The American Water Summit convened a diverse, expert panel of chief technology officers (CTOs) to discuss the drivers of new technology developments and key approaches between the water provider and end users. The panel consisted of CTOs from private and public water utilities and academia, discussing the innovative thinking involved in ensuring that the American water sector capitalizes on opportunities in technological advancement. Furthermore, the panel provided insight into the congruencies and discrepancies regarding technology prioritization in the private vs. public sector. 

Jay Iyengar from Xylem, a water technology provider, claimed that justifying investment in technology advancements is not just about creating economic value – but also social value. She further described that it’s about understanding the unspoken needs of the consumers and that one solution doesn’t always fit all. Ting Lu from Clean Water Services, a public water utility serving Portland, Oregon, claimed that outcomes are directly related to the value of resource recovery and water reuse for customers. Lu is committed to prioritizing technology usage to tell ‘the story’ better, not just as it pertains to infrastructure, but rather by addressing the potential impact on the community as a whole. Cindy Paulson of Brown and Caldwell, a small entrepreneurial company with a goal of being the connector/unifier between water service providers and customers, identified the stark value in transparency between the potential influence of new technologies on the water sector. Paulson suggests that as a technology company, they are tempted to find solutions before they’re ready to define the problem. As a response to this dilemma, and diverging from both the public and private water utility space, Karen Golmer from MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation discussed the value of a “reverse pitch,” in which utilities approach technology companies and present them with a problem they’re facing, instead of technology companies approaching utilities. By working collaboratively, Golmer describes that this approach highlights the opportunity for utilities to discuss the problems and give the technology companies the opportunity to find appropriate, targeted solutions. Both panelists believed that a reverse pitch could lead to more productivity and less risk in infiltrating advanced technology into the water sector.

A member of the audience asked the panel what they each believe is the “most destructive technology.” Although, almost in unison, the panelists proclaimed that there isn’t just one, some of the technologies they all agreed on included:

  • Drones and lidar for satellite imaging
  • Artificial intelligence equipped with self-learning technology and adaptability
    • Smart Water, Smart Energy, Smart City

To conclude the discussion, Iyengar conveyed that one of her biggest fears is missing the next big technology, as she described getting unmanageable amounts of emails from entrepreneurial technology companies suggesting that they have ‘it.’ Perhaps technology innovators need to create something that fits this need as well?