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Enhancing water management with cloud technologies

The cloud is water management’s future—how can water managers ensure they get the best outcomes?

Water infrastructure managers want efficient and sustainable operations. They need to see what is happening across their sites. Yet this is challenging because old software and obsolete data analytics deliver underwhelming operational visibility.

Cloud technologies can help managers reach those goals, optimising operations and ensuring potable water. When managers want predictive maintenance, real-time alerts, or remote management, the best results are almost exclusively through the cloud.

Nonetheless, they have many questions. Using the cloud can create new risks. There are concerns about security, data control, and other potential problems.

“Many water managers are not sure if they should use cloud technologies,” says Chetan Mistry, Xylem Africa’s Strategy and Marketing Manager. “There are also numerous myths and misconceptions about the cloud, which is a pity because cloud systems enhance and modernise water operations. People should try to understand the cloud and challenge these misconceptions, but we can’t blame them for being reluctant because they are the ones sticking their necks out to bring the cloud in.”

What are the fundamentals of the cloud, and why are cloud solutions well-suited for water infrastructure management?

The cloud, data and security

The cloud radically increases returns while reducing up-front investment costs. Through the inventive use of modern software, cloud systems combine and scale multiple servers to deliver cutting-edge digital, data and artificial intelligence services across the internet at very competitive costs. Traditional IT cannot do this without incurring enormous expenses and upfront investment.

Typically, a site would purchase software and long-term user licences, and purchase and maintain the hardware and human skills that run that software. However, this traditional approach has considerable drawbacks.

Foremost, it takes time, money and skills to maintain the hardware. Second are costs incurred for software maintenance, updates, and patches. Third, the software is isolated to a specific location—people must be on-site to use it. And lastly, the software has no natural ability to scale cost-effectively. Water sites are stuck with what they bought and have to ‘sweat’ the software, even if it’s outdated and lacking new features.

Cloud computing turns this approach on its head. Sites don’t need to purchase software or licences—they access on a pay-per-month or pay-per-use subscription model. The cloud service provider owns and runs the servers hosting the software. Patches and updates are applied proactively and at no extra cost to customers.

As the cloud is a native internet technology, cloud software is remotely accessible. Cloud business models use platforms that scale, so the cloud service can shrink or expand as needs and budgets change. Cloud software also increases security—while customers must continue to create healthy security practices, cloud providers invest extensively in security features, industry-standard frameworks, and data protection standards such as ISO 27001 and SOC 2 Type II.

The cloud de-risks software usage, lowers associated costs, and provides more flexibility. Yet site managers don’t lose any control. They still manage their data, compliance, and security. But they let go of cost and management elements holding them back, passing those to cloud partners with serious resources, skills and innovation capacity.

Choosing the right partner

The cloud can relieve water management from outdated systems and technology stagnation. Trust is the cloud’s currency; water sites should focus on selecting partners that will stick with them.

“If a cloud company is primarily trying to sell a product to you, walk away,” Mistry advises. “You are not buying a product, you are buying into a relationship. They need to demonstrate that they listen and can assess your needs for proactive solutions. They must also demonstrate that they know your sector and they continually invest in their systems for your benefit.”

Take cybersecurity as an example: Serious partners offer security assessments and back solutions with real-world use cases and customer stories. They follow best-practice security frameworks, earn and maintain standards such as ISO 27001 data protection, and align with the top cloud vendors, such as Amazon and Microsoft.

Xylem knows that cloud computing is a game-changer for water management. But we also appreciate that there are concerns about risks such as control, security, maintenance, and cost management. To answer these needs for our customers, we develop and maintain policies, skills and partnerships to counter risks and boost value. Whether the concern is about data breaches, data sovereignty, cloud skills, or aligning cloud technologies with water strategies, we do the heavy lifting so that water sites can focus on their core priorities.

The best partners listen and respond. Cloud computing is about flexibility and focused solutions without capital expenditure burdens. Technology makes it possible, but partnership and trust make it happen.

“Focus on the partners and what they can deliver over the long term,” says Mistry. “The technology is academic—it’s the partner’s job to listen to your needs and respond with the right solutions. It doesn’t make sense to stay in the past with outdated systems.”