Don't get swept away in data: a strategic approach to digitisation

Sam Kenward, Associate Director, Aqua Consultants

The relentless thirst for operational efficiency in water and energy utilities is often accompanied by a deluge of data. With automation, AI, and smart grids beckoning, the pressure to digitise everything in sight can feel irresistible. But before you plunge headlong into a data tsunami, remember: sometimes the most valuable insights are hiding in plain sight.

Sure, digital twins might make sense for high-value infrastructure upgrades. But for most assets, the cost of digging for digital diamonds outweighs the benefit. A one-size-fits-all digitisation approach risks drowning you in murky data swamps, obscuring true efficiency gains with complexity. So, before getting swept away, equip yourself with a life raft: a strategic, outcome-focused approach to data.

Instead of blindly digitising everything, ask yourself:

  • What wisdom flows from this data? Will it truly inform critical decisions about your key business objectives?
  • Is the cost sustainable? Does the potential benefit justify the resources poured into digitisation? Can we find readily available digital meters or sensors instead of costly data-mining expeditions?
  • Incomplete data, risky decisions? What are the consequences of navigating operational decisions with missing data points? Can we mitigate these risks by strategically collecting specific data or drawing insights from existing sources?

It is crucial to get the right support from people who have navigated these data-rich landscapes for countless organisations. It is important to understand that each company is unique, with its own data currents and maturity levels. An approach to navigate these complexities would be;

  • Prioritise your data reservoirs: assess your data holdings, identify the high-impact tributaries amidst the floodplains.
  • Chart your data course: Map out a digitisation strategy tailored to your specific needs and efficiency goals.
  • Measure your progress: Establish baselines and metrics, ensuring your data journey yields tangible results.

But before setting sail, remember: a vast reservoir of valuable data already exists within your systems. The challenge isn't just acquiring more data, but harnessing the power of what you already own. Leaky data processes, inconsistent formats, and unmapped connections between departments often turn this potential hydropower into wasted energy.

Expert consultants can help you:

  • Tame the data maelstrom: Streamline your data processes, building clear channels for collection, storage, and analysis.
  • Speak the language of data: Bridge the communication gap between departments, ensuring everyone accesses and uses data effectively.
  • Map the data constellations: Illuminate interdependencies between functions, preventing unintended consequences when you improve one data stream.

By tackling these internal challenges first, you'll lay the foundation for a truly productive digitisation journey. Only then, with a clear map and a focused purpose, can you set sail to uncover the real efficiency gains hidden within your data reservoirs. Remember, in the quest for operational excellence, sometimes the most valuable discoveries are made closer to home than you think.

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