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Connecting Plumbing Through Partnerships

Building digital foundations in the plumbing industry through innovative partnerships and collaboration.

Water is a scarce resource, particularly in Africa. A 40% gap in the global water supply is expected by 2050 – that’s in only 30 years. The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2019 has also put the water crisis into perspective, highlighting how water: is affected by climate change, reserves are dwindling, and future water supply challenges. According to Ushal Moonsamy, Chief Solutions Officer at SqwidNet, technology and plumbing professionals working together can help create a different future to prevent water scarcity.

“Changing the water conversation in South Africa is about collaboration and partnerships,” says Moonsamy. “At SqwidNet, we are working with Ontec, Macrocomm and the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA) to help develop smart solutions and specialised training for the country. With Macrocomm we have created a specialised training program tailored to the plumber’s needs. Our goal is to ensure that plumbers are able to take advantage of digital solutions.”

There has long been a need for smart solutions to meet the intersection of IT and hands-on jobs like plumbing. Simple cost-effective solutions to install and use that allow plumbers to take advantage of the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technology should be readily available-. Fortunately, this need is being met.  Smart water meters use low-power networks to collect and share data. These are non-powered assets that use network technology, such as Sigfox, to send important water consumption information to consumers, landlords or property developers.   They provide insights to user to adjust their spend and usage patterns and helps them detect any unexpected water problems. These devices generate daily water consumption data and usage pattern reports to help people change their behaviour for a sustainable future. A twofold win that nets them savings in their budgets and for our planet.

Smart water meter solutions provide transparency in billing, allow for early leak detection, minimise bill shock, and assist South Africans in their pursuit to become a water-wise nation. One consumer-facing smart water solution is Ontec’s GaugeIT.  Ontec’s GaugeIT Smart Water solution has produced impressive results for customers:  – on average 60 % of households using the device detected water leaks early, and were able to change their usage habits, saving them an average of R225 per month.

“These solutions can communicate via Sigfox radio technology for five years without interruption,” explains Moonsamy. “They are battery-operated, water- and dustproof and incredibly low maintenance.  This makes them an ideal fit for the plumber looking to bridge the digital gap with a smart offering that is not too technical for the consumer. Sigfox covers more than 90% of South Africa with a low-power wide-area network (WAN) giving non-powered assets a voice and plumbers the deployment capability of nearly anywhere in the country.”

The plumber is a critical resource in this process to ensure the smooth installation and operations of these solutions. They are also essential in consumer education, in helping them understand the value of these digital and smart solutions, and how they can manage their water usage more effectively.

“This type of information not only allows consumer to effectively control their spend, but for plumbers to change their business models as well,” says Moonsamy. “They can shift their approach from reactive to proactive to better serve their customer’s needs.”

Currently, plumbers come to your rescue when you are already figuratively knee deep in leaking pipes or reeling from bill shock. Their role is triggered by an insurance claim, the development of a new estates, or the daily mundanity of burst pipes, blocked drains, and broken toilets. The profession is generally needs-based, and many plumbers are hired when things break, reactively creating an opportunity for them to upsell to their customers. As the customer changes their approach to being usage aware, driven by tighter budgets and a growing green consciousness, plumbers can offer proactive services on a subscription basis, giving consumers piece of mind where leaks are detected and fixed early.  If they have the right information, they can support their customers in terms of early warning for over usage either due to consumption or leaks and provide this added convenience as a service. Considering that water pricing is expected to increase by around 15-20% per annum, effective control powered by usage statistics is going to become invaluable in the consumer space.

“This shift in approach is important as every market is being continually disrupted by new technologies,” says Moonsamy. “In plumbing, the current reactive operating model is being replaced by a more proactive one. Plumbers actively digitising their offerings will be able to create a new line of services that will help them stay ahead of the curve.”

With digital transformation leading the change within most industries, collaboration and ecosystems are reshaping the business relationship for long-term success and sustainability. Plumbers need more than their industry expertise and an understanding of digital to thrive in the market. They need to employ smart digital solutions for their customers.  These solutions are designed to be accessible and robust, making it easy for plumbers to take the bold step into the world of 4IR; proving that a combination of the right partnerships and technologies can completely reinvent industries.