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Water firms: Use digital technologies or die

Mr William Sarni, founder and chief executive officer, Water Foundry, a water data analytics and visualisation tools firm. He asks business leaders to read the book, The Technological Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation by Gerald C. Kane et al.
Mr William Sarni, founder, Water Foundry, a water data analytics firm. He asks business leaders to read the book, The Technological Fallacy by Gerald C. Kane et al.

Water services firms must use data tools and technologies to make data-drive decisions so as to improve their performances. For example, after a water firm installed electromagnetic meters it found out that it was losing 52% of its water. Research shows that lack of a clear business strategy by managers and directors is a barrier to innovation.

Mr David Leffler, director general, Israel’s ministry of Economy and Industry said Covid-19 has made 2020 a difficult year. He told Digital Water Israel Virtual Expo on 10 November that lockdowns and movement restrictions stressed the need for digital solutions that enable remote control.

“Therefore, the ability to improve the analytics and provide high quality remote control solutions is essential,” he said. “In order to overcome these challenges, it will be necessary to implement innovative solutions.”

Mr William Sarni, founder, Water Foundry, a water data analytics firm, said analogue is dead or on its way out. Leadership and workforce need to understand this, he told the Expo.

“If you are not a digital entity you are not sustainable, you are not resilient and you are not going to grow your business,” he said. “If you are not a digital company or have a plan to become one you are going to be left behind.”

Mr Sarni told businesses leaders to activate and invest in educating their employees about digital technology. In addition, he said that firms must also allow their staff to try and fail.

“I am tired of hearing water sector is not being innovative because they can’t be,” Mr Sarni said. “I don’t accept they can’t. They need to do it differently.”

What prevents water firms from using digital technologies?

We chose views from leaders of top Israeli water technologies firms who spoke at Digital Water Israel Virtual Expo on 11 November. They share with us their outlook on how management style and organisational culture control how a firm excels in technology use.

Mr Guy Meiri, head of business development at IOSight, said that a firm need to have the core technology, which comprises data, sensors and systems.

“Sometimes companies don’t have that or they need to do a lot of work to make their systems ready and connect them,” he told the Expo. “That is one barrier.”

He said most firms have data but small water services firms might not have data.

Mr Meiri said that the second barrier to water firms using digital technology is the culture, some conservatism and risk-aversion.

Mr Amir Peleg, founder and chief executive officer of Takadu, agreed with Mr Meiri that culture is stopping water firms from benefiting from digital technology. But culture is an opportunity too, he added.

“If you touch that thing about people it is about culture,” Mr Meiri told the Expo. “Culture is a combination of both the people and how you manage them and create some cultural basic data driven decision-making process.”

Water firms must include young people

Mr Peleg said that the right culture that adopts technology is the one that brings in young people into firms and letting them to use the best tools.

“Let them [young people] ask questions, ‘why is it like that and not like that?’” He said. “And they [young people] challenge their managers.”

Mr Peleg said with young people in a firm creates a new culture of improvement. This means that a firm does not continue doing what it has done for 20 years.

“Culture is an obstacle but it is an opportunity because if you touch on culture and people and their process you see you can do magic,” he said. “Change that through leadership and young generation.”

Mr Ofir Marx, global marketing manager, Bermad, said that innovation is about culture and people. He said that the equipment and data are minor issues.

“The young generation are very active, pushing senior managers to do pilot,” Mr Marx said. “Make data accessible to them [young people] without too many barriers.”

In addition, Mr Meiri said that some firms fail to embrace modern technologies because they waste time take a lot of time evaluating which technologies to use.

“They want to make sure they have consensus, [they are] doing the right process and [they are] choosing the right technology,” he said. “Us, we say let’s do a pilot. Let’s start. We fail first, we try many [technologies], try few [technologies], then decide.”

How can water firms excel in digital technology use?

Mr Sarni says that firms must plan how to adopt digital technologies.

“There has to be clear business strategy,” he said. “A culture of innovation and there has to be ambition at management and board level.”

Mr Sarni advises firms to pilot or test technology and be agile on how they adapt that digital technology.

“Essentially, this is all about the people side of the equation and less about the digital technology side,” he added.

In addition, Mr Sarni quotes research into how firms use digital technologies. He tells business leaders to pay attention to strategy and engage their employees.

Mr Sarni said firms identify and assimilate innovations at different rates. So, it is a learned capability over time, he added.

“They have to acquire information from outside the organisation, increase the velocity of information flow to really understand how to collaborate and how to bring new ideas in,” Mr Sarni said. “They really have to close the gap between knowing that they need to engage in digital transformation strategy and actually doing it.”

About Kaburu Mugambi

Kaburu Mugambi is a veteran of business reporting having worked with two national newspapers in Kenya. He is a graduate of economics from Kenyatta University. He started his journalism career in 2000 with The People Daily as a business reporter before becoming a business sub-editor. He joined Daily Nation in 2004 as a business writer. He holds a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and an MBA in marketing from the same university. In 2016, he founded Water Tower, a media firm focused on water, energy and climate. Its content cuts across water, energy and climate with emphasis on adaptation and sustainability.

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