How can businesses make best use of the data they are collecting?
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Essex & Suffolk Water’s research and development manager Chris Jones discusses the role of the digital twin approach ahead of the Innovate East event at Trinity Park in Ispwich next month
How water companies and other large organisations can best use the growing amount of data at their disposal to support decision-making is a key theme at a major innovation event to be held in East Anglia next month.
The three-day event, called Innovate East, has been organised by Essex & Suffolk Water in partnership with Anglian Water, who together hope to create a unique and exciting environment where attendees will be encouraged to unlock new ways of thinking.
The aim of the event, which is due to be held at Trinity Park Showground in Ipswich between September 10 and 12 2019, is to address some of the major challenges that water companies and other large organisations are facing, such as water scarcity, climate change, protecting the environment and delivering for customers.
Some of the most creative minds from industry and beyond are due to take part in a number of 'sprints' and 'hackathons' designed to brainstorm ideas and test if they are viable in the real world - all within a few days.
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According to Essex & Suffolk Water's, research and development manager, Chris Jones, among the main themes at the summit, attendees will be invited to explore three areas relating to digital twins.
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A digital twin refers to a digital replica of an actual physical asset, process or system that is constantly updated using real time data and used to test outcomes. In the water industry, a digital twin might be used to steer long term strategies, for example, around managing water resources, or to support decisions on a minute-by-minute basis, such as improving water treatments.
At Innovate East a sprint session will examine how businesses and education might be able to work together to plug the current gap in digital skills? Other sessions will ask participants to ponder how the adoption of digital twin standards can be accelerated across the water industry and whether there is a way of achieving a balance between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and people?
When it comes to the digital skills gap, Mr Jones says figures from The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that computer science graduates have the lowest employment rate of any other group of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) students leaving UK universities.
"On the one hand, we are saying there is a digital skills gap but on the other hand not all computer science graduates are being taken up by employers," he said.
"An industry contact I spoke to said he felt that the technologies are moving so fast in the computer coding and data science sector that university courses are struggling to keep up with what businesses need."
Mr Jones added: "There is also a need for people working in computer coding to have a better idea of how the technology can be used in the real world - I believe there is a requirement for a greater 'data awareness' around how data can be used more widely on a general level."
On the subject of the implementation of standards in the use of digital twins across the water industry, Mr Jones agrees there is a general need for different models to talk to each other. But, he says, a higher priority is driving the adoption of the digital twin approach in the first place.
He continued: "We have to start by getting companies used to using digital twins and then how they might work together will come later. I equate it to the example of development of video cassette player technology where both VHS and Beta formats were developed by industry before a standard emerged."
On the question of achieving a balance between AI and people, Mr Jones says he sees the technology and people as complementing each other.
"AI can try more options when analysing data, because computers are less constrained by existing cultures than people," he added.
"But you still need people to provide the governance and the balance, and to apply analysis in an ethical and trustworthy way. It's a question of how AI can best complement people and the skills and insights they can bring."
More announcements on Innovate East will be made over the coming weeks. You can register your interest in the event and find out more at innovateeast.org.uk