Ensuring Safety and Security in the Era of Digital Water : A qualitative study on the implications following the digital transformation of the Swedish water industry

University essay from KTH/Skolan för industriell teknik och management (ITM)

Abstract: As water systems are critical infrastructures, their continuous service is essential for maintaining vital functions of society. During the past decades, a number of severe global challenges have put increasing pressure on the water systems, threatening the quality and availability of water. Digitalization is expected to play a fundamental role in managing these challenges, making the digital transformation of the water industry an imperative rather than a choice for water utility providers. However, the implementation of digital solutions also entails a number of challenges, risks and vulnerabilities to water systems. As such, water utility providers are faced with increased complexity and uncertainty, where the safety and security of the system is at stake. This thesis addresses the potential implications of a digital transformation of the water industry by exploring how digitalization affects the Swedish water sector from a safety and security perspective. By doing so, the thesis aims to enhance the understanding of how Swedish water utility providers can manage its ongoing digital transformation. The thesis consists of a qualitative research study where interviews with 16 representatives from the Swedish water industry contributed with a broad perception of the implications of the digital transformation. Theory on high reliability organizations and resilience was applied to obtain a deeper understanding of what the potential safety and security implications may entail for Swedish water utilities in managing and reaping the benefits of their digital transformation. The study finds that representatives from the Swedish water sector mainly view benefits related to the efficiency of their operations from their ongoing digital transformation, while the mentioned drawbacks are generally related to their organizational abilities in managing the emerging risks and increased level of complexity. With increasing digitalization, Swedish water utilities coincide with the high reliability organization theory to a higher extent, which emphasizes the increasing importance of employing bothtechnical reliability and organizational resilience practices. This thesis concludes that technical reliability has historically been well-managed and prioritized by utilities, whilst organizational resilience has become an increasingly important aspect to focus on with increasing digitalization. Hence, practices of organizational resilience, such as incorporating clear strategies, integrating work between divisions and increasing follow-up from disturbances, should be employed on a wider scale among water utilities.

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