Water is already a crucial part of Jacobs’ Boldly Moving Forward strategy and accelerators, but climate change is accelerating the urgency for sustainable, strategic water management. Thanks to the talent and technology in our high-growth Data Solutions Product Suite – Water Platform, Jacobs is already solving some of the world’s biggest water challenges through creativity and collaboration, including being a key support partner for water utilities.
In this Q&A, Jacobs Vice President of the Data Solutions Product Suite – Water Platform Gregg Kennedy explains how solutions like Aqua DNA and the Digital OneWater ecosystem are critical to creating a better future.
How would you describe the main goals of your new role?
I've been asked to pull together some of our best practices and products in the water space and support Jacobs’ broader mission to provide clients with solutions beyond traditional engineering. My role within Divergent Solutions is to scale up the smart products and solutions that Jacobs has already successfully deployed to new territories worldwide. My goal is to use our Data Solutions Product Suite – Water Platform as our engine for growth and diversification and support Jacobs’ reputation as one of the world's top water solution providers. We’ll use our talent pool and innovative solutions, along with what we plan to build, to drive strategic, transformational growth across data and cyber solutions for our clients and in our own business.
You’ve worked within the global water space for over 15 years. What have been the most significant changes to the industry?
- The level of customer understanding and interest in water utilities. It was a silent service in the background for a long time. People would pay their bills, and in most cases, they didn’t know who their water supplier was. With the rise of social media and other communication channels, the quality and performance of water utilities are at the forefront of customers’ expectations globally, and the relationship is more important than ever before.
- Upskilling talent. In the past, we spent a long time trying to encourage new talent to join the industry, but we weren’t hugely successful because we were trying to convince new people to come in and do old jobs. However, it’s changing for the better, as it’s part of a global workforce change heavily driven by technological adoption and digital transformation within the water industry.
- The rise in innovation. Fifteen years ago, only a few SCADA and telemetry systems were being installed, and we were just starting to think about asset communication and management practices. Since then, we’ve come a long way, as data insights drive every decision on technology, assets, networks and customer connections. There’s now an appreciation that a water company is not just an engineering company; it’s about customer service and data management. The modern utilities I'm working with now have data collection and customer experience alongside asset health and engineering — they're all on an equal footing.
What is the biggest challenge facing water utilities in the next five years?
Redefining how we impact our local environment. In a dry region with little access to water, how are water utilities managing the precious water resources, the one water cycle and using new technology to limit our footprint and the effect on the natural water cycle? In parts of the world where the built environment is in an area with heavy rainfall, how are you adapting the networks and assets to cope with different storm conditions? We're all aware that climate change impacts how our systems operate, so how do we adapt to a changing environment without spending billions of dollars building more and more infrastructure? How do we adapt what we've got to meet customer expectations and changing environmental conditions? That's the biggest challenge, no matter where you are in the world.
How does Jacobs’ Boldly Moving Forward strategy address some of these challenges?
Our three global accelerators cover climate adaptation and climate response, data and digitally-led solutions, and consulting and advisory. I've advocated for a long time that both OneWater and Digital OneWater are perfect examples of all three accelerators coming together. In terms of context, the OneWater concept has been around for some time, and it’s built on the premise that all water has value and should be viewed holistically and not in silos from the labels we’ve given water, such as wastewater, stormwater, etc. We consider this whenever we interact with a client or develop a solution. When Susan Moisio and I started thinking about Digital OneWater around 18 months ago, we defined it as a subset of our overall OneWater approach. It’s about adapting to new technology, harnessing new data techniques and recruiting new analysis methods to deliver the OneWater message. The combination of domain expertise and digital innovation we’ve gained through acquisition and organic growth at Jacobs provides us with a unique market perspective. Water truly is a global sector for Jacobs, and a lot of the work that Susan and I do is to make it clear to our clients and Jacobs colleagues that everything we deliver is through those three filters. That’s how Jacobs will maintain its position in the industry.
Aqua DNA is a wastewater solution within Digital OneWater. What sets it apart from competitors?
I'll break the answer into three parts. As a platform, Aqua DNA is different in the way it acts as an integrator. It can do asset-level analytics, measure individual alerts and store vital information. It’s designed to provide each client with an overall holistic view of network performance and to be entirely agnostic. It can partner with any sensor provider, integrate any data feed, work with any hydraulic model, or incorporate any other alert or anomaly system the client has.
On top of that, it applies what we call contextual data. Aqua DNA provides situational awareness, and in the context of Aqua DNA, it empowers users with live real-time information on alerts and the associated information that lets them understand the priority behind the alert. This helps them decide whether they need to act on that alert or whether they need to wait to see if the alert will self-clear. That's the biggest differentiator for Aqua DNA: we're not just acting as an alert collection system. We're using different data sets to provide situational awareness, which empowers operators to make better decisions. That contextual and situational awareness has allowed our clients to move from a reactive-only approach to network management to a proactive one. It helps them take preventative action so that incidents never occur. That's what I love about Aqua DNA: it's not just your last line of defense; it’s also acting as an early warning system that creates a window for you to go in and stop incidents from ever happening. When we scale up with multiple clients globally, we'll have a marked impact on the environmental challenges that utilities are facing.
The second part of the answer: we can harness Jacobs' consulting & advisory accelerator on top of the platform and the analytics. Our domain expertise allows us to deploy leading consultants, engineers and designers alongside the platform — we have over 9,000 employees working in the water space. We can help clients on every step of the journey, whether collecting data and understanding the economic level of monitoring they want to achieve or data analytics and determining the client’s sensitivity and risk appetite.
The final service area focuses on the client’s internal processes. How can the client achieve new ways of working to unlock the full benefits of the monitoring and analytics they’ve invested in? You need all three parts to come together, and that's where the Aqua DNA solution excels. It's not just about analytics; it’s a combination of the company’s data, analytics and change management. It differentiates what we call the Aqua DNA solution, not just the platform, from competitors.
“We're all aware that climate change impacts how our systems operate, so how do we adapt to a changing environment without spending billions of dollars building more and more infrastructure? How do we adapt what we've got to meet customer expectations and changing environmental conditions? That's the biggest challenge, no matter where you are in the world.”
How does Aqua DNA help provide environmental, social and governance (ESG) benefits?
Aqua DNA helps utilities avoid environmental incidents, reduce their impact on the community and improve their overall service by upgrading the network performance and reducing the number of times a spill or Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) might happen. So, it’s creating a benefit to the end customer and the environment. Aqua DNA acts as a protective measure for the client: if they operate the network in such a way, even with a storm event coming, they can reduce the number of spills from X to half X. But it doesn’t end there, as Aqua DNA doesn't just have to be about stopping spills and saving operation teams from doing repair work. The data collected on the assets can help investment managers or asset planners make better decisions. By improving network performance, achieving a calm flow state and creating more capacity means assets can last much longer. That translates into less embedded carbon, fewer trucks on the road and a reduction in construction. Clients can build less capacity as they’re making more out of the assets they already have. That’s where Aqua DNA can have a real ESG impact over the longer term.
What does the future hold for Aqua DNA?
I want it to be a strong differentiator for Jacobs, to take it into different markets and evolve it to take on more challenges. I want to move beyond networks into treatment, treatment into catchment, and catchment into clean water. I believe that our overall technology approach with Aqua DNA can be replicated across the whole water cycle. So, if you think of it along those two vectors, we'd like to expand into new assets and environments.
We'd also like to take it into different geographies and understand the different maturities of clients. On a recent episode of Jacobs’ If/When podcast about Digital Water, I mentioned this idea of integration and automation — Aqua DNA will move along both vectors. We will integrate with more data sets and move up to system optimization, but clients might also want to move on to the automation part where Aqua DNA might provide the AI and the machine learning to allow automated control of certain assets. That’s where things are getting really exciting, as we're already experimenting with a few clients. To start, I'd like to get most of our key clients globally onto Aqua DNA at a minimum level so they can see the benefits. The forward-thinking, ambitious clients will help us evolve in the global market, as Aqua DNA will quickly meet their ambition on the integration and automation curve.
About the interviewee
As a key thought leader in program and portfolio management, Gregg Kennedy brings many years of experience working in the capital planning, delivery, reporting and governance areas of major utility providers and government agencies both in Australia and in the U.K. to his role as Jacobs' Vice President of its Data Solutions Product Suite –Water Platform.
From a technical perspective, Gregg is a highly experienced finance and economics professional with skills spanning program and portfolio management, business and strategy planning, financial modeling, regulatory economics, capital investment appraisal, business case writing, cost-benefit analysis and benefits management.
With an enduring passion for promoting the practice of benefits management, Gregg is a firm believer that all investment decisions should be ‘outcomes focused’ so that every penny makes a significant and sustained contribution to securing benefits valued by our stakeholders.
About Aqua DNA
Introducing Aqua DNA, an intelligent digital solution that collects live data and improves wastewater network performance using smart sensors and AI-powered predictive analytics to reduce risk and make a positive societal and environmental impact.
Aqua DNA seamlessly captures thousands of data points every second and analyzes them in real-time. Consistent, timely data enables Aqua DNA to recognize operational patterns and asset performance in the network, identifying conditions that lead to incidents earlier than ever before.
By introducing this innovative technology into the wastewater network, utility providers can understand how their systems perform in real-time, alerting operators to emerging incidents and avoiding damaging spills, floods, blockages and discharges, which are harmful to their customers and our environment.