CEO James Dunning’s take on the 2016 Smart Water Networks Forum (“SWAN”) conference –

Last week saw the 6th Smart Warter Networks Forumannual conference take place in London.

When the first SWAN meeting was held those several moons ago at Schneider’s office in Paris it was certainly a very convivial affair. More specifically though there were four particular standouts:

  • How new the whole area of “smart” seemed, a new trend, even trendy and “yoof’ful” dare I say, and pretty much at the periphery of the water sector.
  • The number of suppliers offering to do very clever and very pretty things in terms of data aggregation and presentation.
  • The lack of utilities attending – for sure there were a few, but the main focus was very much on what suppliers, the bulk of the participants, could do for the water utilities rather than their requirements.
  • The dependency of the movement on the energy and network of its leadership, primarily Takadu at the time.
    Since then, evolution has continued apace including early on the IWA inviting SWAN to team up with it – provoking delight within SWAN at being taken seriously alongside some concern at maintaining the identity of the nascent SWAN group.

The focus on SWAN being mainly a supplier-fest did though rather stubbornly persist….until this year that is.

So step forward “SWAN 2016” with its 160+ participants including a broad range of utilities and encompassing issues ranging from the now rather “traditional” sensor-based monitoring through to the equally increasingly challenging issue of cybersecurity.

The dependence on just one or two companies pushing SWAN hard – gone.

The scene of multiple suppliers swarming around a limited number of utility participants – again, gone.

In its place representatives from suppliers and utilities alike spanning 22 countries.

All of which means what?

Well the water sector is often portrayed as slow moving and conservative, even innovation-averse. Given they are supplying water across 10’s of 1000s of kilometers of pipeline, and when you have examples of what can go wrong such as Flint, that conservatism is surely not a surprise. Yet here they came nonetheless and actively engaging across the piece too.

SWAN has maybe lost its “yoof’ness” but it has instead matured to become an important part of the water sector international calendar. Sure it will always remain quite specialist, akin to the World Water Tech annual gatherings in London and Toronto, but any doubts as to its long-term relevance have gone.

Most importantly, a topic that six years ago was viewed as an option, and an adventurous one at that, is viewed now as a necessity.

Of course, in these comparatively early days, only a few are advancing strongly down that path including the likes of Anglian Water and Thames Water in the UK, PUB in Singapore and Vitens in the Netherlands. But the debate about the “if”, about whether even to turn up at the starting line is over. The challenge now is to fire that starting gun not just for the early adopters but across the piece.