Characterised by a multitude of elements that coexist and work together, water ecosystems are playing a key role in digital water management processes.
The correlation between global climate change and water is crystal clear. Climate change impacts the water cycle by prompting extreme weather events, reducing water availability and water quality and posing challenges to sustainable development, biodiversity and humans’ basic right to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Regional and nationwide climate policies and planning are flourishing lately with a focus on an integrated approach to climate change and water management. But it is now essential that we pay proper attention to the role played by complex ecosystems (private organisations, public administrations, cities, consumers) and how they are favouring innovation and digital capacity – including cutting-edge technologies – to deliver cost-effective services.
Over time, the concept of digitalisation has moved to the forefront when referring to innovation and smartness. Digitalisation has already transformed citizens’ daily lives and created new business models. However, the current approach tends to be driven by the collection of large amounts of data that is linked to our daily activities.
If we want to address ‘smartness’, we need to focus on how these data flows are created and how they can be intelligently transported, shared and consumed on a global scale. Smart digital life and digital transformation is the ‘planned change’ for better usage of ‘data’ involving new technologies. Digital transformation, in contrast to digitalisation, means a higher rate of change, a broader extent of change and a greater participation of citizens and public administrations in close collaboration within industry.
Among its many facets, digital transformation means moving from isolation to globally connected systems and elements that form an interdependent, far more efficient ecosystem made up of multiple entities to work together effectively. ‘Smartness’ is not just about installing digital interfaces or smart sensors in traditional infrastructure or streamlining systems’ operations. It is also about using technology and data purposefully to make better decisions and deliver better services.
The need to digitalise water
Global challenges such as climate change demand flexible and adaptive governance approaches to deal with risk and uncertainty and to implement and guarantee the long-term sustainability of water management. That means moving from a reactive water management approach, triggered by climate change-related extreme events, for instance, to a preventive and predictive one, based on a real-time informed decision support system.
Despite a promising technological surge triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the water domain is still fragmented and characterised by a low level of maturity concerning the integration and standardisation of ICT solutions. Water and wastewater supply chains must provide good services at all times. Equally, water managers need to be better equipped with resources and have access to valuable information and hands-on practical case studies if they are to help organisations improve their efficiency rates and reduce decision-making times and costs.
Evidence through data is critical to address the many challenges the water sector is facing. Context data (describing what is going on, where, when and why) must be prevalent and accessible in near real-time, leading to the creation of a digital continuum, one in which the boundaries between applications domains are blurred. Consequently, it will be necessary for context information to flow freely between the different application domains, breaking the current silos of information.
This vision involves the integration of multiple systems of different nature – not just IoT devices but all kinds of context information sources. This ‘system of systems’ approach relies on the creation of a common knowledge repository that keeps and shares the data – one in which each system updates its own context information and can access the context information provided by other connected systems.
Data and the concept of trustworthiness
The exponential growth of data crossing borders and the proliferation of cloud computing has brought the topic of data sovereignty to the fore. With organisations of all types and sizes, collecting and storing large amounts of data has become essential to establish how, when and at what price others may use such data across the value chain.
Clearly, this approach requires a broad adoption of open platforms and interoperable standards to ensure that all connected systems can talk to one another. Interoperable platforms such as FIWARE allow water sector companies and other relevant stakeholders and industries to select the most appropriate combination of tools and data provided by different content information providers.
FIWARE is at the forefront of providing the standards to make this possible. Such standards for context information management are fundamental to the creation of interoperable platforms and infrastructures that can be deployed anywhere by just about anyone. It leads to the creation of a data-driven economy for the benefit of all, allowing the integration of multiple content data sources.
Publishing the context information management platform under an open-source licence can encourage the adoption of it as a standard. It also provides the benefits to achieve a massive influx from external contributors, which also contribute to increasing the ecosystem of third-party solutions. The result of these interactions is a continuous evolution of the platform to offer new and much better solutions that will lead to a much faster growth of the platform. It accelerates innovation across sectors and facilitates adoption of new services and products.
FIWARE plays a key role in driving the definition of ‘de facto’ standards and data models across a wide range of domains, including water management as part of the Fiware4Water project. FIWARE’s commitment to the topic has now achieved further notes with the recent launch of the FIWARE Domain Committee, devoted to bringing FIWARE technology to the water sector.
Interested in joining the FIWARE Smart Water Domain Committee? Reach out to us at fiware.org
Robert Brears is the founder of Our Future Water, a FIWARE Foundation media partner, and Angeles Tejado is a Senior Project and Marketing Manager at FIWARE Foundation.
Header image by Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash