Insights 2017: Jonathan McKeown


Monday, 23 January, 2017

Insights 2017: Jonathan McKeown

How is the Internet of Things affecting the Australian Water Sector?

IoT has fundamentally changed the way the Australian water sector works, with all the essential elements within the water cycle becoming increasingly responsive to live-time interaction with service providers, governments and customers through smart devices and networks.

There is a rapid uptake of innovative management practices, technological developments and scientific research all influenced by the possibilities associated with the Internet of Things. Our behaviours are also changing because of real-time data gathering and device interactions at home or while mobile. While intelligent metering and monitoring systems have been part of the water networks for a while now, the Internet of Things brings the immediate needs and behaviours of customers to the equation.

It is also changing the way the sector communicates and engages with customers to generate more responsive actions by water utilities, government departments and regulators with the overall goal of better managing our water resources and providing better tailored services and products.

With the impressive number of home and personal devices online that are constantly communicating with provider and government networks, one can understand the need for more sophisticated cyber security systems to make sure that end-to-end connections are safe against cyber attacks no matter how small. Water creates life and prosperity, and we cannot compromise on the issues of water safety whilst the sector looks for new and innovative ways to deliver and manage this important asset.

What can the Australian water sector offer the fast developing economies in Asia?

As the world’s driest continent, Australia has had to adapt its economic development to the restricted water available. Yet, globally, we have some of the highest levels of productivity in agriculture, some of the best quality scores for drinking water and an increasing range of water sources to provide ongoing water security. These include accessing groundwater and managing aquifers, expansion of man-made water through desalination and other processes, and the recycling of water for non-potable purposes.

There are three core advantages that the Australian water sector can offer the developing countries in Asia. The first advantage would be the innovative technologies to provide high-quality drinking water at affordable prices. Australia has developed many alternative forms of processing water to meet health and quality guidelines without the need of major capital spending on infrastructure. By utilising Australia’s proven water technologies, small communities or single households located in remote areas in Asia can be provided with quality drinking water to lift both public health and private liveability.

The second advantage is the implementation of improved water efficiencies for both agricultural and industrial water uses. We lead the world in the application of water to produce some of the highest agricultural yields and we have proven ability to recycle water for industrial or non-potable use.

The third advantage is Australia’s use of water as an economic driver to encourage and foster a more sustainable business model at a community level. Australia has a strong track record of delivering appropriate quality water to many decentralised communities that has been the basis of sustainable economic models built around a range of agricultural, commercial and community projects. These models and experiences gained in Australia have direct applicability to many of the developing countries in Asia. Careful planning and strategic selection of industries that are granted access to water will provide both sustainable economic development and long-term water usage.

How is the Australian water sector prepared for the big data era?

From a government perspective many of our national authorities, including the Bureau of Meteorology, are already grappling with elements of big data collection and analysis. Much of the value-added services they offer both the water sector and the wider community relate directly to the use of big data.

Our water utilities across the country have also become significantly more sophisticated in managing their own great volumes of data related to asset management, water quality and customer service delivery. The most successful water utilities are those who have streamlined their processes and products based on big data insights.

With data pouring in from millions of households, towns and individual users, the water sector understands that big data is the future. Suppliers, consultants and engineers working in the water sector are coming to terms with the significant potential to better understand market trends, technology developments and customer opportunities that come with accessing and intelligently managing big data.

Jonathan McKeown commenced work as Chief Executive of the Australian Water Association at the end of May 2013. Jonathan graduated from the Australian National University with combined Arts/Law degrees in 1983. He commenced his career as a commercial lawyer with Mallesons solicitors in Melbourne. In this capacity he worked in a variety of areas including mergers and acquisitions, mining and resources, and finance and banking. He then transferred to business, gaining 25 years of commercial experience in establishing and consolidating businesses across Asia and the Middle East.

Jonathan has advised more than 200 companies in developing business in Asia while managing offices in Bangkok, Jakarta, Tokyo, and Amsterdam. His international project management skills have been acquired through significant development projects across Asia and the Middle East — all requiring regular interaction with senior levels of governments, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

As a management consultant, Jonathan was based in Bangkok for seven years, specialising in productivity improvement, strategic planning, corporate restructures, and acquisitions and joint ventures across Asia and Australia.

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