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Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Digital growth prompts water collaboration and consolidation

Collaborations are sweeping the digital water market as companies position themselves as market leaders. Most recently, Autodesk acquired Innovyse and Exelon’s Aquify announced a collaboration with Trimble.

A $1bn acquisition

In response to digital transformation accelerating across the water world, collaborations and consolidation are sweeping the industry as companies look to position themselves as market leaders.

Autodesk revealed that it is to acquire Innovyze Inc. for $1 billion as part of a play to position the company as a technology leader in end-to-end water infrastructure solutions. The acquisition of Innovyze’s modeling, simulation, and predictive solutions accelerates Autodesk’s digital twin strategy.

"Nearly nine trillion gallons of water are lost each year worldwide due to prolonged leaks and pipe breaks, but we cannot manage or fix what we cannot see. Innovyze's portfolio of operational analytics, distribution modeling, and asset management solutions provides the insight needed," explained Amy Bunszel, executive vice president, AEC Design Solutions at Autodesk.

At the end of 2019, Innovyze was itself leading the consolidation charge when it acquired Canadian artificial intelligence (AI) start-up, Emagin.

At the time, Colby Manwaring told Aquatech Online: “The Emagin acquisition was really to allow Innovyze to leapfrog from a technology point of view to a real-time, cloud-based platform that was already enabled with an AI engine that had been tuned for water.”

Ageing water infrastructure as a driver

Indeed, Exelon’s Aquify also recently announced that it is collaborating with Trimble, using its advanced IoT and remote water monitoring technologies in its offering.

Expanding its services for water utilities, Aquify said the tie in will enable it to implement digital solutions to improve sustainability, reduce non-revenue water loss and improve infrastructure performance.

Announcing the move, the companies argued that ageing water infrastructure is prompting failures and operational inefficiencies. Not only is this challenging for regulatory compliance, but it also means undetected leakage and water main breaks leading to lost revenue.

As a result, utilities stand to gain considerable benefit from leveraging digital technologies that can remotely monitor and analyse water distribution networks.

“Ageing water infrastructure is an enormous financial and operational burden for water utilities and the communities they serve."

Under the terms of the deal, the turnkey service will combine Trimble’s remote monitoring technology with Aquify's customised system design, IT integration, machine learning analytics software.

“Ageing water infrastructure is an enormous financial and operational burden for water utilities and the communities they serve,” said Chris Stern, vice president, strategy and development for Utilities and Public Administration at Trimble.

Merging CEM platforms

With Aquify able to apply Exelon's smart network operational expertise to the water sector, it is clear that a strategy of digital growth in the water sector is on the cards.

The tie-in with Trimble comes only weeks after Aquify revealed a strategic alliance with Israel-based TaKaDu to deploy its Central Event Management (CEM) solutions for water utilities in the US market.

The CEM system analyses real-time water distribution network data coupled with supplemental information to identify leaks and pressure anomalies.

“We have seen how our customers from Australia to the Middle East to Europe and Latin America have used our CEM to find leaks, reduce operational cost, shorten repair cycles and improve customer service,” said Amir Peleg, TaKaDu’s founder and CEO.

Merging the TaKaDu CEM platform with Aquify’s comprehensive water distribution network monitoring services, allows the company to offer an end-to-end shared-service that includes sensors, software and communications, together with field operations and engineering.

Similarly, Trimble also extended its digital offering with a 2019 agreement to acquire enterprise asset management (EAM) software company Azteca Systems.

Azteca’s Cityworks unit provides a cloud and mobile EAM software system used by more than 700 utilities and local governments. The deal will provide an additional real-time asset intelligence, workflow and analytics system on a digital platform.

Accelerating the digital transformation

The trend towards digital utility and industrial services consolidation is clearly not new, but it is like to accelerate as companies look to build competencies or fill holes in their water industry services.

Certainly, the water industry is moving to a complete value chain transformation where the most successful will become truly digital enterprises. Their physical assets will still exist, but they will increasingly be augmented with digital management tools.

“The water industry is moving to a complete value chain transformation where the most successful will become truly digital enterprises.”

For those players supporting and servicing this transition, acquisitions, mergers, and collaborations will continue to foster the deployment of innovative digital tools and services.

The offerings will inevitably emerge to meet the growing challenges of ageing infrastructure and the new demands that are expected over the coming decades. The winners will be those able to capitalise on this period of change.

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