“Water utility companies are conservative animals,” says Amir Peleg, Founder and CEO of TaKaDu. “The water sector isn’t like the internet, where everyone is scrambling to be the first to adopt the latest technologies, and innovators are showered with publicity and awards. In water, there’s a sense of: do I really need to do things differently?”

Peleg, whose background is in data analysis and computing, continues: “what we do combines all those latest high-tech trends and tools you hear about revolutionizing business processes in other industries – big data, cloud, Software-as-a-Service, data analytics – but applied in a sector that has often been seen as a laggard.”

Water utilities typically collect ever-growing mountains of data on both distribution and consumption – pressure, flow, water quality, etc. – but have limited resources to analyse it. Traditional systems may, for example, identify burst pipes but overlook information about a small leak that would enable them to fix it before it becomes a large burst. Some utilities lose upwards of 30% of their water through the distribution network.

Using statistical and mathematical algorithms, TaKaDu detects anomalies that are often missed through manual data analysis. Unlike traditional network monitoring, it is a learning system that constantly reviews network behaviour, refining analyses and providing better information to network analysts over time.

Peleg shared results for one of TaKaDu’s customers in a drought-prone region of Australia, showing tangible gains in water loss reduction and operational efficiency. In its first year of using TaKaDu, Unitywater of Queensland saved an estimated 1 billion litres of water, equalling approximately $2 AU million. They also reported a 66% reduction in the time taken to detect and repair network events.

Being named as a Tech Pioneer in 2011, Peleg says, “changed everything. For a new venture, still in a relatively fragile state, to be invited to participate in panels at Davos was an emblem of appreciation that gave a huge boost to our credibility”.

In 2011, TaKaDu was active in only a couple of countries; by the end of this year, it will be ten. “And once you pass this barrier of credibility,” says Peleg, “the innate conservatism of the industry starts to work in your favour. When we begin work in a new country with one company, after a year or two others see the results and would like to explore our innovative solution.

“Although water supply works in much the same way everywhere, the mindset is still very local. Companies are looking for references that speak their language. And that’s the positive flipside of the conservatism – once some utilities show that new techniques work, others don’t want to be left behind. There’s not much appetite to be an early adopter, but there is a keen desire to keep up with common practice.”

TaKaDu’s offering has become broader since 2011. From an original focus on leak detection, now the software is an integrated water network management solution. It helps to make tactical decisions about how to prioritise incidents and make best use of resources – should you scramble a repair team now, or can it wait a week – and strategic decisions about where investment is most needed.

“That’s a big transition”, says Peleg, “from firefighting problems to informing priorities as you seek to improve customer service, reduce downtime, reduce energy use, improve quality”.

The experience of being in the Tech Pioneer community has “been an eye-opener. It exposed me, as an entrepreneur, to senior decision-makers and people working in fields I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. What other sectors could benefit from an approach similar to TaKaDu’s? What can I contribute to discussions on building the smart cities of the future?

“When you’re locked in your own paradigm, your own venture, you don’t have such opportunities to exchange ideas. And that’s a benefit you can’t quantify”.

Author: Andrew Wright is a writer who works for the World Economic Forum. The 2015 list of Technology Pioneers will be announced on Tuesday, 26 August

Image: Image: Water drips from a standing pipe on Boucher Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton