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Digitalisation is Transforming Approaches to Asset Management  

Digitalisation is Transforming Approaches to Asset Management  

Data forms the foundation of advanced asset management – a foundation that must be laid by water companies now to unlock its full potential, writes Matthew Kennedy, global product manager for water loss at Xylem, ahead of the WWT Asset Management Conference. 

There is a pressing need for water companies to take a more risk-based and digital approach to asset management if they are to meet tightening regulatory expectations, while addressing the ongoing challenges of ageing infrastructure, skills gaps, an ageing workforce and labour shortages.  

As the 2025-2030 asset management period (AMP8) approaches for water companies in England and Wales, there is a new focus from Ofwat towards long-term planning, increased investment and adaptation to climate change. Making better use of available data will help utility leaders identify optimal management approaches.   

The good news is that rapid developments in digital technology are making it possible for utilities to transform the way water and wastewater assets are managed. The collection, storage and interpretation of data in relation to assets and their performance forms the foundation of advanced asset management.  

It is a foundation that must be laid now in order to realise the full benefits of data in AMP8 and beyond – there are huge data deficits that need to be plugged and siloed information that needs to be unlocked.  

From Xylem’s conversations with utilities, we understand where the gaps are and have developed a broad set of solutions to fill them. This includes new sensor technologies to understand the performance of assets, such as Xylem’s SoundPrint® acoustic fibre optic system, which continually monitors critical pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes (PCCPs), acquires data and alerts utilities to structural changes in near real-time. 

The system was deployed by Scottish Water in June 2022, to extend the asset life of a trunk main that runs over 16km from a water treatment works to a service reservoir in West Dunbartonshire. In a European first, the technology is allowing Scottish Water to accurately monitor the condition of the critical main and plan interventions to ensure a resilient and reliable water supply. 

Where asset managers need to understand the impact of critical factors impacting their investment decisions, Xylem Vue powered by GoAigua, integrates and standardises data from assets and systems across the utility to provide 360-degree operational intelligence. 

Vue and SoundPrint® are just two of the many examples of digital solutions now available to water companies, which can transform asset management, and the technology is advancing all the time. In terms of innovation, progress is being made across three key areas: 

  • Sensing and data collection: advances in asset inspection techniques, such as fibre-optic inspection and acoustic condition assessment; improved water quality monitoring; satellite sensing; and systems for real-time collection of maintenance data from field teams 
  • Data analysis: artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being applied to data in real-time and in diverse applications, including automated customer call answering, triaging work orders, pattern-matching of acoustic signals to leak size, and AI co-pilots for utility operations 
  • Strategy and planning: progression to AI being applied to calculate probability-of-failure of assets, and move away from age-based prioritisation

Successful adoption of new innovations depends on the stage of digitalisation utilities are at – significant organisational transformation is required for datasets to be brought together to enable application beyond point-of-concept stages. If this transformation is achieved, many more opportunities will present themselves – even those that may currently seem like a pipedream.  

Imagine an AI assistant interface that can answer any question about your assets in a conversational manner. It is a long journey of digitalisation, data aggregation and analysis in the industry to get there, but the well-publicised advances of ChatGPT have proven this really is possible.   

Matthew Kennedy will be presenting Innovative Asset Management: Driving Value in the Water Industry, at the WWT Asset Management Conference in Birmingham, UK, on 8 November 2023. 

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