Digital Transformation: What Utilities Need to Know About Moving Online

Smart cities have invested a considerable amount of resources safeguarding their physical infrastructure against natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing water and wastewater professionals to turn toward digital technologies to ensure that their essential work does not suffer. Not only will digital technology ensure that compliance teams can stay operational while working from home, but new technologies will prove to be invaluable as we enter into a period of economic austerity.

The benefits of digitizing your compliance programs are plentiful. Digital water systems can significantly reduce operational expenditure while improving workforce development. An example of this would be breaking down data silos between water and wastewater teams. Integrating digital solutions allow compliance teams to share valuable data and collaborate on long-term plans for sustainability.

The idea of digital water can seem daunting at first; however, once you have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities, you can start to plan with confidence.

What you need to know about moving online

Online software services, generally known as cloud computing or Software as a Service (SaaS), have gained widespread use over the last decade. For water utilities, SaaS is bringing about rapid and diverse changes in the way they use data and collaborate with customers. Examples of SaaS applications include everything from customer relationship management (CRM) to network and asset management.

SaaS adoption continues to rise, with Gartner stating that 50% of government organizations are using online applications. Delivering services efficiently and cost-effectively are the top two drivers of this change. Others are still trying to grasp the scope of the technology and the effects of moving data online. Where is the data being stored? Does running my program online make it more vulnerable to hacking? What security is in place, and how does it work? How do I implement security effectively?

How it works 

SaaS applications are hosted online by the business provider. Think of your email provider. You can access all of your email features and data without hosting the system on your laptop or phone. That is how SaaS works. All you need is a device connected to the internet and your login details.

The core characteristics of SaaS allow water utilities to quickly implement IT resources, which make it easier and more cost-effective to adapt to changing utility requirements.

While it’s hard to argue with the benefits of SaaS, many IT professionals worry about security, with 66% saying data safety is their biggest concern when moving to the cloud.

However, going online does not require a security trade-off. With the right security policy in place, you and your team can safely reap the benefits of SaaS.

Hosting your program online 

SaaS providers create their applications on third-party servers, hosted in the cloud. At SwiftComply, we built our FOG and Backflow platform with Amazon’s online web service. Other cloud providers include Google, Microsoft, and IBM. 

These hosts spend enormous amounts of money on the latest security technology to ensure that they can provide customers with a safe environment. Microsoft, for example, has spent upwards of $18 Billion on providing a secure cloud environment. Their business model means that they must prioritize and carefully monitor security at all times. 

Selling at scale means providers must hire experienced security teams and provide 24/7 security monitoring and response. Most providers also adhere to strict ISO regulations that govern online security.  

In many cases, SaaS can represent a stronger starting point than implementing an on-premise solution.

Ensuring your data is safe and secure  

SaaS security or cloud computing security consists of controls and procedures that work to protect your systems, data, and infrastructure. These processes are configured to protect data, support regulatory compliance, and protect your user’s privacy.

Managing the security system in one central location reduces cost and allows your IT team to focus on their core competencies. 

SaaS requires a different approach to security but also presents the opportunity to develop more advanced and secure ways of protecting your data. Of course, the exact way in which cloud security is delivered depends on your provider of choice. 

Data back up and recovery 

Water and wastewater utilities are dealing with an enormous amount of data coming from diverse sources with many highlighting the challenge of accessing data from legacy systems.

Typically with SaaS applications, your program and data are automatically backed up in your provider’s server. If anything goes wrong, like a system failure or a loss of data, you will be able to restore your system to this backup point. This process ensures that you can quickly and accurately restore your system if the worst happens.

Benefits for IT

There are significant benefits for your colleagues in IT. Using a SaaS solution means that your team doesn’t have to worry about manually configuring your system and security settings. This process ensures that if anything does go wrong, your provider will be able to pinpoint the issue quickly and work with your IT team to fix the problem.

You can also say goodbye to recurring security updates. SaaS providers carry out automatic software updates that continually improve your system over time and safeguard your network from external threats.
This feature dramatically reduces the amount of time IT has to spend on repetitive tasks and allows them to focus on other core competencies.

You will also eliminate any system incompatibility with new releases. We have talked to many larger utilities who have been unable to upgrade their systems as they wouldn’t run on their operating system.

In conclusion 

The significant benefits of digital water solutions in terms of operational efficiency and costs make going online a no brainer. Especially as we start to deal with the long term effects of COVID-19. Of course, all online solutions are susceptible to cyber-attacks, and your colleagues in IT are likely to be cautious about migrating your sensitive data and critical systems. However, with the right security provisions in place, SaaS offers all of the same security elements that you get from on-premise solutions while revolutionizing how you work.