Final yr round this time, I targeted on digital know-how options for water with this essay, “2019: The 12 months Analog Options Died.” I stand by this attitude, because the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated curiosity and adoption of digital applied sciences throughout the water worth chain.

Nevertheless, I needed to share six new learnings from this pandemic yr associated to digital transformation together with different observations concerning the matter of water.  

1. Digital transformation is about folks: The digital transformation of water was effectively underway pre-pandemic and accelerated shortly in the course of the previous 9 months. What was as soon as anticipated to be a multiyear transformation occurred quickly, with each the utility and industrial sectors scrambling to establish digital applied sciences and combine them into their operations to regulate to distant workforces.

Two features of the digital transformation took on extra prominence: the crucial significance of the workforce and the position of earth remark science (EOS) applied sciences.

First, the crucial significance of individuals in digital transformation can’t be underestimated. Transformation will stall or fail if there isn’t any alignment between enterprise technique and tradition, and there’s a lack of funding within the workforce. The insights on digital transformation from 2019 papers and analysis got here to the forefront (“IWA Digital Transformation” and “The Expertise Fallacy”). The important thing takeaways are that profitable investments in digital water applied sciences require a technique, dedication by management, funding within the workforce and establishing and nurturing a tradition of studying. A very powerful from my perspective is making a tradition of studying — it can contribute to attracting and retaining expertise.
We additionally witnessed the emergence of EOS applied sciences to supply real-time water high quality, ecosystem well being and flood prediction analytics from satellite tv for pc information acquisition and analytics firms (similar to Gybe, 52 Influence and Cloud to Avenue). Digital applied sciences are connecting throughout the worth chain of utilities and industries for a extra real-time view of water high quality, quantitative evaluations of ecosystems and flood prediction.

2. We want a “skunkworks” technique for innovation: Innovation in water know-how and enterprise fashions is gradual for a number of causes. The competitors is the established order (the put in base). Usually, organizations “attempt” to innovate from inside, and water is a public well being problem, so utilities can’t take dangers. We don’t have the luxurious of time to attend for progressive applied sciences and enterprise fashions to scale. At this fee, we received’t obtain United Nations Sustainable Improvement Objective 6, which units the aim of fresh water and sanitation for all.

What we want is a skunkworks mindset and technique. If different business sectors such because the plane and aerospace sectors can innovate shortly and at scale, so can the water sector. For these unfamiliar with the time period, the related traits of a skunkworks mission are outlined as a focus of some good folks fixing issues far prematurely, at a fraction of the price of different teams by making use of the easy, most easy strategies doable to develop new tasks (paraphrased from Kelly Johnson).

three. Water is just not (simply) the water business: The problems and alternatives associated to water will not be simply concerning the water business. We want a extra expansive view of the position of water in society and the environment. For instance, water has financial, enterprise, social and religious dimensions. The water business sector largely focuses on financial and enterprise dimensions and barely, if in any respect, on the social and religious dimensions. I’d reframe the narrative to give attention to humanity’s relationship with water (particularly well being and wellness, and pure ecosystems). Water doesn’t come from the faucet or bottled water, so let’s shield watersheds and ecosystems. This message must be communicated merely and clearly to these exterior the water sector.

four. Variety is crucial to fixing depraved water issues: Society would profit from better range in fixing water challenges as it’s uncertain options solely will come from the standard suspects (myself included). We want vastly extra range in age, gender, race, geography and from business outsiders. Rising range won’t occur organically; we must be proactive and work at it or we’re destined to deliver the identical concepts to the social gathering. As Ben Dukes, a buddy and colleague, typically says, “What received you right here received’t get you there.”

5. Innovation in investing in water stays a problem: Water know-how entrepreneurs and startups proceed to be challenged by conventional enterprise capital and personal fairness funding fashions. Water is just not cleantech and requires extra affected person capital, which is in brief provide. Nevertheless, there are encouraging indicators as initiatives similar to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s 100+ Accelerator and Microsoft’s $1 billion Local weather Innovation Fund spend money on progressive water and sustainability options. The elevated curiosity throughout 2020 in environmental, social and governance (ESG) efficiency has additionally targeted extra on progressive water options.

6. Water is just not local weather: The assertion “If local weather is the shark, water is the enamel” is deceptive and never useful. This yr, local weather change continued to achieve traction inside the personal sector within the type of new commitments and investments from firms similar to Amazon, Google and Nestle, amongst many others. That is actually to be applauded. Nevertheless, a cautionary phrase: Fixing local weather change won’t resolve the basic points with water shortage, poor high quality and lack of entry to secure consuming water, sanitation and hygiene. The potential and certain failure to attain SDG 6 might be attributed to public coverage failures sch as pricing, allocations and lack of funding. We will resolve local weather change and water and must give attention to each.

There isn’t a scarcity of classes discovered from 2020. Whereas it was a profoundly difficult yr, we do have a chance to do higher by critically inspecting what wants to alter within the years forward.

This previous yr has framed my view of what the longer term might maintain for 2021 as we construct again higher. I’ll share my ideas on 2021 in my subsequent Liquid Belongings column.

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