Q&A: Water sector digitization with CDM Smith

July 14, 2023
CDM Smith has placed a high degree of focus on digitization of water and wastewater utilities, but why is that important and what technology will advance the industry forward?

At the beginning of June, CDM Smith announced Jennifer Prescott was named chief digital and information officer. Over the past several years, CDM Smith has pushed the boundaries of digitization for water utilities and has even created a subsidiary company called Trinnex to provide digital solutions to its customers. Wastewater Digest Editorial Director Bob Crossen spoke with Prescott about the future of digitization in the water sector, the vision she and CDM Smith have for that digitization future, and the technologies that will take the industry there.

Importance and vision for water sector digitization

Bob Crossen: Why is digitization so important to CDM Smith's future? What about the industry's future? 

Jennifer Prescott:  We believe that the future of the industry will be digitally enabled engineering.  We see advances in emerging technology coming that will transform [architecture, engineering and construction] AEC and we plan to be at the forefront. 

Crossen: What is your vision for the digital future of the water industry? 

Prescott: There are so many exciting digital opportunities such as automating workflows, predictive analytics for water efficiency, new sensor based “smart” water solutions, operational efficiencies, digital twins for predictive maintenance, and harnessing the power of Generative AI which we see many new use cases for the water industry.

Goals and business opportunities for digitization

Crossen: How do you see CDM Smith aligning with and building to that vision? 

Prescott: We made a significant investment in our digital subsidiary, Trinnex, that is a game changer in the industry.  Trinnex has developed a [software-as-a-service] SaaS software platform that has targeted solutions around removing lead from drinking water, reducing sewer pollution in our waterways, monitoring and analyzing viruses in our wastewater, and tackling [per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances] PFAS regulations and treatment. They also have a digital consulting division dedicated to developing and advising on strategic solutions to aid their clients in their digital journey. I’m incredibly inspired by the technologists, data scientists, and practitioners developing practical on-ramps to predictive modeling, AI, digital twins, and more. .And CDM Smith is already a leader in AEC leveraging mixed reality solutions and advanced drone data collection.

Crossen: In terms of business, where do you see the biggest growth opportunities? 

Prescott: Changes in regulations, the availability of federal funding and climate change are driving large opportunities in our markets. We are heavily investing in several key areas where we expect the need for our services to grow exponentially: removing lead service lines, treating and destroying PFAS, helping clients become digitally enabled, securing water portfolios through water reuse and desalination, and providing integrated transportation solutions.

Crossen: How do digital strategies change based on the market such as drinking water versus wastewater versus stormwater? 

Prescott:  Digital strategies are all about applying the next generation of technology, advancing the use of data, and applying innovation thinking.  The digital strategy across the various water markets is targeted for the specific problems to solve and is continuously evolving. We understand the challenges of the labor market and demands of increasing regulations, and we strongly feel that CDM Smith will leverage digital strategies to find the early wins for our clients to help them be digital-first and resilient.

Digitization technologies changing the landscape

Crossen: What advancements in technology are most exciting to you at this moment in time? 

Prescott: I’m excited about so many things right now, I think I’m most curious about how we spread the power of technology across our engineers and scientists and quickly give them tools and capabilities.  The combination of highly available low code/no code productivity tools coupled with Generative AI on both our data and the world’s data will be transformative in our work and for our clients. 

About the Author

Bob Crossen

Bob Crossen is the editorial director for the Endeavor Business Media Water Group, which publishes WaterWorld, Wastewater Digest and Stormwater Solutions. Crossen graduated from Illinois State University in Dec. 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in German and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. He worked for Campbell Publications, a weekly newspaper company in rural Illinois outside St. Louis for four years as a reporter and regional editor. 

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