Ripple Effect: How utilities are using digital tech to achieve operational excellence

Ripple Effect: How utilities are using digital tech to achieve operational excellence

The water sector’s transformation is gaining pace. Water and wastewater utilities are deploying digital solutions on a larger scale and demonstrating how data and analytics can optimize operations and enhance services for communities. Sharing insights from the pacesetters is an important factor in accelerating progress.

Following the launch of Xylem’s new paper, Ripple Effect: A Movement Towards Digital Transformation, President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Pine discusses how utilities globally are delivering on the digital promise to achieve operational excellence. 

We partner with water and wastewater utilities of all shapes and sizes – from small rural utilities to consolidated national providers serving millions. The value of digital is well understood. What we hear from our customers is that they want to know more about where to start, and how to scale. Every utility is different, and each operator has a unique set of problems to solve. For many, the lack of a defined digital path can hamper progress.

To help guide utilities in this journey, we spoke to utility operators who have forged this path. We wanted to pull back the curtain on “going digital” by capturing perspectives from 18 global water utility leaders and experts. Ripple Effect: A Movement Towards Digital Transformation is a candid and pragmatic view of the challenges and opportunities they encountered along the way. While no two digital journeys are the same, these insights and strategies amount to a tried and tested playbook to optimize utility operations.

Rethinking and reinventing to embrace digital

When we spoke to the utility leaders and experts featured in Ripple Effect, none of them talked about “big bang” transformations. Instead, we heard that a thoughtful, systematic approach to digital adoption can lead to powerful outcomes. While the group consulted for this paper spans the scope of utility sizes and resources, four major insights have emerged:

First - put strategy before technology.

This means viewing “going digital” as a problem-solving tool rather than an outcome itself. Every utility has a unique set of strategic goals, different regulatory demands, and various levels of available data. Those factors should underpin any decision about digital investments.

Second - choose team, then tech.

By empowering operators to use data and digital tools in ways that make their work easier and optimizes outcomes, utilities can achieve significant and lasting results. By listening to teams, utilities can connect digital strategy to daily work.

Third - connect small projects for big wins.

We found that successful operators work at their own pace of change, delivering small wins by putting quality data to work. Building thoughtfully on each success created a ripple effect with efforts gaining momentum over time.

Fourth - show progress at every step.

Every utility has a unique group of stakeholders that need to see the value of digital. It is up to utilities to articulate this in a way stakeholders can understand – and to show progress at every step of the journey. 

Put simply, if utilities align digital investments with strategic goals, empower their people to help shape the process, prioritize small projects to build incrementally, and use small victories to build stakeholder support, they lay a strong foundation for achieving both near- and long-term success. 

While every utility’s digital transformation will be different, those threads run through all the utilities we talked to. They each followed their own path to address their unique goals, but all remained focused on the plan, the people, the pace, and the proof.