility of water quality throughout the value chain, and automatic communication to stakeholders and consumers.
In this regard, investment in analytics can be a quick win for water utilities, says information and communication technology multinational Accenture Resources South Africa senior manager Maanda Ramutumbu.
Analytical tools can be deployed to empower utilities to manage their water resources more efficiently and provide them with the tools to take proactive steps to mitigate the impact of events over which they have little control.
Service delivery protests underscore the incapacity of many municipalities to provide basic services for ratepayers, he highlights.
According to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, 31% of the country's municipalities are dysfunctional and another 31% are almost dysfunctional; only 7% of municipalities are well functioning, while the remaining 31% are considered reasonably functional.
Ramutumbu explains that even municipalities with the best intentions are handicapped in their ability to provide basic services by a myriad of challenges – ranging from ageing infrastructure, increasing customer demand resulting from rapid urbanisation, nonrevenue water losses because of theft and leaks to a lack of critical skills.
“Consumer demand will increase, while the availability of water from traditional sources will continue to be constrained.”
To mitigate some of the challenges, municipalities often embark on capital-intensive, large-scale infrastructure projects.“While large-scale public-sector projects remain important, such initiatives should be matched by the adoption of smart solutions that enable utilities to manage these capital investments better,” emphasises Ramutumbu.
Analytics can provide a utility with much-needed resources to forecast water consumption based on use patterns that are correlated with weather data to measure the quantitative water demand. These solutions will enable utilities to make timeous decisions that will allow water supply to remain sustainable.
“Technologies such as Big Data analytics are increasingly becoming the business tools that influence decision-making and defer cash-guzzling infrastructure projects, allowing for better cash-flow management for utilities,” he says.
While the adoption of smart technology solutions might not prevent leaks, customised smart solutions can be used to identify areas of leaks and predict where the next leaks in the system will most likely occur, thus allowing for early prevention.
Armed with this insight, utilities will be able to better manage the spares inventories and maintenance teams, and reassess if their infrastructure renewal plans match the locations where most leaks occur, says Ramutumbu.
“The cost of doing business will continue to rise, while operational budgets will remain limited. “It is, therefore, imperative that utilities find solutions to overcome these challenges.”