ACE2024: Solving workforce challenges, implementing AI, and enabling digital transformation

Trevor English Trevor English June 14, 2024

4 min read

It’s a wrap on the American Water Works Association’s annual conference, ACE 2024. The Autodesk water solutions team was there in full force, meeting with partners and those in the water industry about enabling the next wave of digital transformation through hydraulic modeling and asset analytics tools.

The Autodesk water solutions team manning the Autodesk booth at ACE 2024.

There were a few common themes this year, like the seemingly ever-present discussion around AI’s impact on the water industry, many discussions around workforce and staffing challenges, and some great discussions around how new tools are giving utilities more flexibility in how they manage their networks. Let’s dive in.

Customers doing impactful work

While there was a plethora of Autodesk customers at ACE 2024 discussing how they leveraged Autodesk’s tools to make impactful changes in the water industry, one notable presentation came from our partners at CHA Consulting. Parsa Pezeshk, P.E., gave a presentation around an evaluation the team did on a main in downtown Orlando, Florida. They evaluated the impact of a 30-inch main break in this densely populated area, simulating scenarios on the network and ultimately determining what and where improvements were needed to plan for disaster scenarios like this one.

The session was the perfect example of what we mean when we say “more resilient water infrastructure.” Digital tools not only help in the design process, but they close the gaps between the planning and operations phase, giving engineers and utilities the data they need to make their networks resilient and sustainable for many years to come.

CHA Consulting’s Parsa Pezeshk talked about how they utilized InfoWater Pro to improve a distribution network in Orlando. Read our customer story about it.

AI and water

Alright, I can’t write a wrap-up post about a water event in 2024 without discussing everyone’s new favorite buzz phrase: AI. Many in the industry are still trying to figure out how AI will impact their work, and ultimately determine whether it can impact their work now, or if it still has time to go before practical applications arise. This is the natural progression of any technology new to the scene, and ACE was full of great discussions around AI already being practically applied to solve present and future water challenges.

Autodesk Technical Support Engineer Daniel’le DeVoss sat in on many AI sessions and noted that there were many “diverse examples of using AI to make life easier.” One of those sessions was a panel discussion with Water Infrastructure Strategist David Totman, who spoke with Jim Cooper, Global Director from Arcadis, on the panel “Innovation or Moderation, the State of AI in the Water Sector.”

Autodesk Product Marketing Manager, Patrick Bonk, also sat on a panel around AI in water management, specifically how AI can help in the workforce shortage, and help with sustainability goals with aging infrastructure. During the session he introduced our AI capabilities in Info360 Asset in conjunction with VAPAR, and generative design capabilities with Transcend for water treatment plants.

Product Marketing Manager, Patrick Bonk, presenting at the AI discussion at ACE 2024.

Autodesk is working to push AI forward, like our new ML Deluge tool inside of InfoDrainage, which Project Centre Limited used to design drainage for a solar field in the UK. It’s clear after ACE 2024 that AI is already being practically used throughout the water industry to help manage data and implement better solutions.

A highlight of the show, AWWA’s water drop mascot.

Challenges to the workforce

Many of the discussions at ACE 2024 were around workforce challenges utilities and water infrastructure owners face, from not having enough engineers to not having enough modelers who can help solve challenges the industry faces today. Today’s growing water challenges are creating an environment where understaffed utilities and consultants are faced with big challenges without the staff to help solve them.

While many discussions around the topic have transitioned into training the next generation, many of the discussions were about how new digital technologies, like Autodesk’s hydraulic modeling and cloud-based tools, can enable fewer workers to do more impactful work. AI, ML, and more advanced water software is helping utilities and consultants do more with less, and understand the challenges their infrastructure is facing.

Enabling digital transformation

One of my favorite conversations from ACE was that of a regional water utility that wanted to convert their network models into InfoWater Pro. Their modeling team was small, which meant relying on a team of external engineers to do their complex modeling work in most instances. However, the utility was faced with tight budgets and had a lot of questions about their network, including scenarios they wanted to test and analyze. In essence, while they were getting by with their current set up, they wanted to empower their small team to be able to get the answers for themselves. They saw InfoWater Pro as the solution.

In converting their hydraulic models over to InfoWater Pro, their small team would be able to test as many network scenarios as they wanted, giving them more data – and more knowledge – about the network they’re tasked with maintaining and operating every day. It’s this story that’s emblematic of where digital transformation is taking the water industry. New, powerful, yet easy-to-use and approachable hydraulic modeling tools like InfoWater Pro gives more power to engineers at utilities to understand their network and make impactful decisions in a cost-effective and time-sensitive manner.

This is core to our mission here at Autodesk, and core to why we show up to meet with the water industry at events like ACE 2024. Most of us on the team are water engineers. We see the challenges the industry faces, and we’re working to deliver solutions to today’s workforce challenges, software challenges, network challenges (you name it) to deliver resilient water solutions throughout the entire water lifecycle – one drop at a time.

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