KEY TAKE-AWAYS

  • Knowledge transfer and effective onboarding

  • The increasing impacts of climate change

  • Managing increasingly complex and technical infrastructure

  • Scaling innovation projects from POCs to live transformations

Challenge #1: Knowledge transfer and onboarding

Water management demands a high level of expertise from relatively small teams. The deeply specialised nature of water management work often traditionally means that those experts stay in their roles through their entire working lives.
 
From the perspective of building reliable, close-knit teams, that’s a very good thing. But, once your entrenched experts approach retirement, it creates a major skills transfer challenge. In most cases, hiring someone with the same skills as the person leaving your team simply isn’t an option.


The complex and varied nature of water management means that to get new team members up to speed, they need to work alongside established experts for years to reach the same level as them. But fortunately, digitisation looks set to significantly speed that process up.

Technologies like digital twins create a digital replica of your water management operations – laying everything out clearly in one place. This digital overview of operations is hugely valuable for onboarding, making it easier for existing team members to explain processes, and train new hires in the intricacies of your infrastructure.

Challenge #2: Increasing infrastructure complexity

For many water managers – for example those handling and managing wastewater – the scope of their job and responsibilities has grown significantly in recent years. Today, water managers are being asked to do more than ever, with limited resources.

In wastewater, new regulations and sustainability initiatives have an ongoing impact on managers’ jobs. The days when they were responsible for relatively simple treatment processes are long gone. Now, they’re also tasked with removing micro-pollutants, extracting reusable raw materials from wastewater, and even producing renewable energy directly.

Naturally, those new tasks and responsibilities have had an impact on the complexity of water management infrastructure. Today, there is an ever growing number of steps in water processing chains, with greater interdependencies between process steps and plants. 

That also adds to the challenges of knowledge transfer and upskilling. When a new employee joins a water management team, they’re often faced with complex, imposing infrastructures and environments that they need to master quickly.

Fortunately, once again, digitisation is helping to solve this. By laying out these complex processes using digital twins, they become easier to map and understand. The picture might be complex, but at least you can see everything – and critically, understand all the nuanced process interdependencies in the modern plant environment.

Challenge #3: Adapting to climate change

Climate change is one of the biggest and most pressing global challenges faced today. Water managers around the world are already acutely aware of its impacts, and have had to make numerous changes and allowances to help mitigate them.

In my home country of The Netherlands, I’ve worked with numerous water authorities, all of which are struggling with the impact of the climate shifts on their infrastructures. These shifts all demand new approaches to management.

With the hydraulic loading becoming less predictable and more prone to severe fluctuations, water management teams have been forced to find new ways to minimize the impact on their complex assets and systems.

With IoT sensors and other digital technologies deployed across their infrastructure, these teams are getting better at detecting and handling fluctuating flow and water levels earlier – enabling them to take necessary actions faster. Plus, all the IoT data they gather is helping them better understand how flow patterns are shifting over time.

Challenge #4: Scaling proof of concepts into live transformations

There are an almost limitless number of exciting ways that data science, AI, and machine learning can be applied to aid and transform water management. And at an operational level, that’s something that management teams seem very excited about.

At Royal HaskoningDHV Digital, we have worked with numerous water management teams that have successfully put together a proof of concept (POC) for one or more of these technologies, and demonstrated the value they can deliver for their plants. But despite this success, very few have successfully scaled these projects into production.

Executive and senior-level buy-in for these projects remains low – even when the results of the POC have been positive. To secure the levels of investment needed to scale these projects and apply them across their live environment and processes, operational teams must seek new ways of demonstrating their value.

Once again, a robust digital view of processes and infrastructure can help. By using a digital twin concept to give management direction on how their operations could look with the proposed capabilities applied, teams can lift their POCs even further out of the abstract, and clearly demonstrate their value to all.

Four challenges, one solution: digitisation

While diverse, all four of these challenges have one thing in common: they can all be effectively tackled through intelligent digitisation of water management processes and operations.

With the combined pressure of these challenges being felt more acutely than ever by water managers of all kinds, it’s now no longer a question of if they’ll digitise their operations, but when.

Based on my own experience working closely with water authorities and water management teams, I believe digital twins have a significant role to play in that transformation. That’s why I recently wrote the whitepaper Digital Twins for Wastewater Infrastructure.

Inside I explore the what, why and how of digital twins for teams managing water infrastructure. Download the paper now to discover the different ways of applying digital twins in your operations, and get practical advice to help you execute your own digital twin projects.

Digital Twins for Wastewater Infrastructure 

Discover the vital role digital twins will play in the future of wastewater management.