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Big data to the rescue of water networks

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Access to clean water is a basic human right, and while Government strives to provide access for all, the reality is that South Africa is currently facing a potential water crisis. But, with big data and advanced analytics software, water utilities and municipalities will be empowered to better manage water networks, writes ECKART ZOLLNER.

A shortage of clean water to areas already serviced by municipalities is becoming a growing challenge, as demand outstrips supply, aging infrastructure becomes unable to cope with volumes, and millions of litres of clean and treated water are lost due to leaks, amongst other problems. More effective management of water networks is key to addressing these and other future challenges. By harnessing the power of technology in the form of big data and advanced analytics software, water utilities and municipalities alike will be empowered to better manage water networks and as a result, improve service delivery. Technology solutions enable them to address previously unidentified issues, become more proactive about maintaining networks, respond more effectively to the growing demand and to tackle the looming water problem before it can become a full-blown crisis.

With the energy crisis being top of mind at the moment, many South Africans are unaware that water is a growing problem and should be on everyone’s radar. In fact, according to an article published in Business Day in February 2015, “The 2014 Global Risk Report conducted by the World Economic Forum rated ‘water crises’ as the third-most significant global risk, two places above that of the failure of climate change mitigation adaption”. This is a significant statement, especially when the vast majority of the South African population are not aware of the current state of water services in our country. In addition, the newspaper reported that “by 2030, it is estimated that water usage in South Africa will have grown to 2.7-billion cubic metres, leaving a 17% gap in supply and demand. Taking into account the current projected population growth and economic development rates, it is unlikely that meeting the projected demand for water resources in SA will be sustainable.”

To add to these alarming statistics, it is estimated that 36.8% of the total municipal water supplied in South Africa is lost before it reaches municipal customers, from industry to households, according to research released by the Water Research Commission (WRC). One of the major reasons for this wastage is due to undetected leaks, which are an issue because the majority of the water network is buried underground, and leaks are often difficult to pinpoint until they cause further damage such as sinkholes or collapsed infrastructure. This wasted water is still undergoing costly treatment to ensure it is clean and potable, however, it cannot be charged for and fails to generate revenue for municipalities. This in addition to the cost of fixing massive infrastructure issues when they occur puts increasing strain on already tight budgets. This in turn takes funding away from Government’s ability to deliver services to more people and provide access to water for all.

The upshot of this situation is that municipalities and water utilities face the challenge not only of having to manage the demand for clean water and ensuring there is sufficient supply when already faced a shortage, but they are also losing money too. However, new technology solutions such as big data analytics have the potential to turn this challenge around.

Water utilities by their very nature generate significant volumes of data, which can be harnessed and analysed to provide insight for improved management and decision-making ability. Utilising intelligent data analytics based on past usage data combined with predictive flow modelling as well as real-time information on water levels, weather reports, water flows, pressure and more, significant events can be detected and alerts sent out to highlight potential issues. This type of data analysis can create alerts for water leaks and loss, burst pipes, loss of water pressure and faulty metres, as well as usage patterns, water quality issues and much more. This helps water utilities and municipalities to generate knowledge about network inefficiencies, water loss and other hazards. In addition, it can help to proactively detect leaks for faster resolution, and can help municipalities to prioritise repairs and maintenance based on the likelihood of problems and failures, as well as perform accurate network planning and optimisation.

This type of end-to-end water network management, delivered as a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SAAS), can greatly assist water utilities to avert a water crisis. By providing instant visibility into problematic areas of the water network, many improvements can be made. It provides real-time data and analysis for quicker response to events, allows municipalities to pre-empt issues and deliver improved customer service, amongst other benefits. With a growing population with increasing need for water, both for consumer and industry, improved management and service delivery is essential, and the goal is to reduce non-revenue water losses to between eight and 10%. Technology that assists with early leak detection, proactive maintenance and better management is essential, and ultimately supports the global drive towards the creation of smart cities.

* Eckart Zollner, Business Development Manager, The Jasco Group

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Queues and cash-only frustrate SA’s commuters

A new study by Visa reveals the success factors for improving travel and creating smarter cities

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The use of cash-only payments was a frustration for 38% of Johannesburg commuters and 37% of Cape Town-based commuters, according to a new global study by Visa. Another commuter frustration when paying for public transport has been long queues – 67% of Johannesburg commuters and 64% of Cape Town commuters.

Visa, in collaboration with Stanford University, came up with these findings in one of the largest global studies examining the growing demand for public and private transportation, and the important role digital commerce plays in driving sustainable growth.

According to the UN[i], by 2050, 68 percent of the world’s population will live in urban centres – and the number of “megacities” with populations greater than 10 million people will rise from 43 today to 51 within that same period. South Africa is no different, with the majority of the country relying heavily on the public transport system. In fact, according to the General Household Survey (GHS) for 2018, a total of 54 209 000 minibus/taxi trips take place in South African per month. 

Building on Visa’s experience working with transit operators, automotive companies and technology start-ups, Visa commissioned a global study, “The Future of Transportation: Mobility in the Age of the Megacity” to better understand the challenges commuters face today and in the future. The key findings were combined with a view of existing and near horizon innovations provided by experts at Stanford University, to better understand the technology gaps in addressing their pain points.

The South African Perspective

Payments lie at the heart of every form of travel, and will continue to become more integral as more cities move to contactless public transportation, digital payments for parking and rental services such as bikes or scooters.  Malijeng Ngqaleni, Deputy Director-General of the South African Inter-governmental Relations, states that a high as 60% of South African households spend on average of 20% of their monthly income on transport, while in rural areas this number can be as high as 31%.

Aside from cash-only payments, another commuter frustration when paying for public transport has been long queues – 67% of Johannesburg commuters and 64% of Cape Town commuters. Over the last few years, a number of mobile-driven taxi-hailing apps have been launched in the South African market to counteract these concerns and commuters are open to the possibilities presented by mobile apps. The Visa study echoed this by showing that 77% of Johannesburg commuters and 76% of Cape Town commuters would be willing to try a consolidated app to make payments for public transport.

 Mike Lemberger, SVP, Product Solutions Europe, Visa says: “The future success of our cities is intertwined with – and reliant on – the future of transportation and mobility. Visa and our partners have an important role to play, both in streamlining the payment experience for millions of commuters around the globe, and supporting public transportation authorities in their quest to build sustainable and convenient transportation solutions that improve the lives of the people who use it.”

Herman Donner, PhD and Postdoctoral Researcher from Stanford University co-authored the report and summarised: “When looking across the technology landscape, there already exist many products that could easily address people’s daily frustrations with travel.  However, none of these solutions should be developed in isolation. A major challenge therefore lies in first identifying relevant technologies that provide suitable products for the market then managing implementation in conjunction with  a broad set of stakeholder including  mobility providers, technology companies, infrastructure owners and public transport agencies.  From our research, we think that many of these small, incremental changes have the potential to make a significant difference in people’s daily travel,  whether it’s to help find parking, get the best price to refuel their car or plan their journey on public transportation.”

Click here for the detailed global findings.

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Women take to tech, but more needed

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By HAIDI NOSSAIR, Marketing Director META, Dell Technologies

$12 trillion – that is the value in additional global GDP that remains locked behind the gender gap. This is according to the latest Women Matter report from McKinsey, which also reveals startling disparities in the workplace. Even though women make up more than half of the human population, only 37% contribute to GDP on average – and in some countries that proportion is significantly lower.

The reasons for this can be put in three areas. Fewer women – 650 million fewer than men – participate in the global labour force. Women are also more likely to be in part-time employment and thus work fewer hours. Finally, female employees are more common in lower-productivity sectors than in higher-productivity areas.  Are women not being offered the opportunity or are they holding themselves back?

Among STEM careers this ratio is particularly dismal: only 24% of engineering professionals are women, and as few as 19% of careers in ICT are filled by women.

What is the cause of this? Studies have found that women pursuing STEM careers are higher in countries with more oppressive policies towards women, because those careers hold the promise for financial freedom and more social autonomy. In contrast, countries with progressive attitudes towards women tend to produce fewer female STEM graduates. Then how can we encourage women from early ages to take the path of STEM education?  And how can organizations ensure women have equal opportunity at the hiring stages.

Certainly addressing gender inequality is crucial and must not stop.. Where women are increasingly more part of the workforce, there are often still barriers preventing them from assuming higher management roles. Female entrepreneurs often struggle more to gain investment capital. Corporate cultures are rarely aligned with the pressures of balancing work and family obligations. Decision makers may simply lack exposure to the potential of female candidates. Female pioneers have also argued that women are too risk-averse when compared to men. 

Whether these assertions are true is a matter for debate – and that’s exactly why every professional man and woman should be talking about them and identify action to change the status-quo. This is not just about female rights, but about social upliftment: companies with a mixture of male and female leaders perform better across the board and companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability.

The digital economy we live in today represent a golden opportunity for increased women contribution to the workforce as technology breaks the boundaries of location and time for the workplace and where labor intensive jobs may today be performed by data scientists. 

For two days in March, top professionals will gather to talk and exchange ideas around creating more roles for women, larger appreciation for female professionals, as well as counter the attitudes among women holding them back from greater career success and autonomy.

If you want to be part of this conversation, join the Women in Tech Africa summit today at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town – learn more at https://www.women-in-tech-africa-summit.com/ and use the code DELL20 for a 20% discount.

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