How To Forecast The Future As A Water Utility Executive?

January 06, 2020


How can the public works director or the operations manager look at the future? How does one, saddled with the responsibility of ensuring clean potable water is provided to residents of their region, look to the future and identify the things that might change to shift their ability to deliver on the promise they make to their customers?

First, they look at the things that won't change; people want/need water today and will always want/need water. That won't change. Technology will always advance at a pace that regulation cannot match. Where things become confusing is to look at everything that is changing around them and get overwhelmed by those changes. What I suggest is that they rest easy and only focus on the 4-5 macro changes that are happening at any one time. Gain a thorough understanding of the macro trend. Then you discard the trends that are not directly relevant to you in the short term. Don't ignore those you've discarded for now, just move them to the periphery for now. With the trends that are relevant to you and you are focused on bring them into full view and map the impact of the technology using 3 different scenarios

  • Scenario 1: What changes in our company/industry if this technology achieves its full potential? What doesn't change?

  • Scenario 2: What changes for our company/industry if this technology achieves a middling level of potential? What doesn't change?

  • Scenario 3: What changes for our company/industry if this technology achieves no adoption within our industry? What doesn't change?

One that I think might be a good one to focus on and analyzed through the three scenarios is Artificial Intelligence (AI).AI is algorithms that can learn from data without relying on rules-based programming. Machine learning is a subset of AI, Neural Networks is a subset of machine learning. Why now? Convergence of trends: data collection points everywhere, the ability to manage that data, more powerful computers/supercomputing power that allows us to crunch that data using these algorithms. And interest/progress by big tech firms. The branch of AI that is more popular right now is Machine Learning (ML) and the best scenario to assess is whether this field will impact the water utility industry. This scenario based approach allows you/one to better predict the changes that are coming in the future and help us determine how to manage these changes.

Welcome to the future.