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AWWA project shows water utility voices key to innovation process

To streamline the adoption of innovative new solutions in the water sector, it is important that technology providers understand the specific challenges of water and wastewater utilities and present them with relevant solutions, according to Booky Oren, chairman and chief executive officer of Booky Oren Global Water Technologies (GWT).

Oren’s Israel-based consulting company collaborated with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) on a 2018 project and session at the Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE) to study the unique challenges faced by medium-sized utilities in today’s quickly changing environment and identify the next steps toward applying innovative solutions.

“Utilities are required to systematically upgrade their technologies to improve service, save money and prevent malfunctions,” said Oren, former executive chairman of Mekorot, the Israel National Water Company. “However, due to their size and organizational complexity, water utilities often experience difficulty in identifying a set of challenges and prioritizing them in order to assimilate new technology.” 

AWWA recruited 10 mid-sized utilities from diverse geographic environments to participate in GWT’s systematic process of identifying, prioritizing and solving their major challenges. Participants included Beaver Water District, Arkansas; Des Moines Water Works, Iowa; City of Gilbert, Arizona; City of Lakewood, California; OCWA, New York; Portland Water District, Maine; City of South Bend, Indiana; City of St. Cloud, Minnesota; Toho Water Authority, Florida; and City of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Each participating utility:
Formed an internal project group with representatives from different departments and management levels
Worked with GWT experts to develop detailed descriptions of their top needs and challenges 
Prioritized their five most critical challenges and developed a technological “wish list”
Presented their challenges and wish lists to an audience including technology providers at the “Voice of the Customer: Listening to Medium Utilities” session at ACE18

At the ACE18 session, audience members including utility representatives, consultants and technology providers, listened to the “voice of the utilities” to better understand their organizational challenges. This process, according to Oren, can lead technology providers to work with utilities to address their specific needs and challenges. GWT also researched and presented additional proven technology solutions and a summary of their recommendations to each utility for consideration. (Photo and image credit: Booky Oren)

“The process of sharing utility challenges can also lead to utilities working together to address them,” said Barb Martin, AWWA director of engineering and technical services. “Utilities participating in the project forged new professional connections which provide them with resources they can tap into to share ideas and exchange information well into the future.” 

Andrew Jackson, water manager with the City of Gilbert, said his participation in the initiative was valuable in several ways – learning the systematic approach, discussing similar and potential water sector challenges with other utilities, and receiving a detailed summary from GWT about the City of Gilbert’s specific challenges and associated technological solutions to consider.

“We’re always dealing with way more than five challenges at a time, but we’ve never approached solving them to this degree of focusing our attention,” Jackson said. “This process definitely helped us streamline that effort and provides us with a valuable foundation for our long-range infrastructure planning.” (Photo credit: Andrew Jackson)

Oren explained that the innovation-to-implementation (i2i) process tends to slow down when utilities need to go outside of their organization for solutions. “Most utilities don’t have the mechanism to approach technology providers and look for new solutions,” he said. “This can be addressed by technology providers being more active, listening to utilities, and providing them with relevant technological solutions.”

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