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5 trends that will guide the flow of water strategy in 2018

It really is easier to take a shot at predictions for the New Year than it was to pick the top trends from 2017. To sharpen my mind and build in some level of accountability, I commit to looking back on these 2018 predictions at the end of December. Hopefully, more than 50 percent will be correct.

First, I do believe that the three trends I identified for 2017 will continue and likely accelerate in the next 12 months.

The adoption of digital water technologies and circular economy water strategies will scale and have a positive impact on efforts to manage water scarcity and quality. This will affect not just the public sector and utilities but also the commercial sector. What's more, this movement will be supported not just by the usual stakeholders but also by entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations.

Water stewardship is another matter. We are ready to pivot from solely focusing on water footprint stewardship to embracing a more expansive view of water strategy and how it aligns with — and supports — business growth. This pivot will result in a shift from a mindset on water risks to one that prioritizes abundance.

A holistic water strategy would include innovation in technologies, business models, funding and financing and partnerships (across industry sectors). A focus on abundance means mobilizing stakeholders within and outside the world of water to harness our collective skills and capabilities to finally solve the wicked problem of water. This is not to imply that we could have an abundance of water under business-as-usual practices. Rather, the concept of abundance suggests that we can creatively mobilize our resources to ensure that everyone has access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

So, now my predictions for 2018.

1. Expect new business models

Look for innovation coupled with a single proven technology or technology bundles. One of the bigger trends to follow will be a move in which vendors will shift from selling products to selling water solutions — essentially eliminating upfront capital investments for the customer in exchange for recurring revenue for the solution provider. Innovative solutions also will include models in which service providers generate revenue from a percentage of the water saved and the deployment of neighborhood-scale technology solutions funded by the solution provider.

2. Get ready to welcome outsiders

The water sector desperately needs outsiders to inject new thinking into the water sector. Fortunately, we are seeing non-water entrepreneurs and subject matter experts enter the quest for innovative solutions. This might include experts in material science (Zero Mass Water) and companies in the information technology sector (Microsoft AI for Earth). Also, interest is rising in the form of prize competitions (ImagineH2O and XPRIZE Water Abundance) and programs (101010 Cities Infrastructure and Water) that intentionally engage outsiders and foster innovation.

3. Prepare for expanded democratization of actionable water information

As part of the "internet of water" and digital water technology adoption, there will be a trend towards providing real-time data and actionable information to stakeholders. Imagine providing consumers with real-time water quality data in addition to consumption metrics. Flint, Michigan, was a tipping point for inspiring a deeper focus on decentralized, distributed and off-grid water treatment solutions. For me, it was also the tipping point in a move from centralized water quality monitoring to instead providing real-time actionable information to answer the increasingly loaded question: is my water safe to drink?

4. Look for new funding and financing strategies across the value chain

For example,  I believe the traditional view that the agricultural sector will solely bear the cost for water technology adoption doesn’t really work. Instead we will see food and beverage companies making  direct investments in water technologies for their agricultural supply chain providers (in particular small holder farmers). We may even see greater cross-sector investment in water technologies expanding on EDF Water Management’s cross-sector collaboration program in France, which sees the company working with local communities and stakeholders to make more thoughtful decisions about water consumption.

5. And (a personal favorite) the rise of conference fatigue

I believe we are seeing increasing frustration with traditional conferences as a way to advance solutions to water scarcity and quality. While conferences bring together stakeholders to exchange information and foster collaboration they are no longer adequate on their own to meet the needs of stakeholders. We don’t need one more conference; instead, we need smaller groups committed to tackling very specific issues and staying engaged year after year. Think "salon dinners" and small forums that are carefully curated and coupled with commitments.

My focus for 2018 is on several of these areas and in particular, moving towards how we can create water abundance.