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Leaning into data to create actionable water solutions

As the digital and technological revolution continues to unfold across the water sector, one leading global consultancy is leaning into unlocking the power of data and digital to produce innovative new solutions to challenges throughout the water cycle and asset lifespan.

In 2022, Jacobs adopted Digital OneWater, a new approach to developing integrated and data-enabled solutions that goes beyond data collection, management and analysis to create actionable insights.

Jacobs Digital OneWater Strategic Growth Lead Dr Jennifer Baldwin said the new approach is all about taking clients' big data and turning it into solutions to address complicated real-world challenges, like climate change, regulations and the skills gap.

“At Jacobs, we understand that all water has value and is interconnected. Our vision for water’s digital transformation is an extension of our OneWater approach. By taking a holistic view of our clients’ challenges across the entire water cycle, we can deploy integrated data solutions that provide comprehensive benefits. We recognise the importance of a complete system-wide digital approach that moves beyond optimising assets and networks in isolation by leveraging the use of data that’s not being used. That’s really where Digital OneWater comes in,” she said.

“It’s all about creating digital tools to help people do their jobs better or more efficiently. The end goal for Digital OneWater is to use data to find ways to operate our water systems more efficiently and to conserve water and energy.”

Digital OneWater is informed by Jacobs’ extensive experience in the water space and as a leader in pioneering the water sector’s digital transformation, particularly within its global asset operations portfolio.

“A lot of the tools and submissions we have developed have been about solving our clients’ problems, but also our own. We operate over 200 facilities, many of them in the US, but also across the globe,” Baldwin said.

“We started a transformation within our own operations. We started asking how all of our data could help us do our work better.

 "Fundamentally, a digital approach also helps us become proactive rather than reactive. It’s about helping to find the problems before they happen and having more effective means of dealing with them when they do."

Digitising water

In terms of how the Digital OneWater approach is being implemented, Baldwin said Jacobs' recent work on the Singapore PUB Changi Water Reclamation Plant is a great example, alongside the implementation of digital solutions across Jacobs’ asset operations portfolio.

“We built an industry first digital twin. It’s an amazing feat. The operators in that plant have near real-time data feeding into its digital twin, and this gives them the ability to forecast future performance and to test maintenance scenarios,” she said.

"Another thing we have developed for the sites we operate is our Intelligent O&M solution. We partnered with Palantir, using their innovative Foundry platform, to organise the data.

“This provides us with energy optimisation, chemical optimisation and maintenance management, too. Maintenance management prioritises work orders so that staff are working on the right jobs at the right time.

“This benefits the staff, but also operational efficiency.”

Jacobs ANZ Water Executive Market Director Mary Kanavoutsos said that, in Australia and New Zealand, clients are benefiting hugely from the insights and experience Jacobs has gained from its global digitisation work.

“Jacobs doesn't operate any assets in Australia or New Zealand. But we do bring that global operational expertise and insight into the work we do here,” she said.

“We are trialling the Palantir technology collaboratively with our clients, focusing on chemical and energy consumption. Compliance is a big driver in Australia at the moment with stricter regulations from the Environment Protection Authority."

Tackling broader objectives

Kanavoutsos said issues around environmental compliance are a great example of how the Digital OneWater approach can help utilities with issues reaching beyond direct operational targets, with many Australian water service providers looking for digital solutions to net zero.

“Over the past 12 months, we have been using one of our digital tools called Replica Planner to do quite a significant piece of work with Melbourne Water, which has one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the world in terms of footprint,” she said.

“They have some broad objectives regarding how to achieve their net zero obligations, how to maintain biodiversity and how to protect the environment. We have gone through quite a complex process, looking at the functional requirements of the asset and those broader goals, as well.

“We modified the Replica Planner tool in an adaptive way so that Melbourne Water can use it to make decisions about future upgrades and how they might augment different parts of the asset in a way that has their broader objectives as their focus.

“This is a really interesting way to use data and digital tools to help in really complicated decision-making scenarios where you have lots of benefits that you need to try to achieve simultaneously.”

Kanavoutsos said this application of the Replica Planner tool is something that Jacobs is sharing with clients in the US, but that the tool hasn’t been used in this adaptive way before.

“It’s a new application of the technology,” she said.

These data-based tools can help with many different business challenges facing water companies, Baldwin said, like using data analysis to help utilities work with fewer staff.

“There are a lot of retirements occurring at the moment and a skills gap. But the effective use of data can help us take pressure off teams,” she said.

Baldwin said one of the most exciting things about leaning into the development of data-enabled solutions is that there are still so many things that are yet to be created.

“When someone asks where I think we are going to be in five years, I honestly don’t know. We are in the middle of a digital and technological revolution. We are still devising great new ways of doing things, and it’s not slowing down,” she said.

“One of the things I am really excited about is the potential to bring all these digital tools we are creating together to operate everything as a system. We are not far from being able to start looking at the social impacts of the decisions we make on a daily basis.

“That’s where I see this going.”