What exactly is smart water in China?


In this article, we reflect on how smart water affairs have influenced the water industry in the last couple of years. We observe that many industry players choose this direction to proceed with the upgrading and transformation.

With all the tech buzzwords that we encounter today, such as 5G, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and NB-IoT, business owners and managers have a hard time choosing which of these technologies could be the right choice to upgrade their rather traditional businesses. But one thing is certain – nowadays that digital disruption is commonplace, digital transformation is crucial for business growth, and not embracing is not an option anymore for companies who want to stay relevant.

Policy measures and initiatives of the Chinese government that have been implemented in the last couple of years are the key drivers of the digital transformation in the water industry. The biggest challenge that companies face is overcoming the need to rethink their business and adapt their processes to try and stay ahead of the curve.

To really reap the benefits of smart water affairs, the companies should first fully understand its best practices. Many companies invest in its software and technologies without fully understanding how to use them to their full potential. Eventually, they come to the (false) conclusion that it’s not worth the money and effort.

So what is actually smart water?

Here are some of our findings on that matter:

For starters, let’s bring our focus to the “water affairs” part of the name, and leave out “smart” for the moment.

"Water affairs" refers to raw water, water supply, water-saving solutions, drainage, sewage treatment, and water recycling.

The water industry has developed rapidly in the last couple of years, which resulted in many new companies appearing in the market. Data show that from 2014 to 2018, the market size of China's urban water industry has increased from 171.35 billion yuan to 268.81 billion yuan, with a compound annual growth rate of 11.9%.

However, the faster the development, the more obvious the disadvantages of the water industry, including unreasonable energy consumption, equipment loss, and personnel expenses.

For example, the pipeline network, pumping stations, water plants, etc. in the water supply industry are scattered all over the country. If any pumping station has a problem, it may be reported to the headquarters, and the headquarters will send someone to inspect and repair it, which is a time-consuming process. Moreover, the leakage problem of the water supply pipeline network and the water supply safety problems caused by the old water supply equipment need to be solved.

The same is true for the sewage industry. With the continuous increase of sewage discharge and the stricter discharge standards, many sewage plants face operation pressure and management difficulties.

How are these problems usually solved?

Let us take the example of a sewage plant that everyone is familiar with. In the final analysis, the operating pressure of a sewage plant comes from the effluent exceeding the standard. In general, each sewage plant will establish its own set of operating parameters and analysis systems. When the effluent exceeds the standard, the sewage plant management will troubleshoot the problem based on these data, and come up with a set of solutions.

Experienced management would check the data every once in a while. This way they can take timely countermeasures before adverse consequences occur as soon as they spot any abnormalities. The most experienced ones will take preventive measures in advance for the abnormal situations that often occur in sewage plants. But that means that the operation of sewage plants fully depends on their experienced management. What happens if the plant manager is temporarily not available?

Digitalization on the other hand can offer some benefits such as automatization, higher production rates, and increased productivity, more efficient use of water, improved safety, shorter workweeks for labor, and much more.

Of course, this is just an example of the operation of sewage plants. In fact, the scope of smart water affairs is much wider. But one thing remains the same. Before the digital transformation, we must know what the main contradictions of businesses are, and we must carry out industrial upgrading around these contradictions at the current stage, rather than follow the digital trends.


What is the current level of digitalization?

There are three stages in the development of smart water affairs.

The first stage is the development of online monitoring capabilities. For example, the Internet of Things, monitoring systems, and data collection. Many companies have begun to use various software platforms, new sensors, and smart water meters that collect data. Data collection is important, but it seems that at this stage the data obtained from various sources are not connected so it is difficult to obtain a broader picture to conduct the data analysis.

The second stage is to connect the collected data. At present, most businesses are in this stage. This is also an inevitable stage faced by every non-digital native enterprise. How to transfer the data between the old and new systems is a problem that enterprises need to solve at this stage.

In the third stage, smart water affairs have reached a high level of digitalization. In terms of production, they can achieve precise dosing of chemicals, rational distribution of water resources, optimization of equipment conditions, etc., which greatly reduces energy consumption; in terms of operation, it can realize risk warning, decision assistance, etc. In terms of management, it can optimize personnel scheduling and accelerate organizational innovation; in terms of customer experience, it can provide more humanized services, and there are currently only a few companies that have achieved this level.

The construction of smart water affairs is definitely not a one-step process. There are problems at each stage.


What does digitalization bring to employees?

Digital transformation benefits your company in many aspects: it increases productivity, efficiently engages with customers, and enables growth. Overall, it is all about transforming and creating new business models, processes, and cultures using digital technologies. The use of technology is actually the key to improving employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders’ experience. It allows your company to align people, data, and processes to create value for your customers and maintain a competitive edge.

Furthermore, digitalization allows employees to focus more on making decisions. The digital system can undertake monitoring and early warning optimization, such as daily inspections of water plants, regular inspections of equipment, etc. The work undertaken by humans is mainly to analyze data and make decisions.

Digitalization also creates a safer environment for the employees. For example, China's first ultra-deep underground sewage plant has a foundation pit depth of 30 meters and complex geographical conditions. Without 4G and 5G, employees would encounter safety risks while operating the plant. This water plant uses a positioning system, which can monitor the operators in real-time. When there is an abnormal situation, the system will issue an alarm, and the operator can also call for help with only one click.

And another huge advantage is that digitalization makes it easier for employees to learn and grow at a faster pace.

The training of employees in traditional companies is based on the knowledge and materials in the computer. Now, digital twin technology can be used to build a virtual water plant that is exactly the same as a real water plant, which simulates real-world scenarios and trains employees in a safe and engaging immersive training environment.

With more and more smart city development projects, we can only expect that the digital transformation of the water industry will become inevitable.  

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"WieTec Integrated Marketing Platform” is a B2B platform dedicated to the environmental protection and energy-saving industry created by the organizers of WieTec. It is the first integrated marketing platform in the industry that leverages offline exhibition resources, such as exhibitor and visitor databases. WieTec integrated marketing platform allows its users to submit their content, and get in contact with the target buyers through multi-channel marketing. The platform integrates the entire customer lifecycle journey – from customer reach and acquisition to customer loyalty and aftersales service.