Covid-19 has rapidly altered the daily life of Americans in a way that few other events have and industrial water treatment professionals are no exception. Field Service Representatives have had to deal with new access restrictions at customer sites, corporate engineering staff are working from home and learning how to remotely diagnose problems and support field staff, supply chains have been strained, and shipping has dealt with massive increases in volume. All of these challenges have caused companies to take a step back and look introspectively at their business model and see what changes they can make to become more nimble and efficient. What does this mean for the future of industrial water treatment?
Current Industry Shifts
Program Visibility - Customers are demanding more visibility into their water treatment programs. Some examples of this include meaningful e-service reports, customer accessible dashboards which effectively relay the status of the program, and integration into the Internet of Things (IoT). The technology to integrate water treatment programs into the IoT exists but lacks widespread industry use at this point. As sensors, meters, and probes become more reliable and less cost-prohibitive they will see greater industry acceptance. Additionally, as more parameters are measured and tracked, artificial intelligence will become more useful in diagnosing and alerting problems with treatment before they become catastrophic failures.
Purchasing Structure - Large corporate accounts are looking to consolidate vendors to achieve group purchase discounts. This reduces cost and allows for easier accountability when reviewing water treatment programs. Companies without a national presence will struggle to compete for large portfolios due to this.
Domestic Water Treatment -The infrastructure of municipal water distribution systems is struggling to keep up with shifts in water use and changing water quality. More facilities, especially those with at-risk occupants, are taking it upon themselves to treat domestic water. Treatment includes a focus on biological (e.g., Legionella, pseudomonas, etc.) and chemical (e.g., disinfectant by products, lead, copper, etc.) safety of the water.
Shifting Marketplace - Many companies were already shifting towards a greater percentage of the workforce working from home. Government-mandated shutdowns have shown businesses that they can still function with employees working remotely. Over the next 5-10 years, we may see a significant decrease in commercial office property leasing as companies cut the cost of having a physical location and shift towards a more mobile workforce. This could decrease the size of the middle market and possibly reduce the number of small water treatment companies which often thrive on this business.
Holistic Approach – Industrial water treatment companies are going to be asked to treat more systems than ever before. This will include water received from a municipal supplier, grey water reuse, rain water harvesting, and blowdown reuse from utilities. Managing a highly complex water system will require expertise from a variety of fields including biology, chemistry, plumbing, and engineering.
The water treatment industry has changed significantly since the days of chromates. With each iteration, the importance of control and industry expertise has increased. Water treatment is shifting from a focus on the individual to a focus on the national. Monitoring and data access are going to be the most important advances for companies moving forward.
Written by: Tyler Anderson
COVID-19 has brought the phrase “social distancing” to the forefront, and many locations won’t allow nonessential employees or vendors on site at all. Not only has this changed the world we live in, but the outbreak has changed the value proposition for water treatment controls and services. It has forced us to proceed quickly into the future.