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Success factors for digitization in the water industry

With WaterExe4.0, a team of researchers at Hof University of Applied Sciences presents the first meta-study on digitization in the German-speaking water industry: As part of the BMBF-funded project, around 700 projects, products and digitization solutions were recorded and evaluated. In addition, the responses of around 120 participants in a survey and 30 expert interviews were included in the results now presented. Those responsible summarize the result as follows

Digitization activities in the industry have multiplied over the past 5 years, and digitization has arrived as a core topic. However: Diverse research ideas and numerous product and solution offerings have so far only been used to a small extent in the municipalities.

Prof. Günter Müller-Czygan

The interviewees see the reasons for the restrained implementation on the one hand in the difficult technical transferability of some solutions. On the other hand, there is probably still a general lack of role models within the water management sector. Nevertheless, it is clear from the surveys that digitization is still associated with the hope of being able to better master the challenges of the future. .

Many technical possibilities – but also high hurdles

Looking at the exact results, it is not surprising that two-thirds of the digitization solutions analyzed can be attributed to the corporate side (Figure 1). Only 11% are implemented by municipalities or their water utilities. According to the researchers, this indicates an imbalance between supply and demand.

Distribution of identified digitization elements among companies, municipalities and research

Although more than 60% of the digitization solutions presented to the public can now be described as ready for the market (Figure 2), on the municipal side there has continued to be only a very reluctant willingness to buy since the beginning of the digitization wave. It is also striking that while the corporate side is focusing on product development (Figure 1), municipalities are still more likely to be looking for project-oriented solutions.

Development status of the identified digitization elements;

Just under two-thirds of the solutions surveyed come from the water supply and wastewater disposal sectors. The least number of digitization solutions developed specifically for sewage sludge treatment could be found (Figure 3).

Areas of application of the identified digitization elements;

Barriers to digitization in water management

Previous studies have made clear that industrial development is far ahead of municipal demand . Therefore, the pure analysis of published research papers, available information on industrial products as well as publications on municipal practical examples was supplemented by a quantitative survey and qualitative expert interviews to find out where the reasons for the existing discrepancy between supply and demand might lie. Inquiries were made as to which obstacles play the greatest role in the projects. The aim was to identify control parameters for the success of future projects.

Figure 4 shows the associated survey results: The most significant hurdle is seen in the lack of personnel, closely followed by the unexpectedly high overall effort. The lack of internal competencies and inadequate funding are also mentioned at a certain distance.

Obstacles cited in digitization projects (n= 91);

In addition, the survey participants were able to name individual obstacle factors. These included typical factors such as fear of change or insufficient employee involvement. Technical aspects such as unresolved IT security and poorly standardized interfaces were also mentioned more often.

If we look at the factors that were evaluated more positively in the project, it is ultimately our own employee competencies and reasonably successful internal communication that, with the support of external experts, ultimately brought about the success of the project (whatever it may look like). In the best case, use cases for the use of digital opportunities are recognized by the employees themselves, if they have at the same time been made sufficiently familiar with the digital possibilities and trained accordingly. Conclusion:

Promoting this competence or giving it sufficient consideration in the development of digitization projects has a significant impact on the motivation of those involved. It also increases the probability of success of digitization projects.

Prof. Dr. Manuela Wimmer

Prof. Dr. Manuela Wimmer
Prof. Günter Müller-Czygan
Viktoriya Tarasyuk
Christian Wagner

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