Transitioning from Risk Averse to Innovative
The water utility industry has historically focused its strategy around delivering the required service to customers from a regulatory compliance standpoint. This has traditionally translated into a risk averse mentality which has, in turn, led to slow adoption of new technologies and processes.
Today, utilities are facing numerous challenges that will require an innovative approach. Furthermore, customers are expecting solutions to the growing concerns of scarcity, quality and flooding. Innovating to meet these expectations will require a transformation from the traditional model in to the “Water Utility of the Future”.
Becoming More Customer Focused
The water industry has been under increased scrutiny in recent years due to events like drought in California, lead levels in Flint, and flooding in Louisiana. These very public incidents demonstrate that water utilities can no longer operate in the traditional regulatory-focused manner. The water utility’s role in society is more apparent than ever, and as a result, the Water Utility of the Future will be driven to become more customer-centric. In order to gain and maintain public trust, customer engagement will become a more important driver of utility behavior.
Adopting Holistic Watershed Management
In addition to adopting a more customer-centric model, the Water Utility of the Future will be better positioned to solve some of society’s most pressing problems by focusing on holistic watershed management. Watersheds exist as an interconnected system with natural boundaries. The water industry, however, currently operates in a fractured model. Different agencies and utilities assume responsibility for different segments of the water life cycle from distribution to consumption to reclamation. Further, these agencies maintain responsibility for operations within jurisdictional boundaries, not environmental ones. The Water Utility of the Future will act as the driver of a more holistic, integrated approach to watershed management. In order to succeed in this approach, utilities must engage with major stakeholders including other utilities, federal, state and local agencies and their customers.
Creating New Functional Capabilities
West Monroe Partners envisions the Water Utility of the Future leveraging three innovative, new functional capacities to solve the problems above:
- Data Analytics: New technology like Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is providing access to unprecedented data the Water Utility of the Future will be able to manage and use in a meaningful way to improve operations and transparency with customers.
- Customer Experience: Utilities will adopt a more customer-centric strategy by becoming community leaders with the adoption of a Customer Engagement Officer, and engaging in urban design, economic planning and watershed management promotion.
- Collaboration: Currently, information and data at utilities are siloed between internal departments and isolated from other organizations. On the path to creating a holistic watershed management strategy, the Water Utility of the Future will use trusted data platforms and work collaboratively across departments, partner agencies, and public interests to solve problems.
West Monroe Partners believes that water utilities are in a position to solve some of society’s most pressing problems. However, in order to achieve success, they must shift to a holistic watershed approach, which will create additional authorities, responsibilities and capabilities. Failure to evolve may result in the continued erosion of public trust in our incredible legacy built since the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.