Written by Arham Shaukat
Digitizing utilities is the need of a technologically advanced world as the customers’ desires are changing with the evolution of technology. Today customers demand more flexibility and reliability within the utility sector to interact with more sustainable resources. Considering this, many utility companies are introducing technological transformation by experimenting with different techniques for the virtualization of data and smart insights to provide analytics to optimize and streamline services. Successful examples of data being used to make decisions are evident through startups like Drinkwell and MeSolshare in Bangladesh, which have worked closely with public entities to plan for the future. However, the overall landscape in Pakistan has seen limited innovation in comparison to other countries in the region, mainly because of the trust deficit that exists between public and private entities in Pakistan.
While Pakistan is struggling to introduce digitizing utilities, there has been some progress on this front.
One notable project has been Jazz’s “Energy and Line losses Reduction in Pakistan” idea, which uses an indigenous solution developed by their partner CISNR to address the biggest issue being faced by the local power distribution sector; line losses and electricity theft. Additionally, Pakistan has introduced the electric grid to improve the standard of living and provide consumers with cheaper and reliable energy. Digitalization in the power generation and distribution of electricity utilities is believed to enhance the living standard by using affordable and sustainable energy (Zafar et al., 2021). For example, Engro power thar Ltd power station is a project started in Sindh for digitizing utilities and USAID Pakistan energy digitization. The USAID sustainable energy program aims to deal with the company’s challenges due to electricity shortages. This project will initially take a four-year technical rollout to meet the electricity demands and deal with urbanization effectively.
The state of the industry report of 2020 (NEPRA) also states that the renewable energy project of Pakistan also takes part in improving the infrastructure of digitized electricity. This will serve to enhance the power generation capacity as well. Digital transformation in Pakistan introduces power generation solutions within the country and strives through sustainable facilities that will help deal with the betterment of the digital power generation solutions. It demands the introduction of different strategies for digitizing the energy to meet the electricity needs of the consumers. For example, the Qadripur plant in Pakistan aims to provide digital power generation solutions to improve the electricity supply and power generation efficiency. This project strategizes to optimize power generation and includes operational efficiency, energy efficiency, gas power plants, and multi-fuel power plants. All these methods and approaches will help improve energy consumption and the electricity supply.
The smart telecommunication industry of Pakistan is also changing the digitizing wave drastically to improve the functioning within different sectors.
The telecom sector of Pakistan aims to strengthen Pakistan’s government, education system, transportation, socialization, and health care. Some of the recently introduced technologies in Pakistan include the internet of things, big data, robotics, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, as per Lukonga (2021). Organizations like Universal Service Fund are working with MNOs to provide connectivity in unserved/underserved areas of Pakistan, allowing different organizations to install fourth industrial revolution hardware in remote areas enabling data and insight sharing between cross-sectoral organizations. Connectivity provided by USF has allowed companies like Ecoenergy – which provide pay-as-you-go solar services in Pakistan – to operate in remote areas and provide electricity to off-grid beneficiaries.
Digitization in the water industry aims to deal with the global water challenges, including resilience, quality, and scarcity. The Pakistani water industry is taking steps to deal with these challenges by tackling the digitization of water through an innovative approach. The three approaches that the water industry is taking include the development of different associations, municipalities, and technology companies to outline a strategy and framework to use data to make smart decisions. Additionally, these platforms aim to drive sustainability in Pakistan to deal with the current water challenges. Some of the specified projects introduced in Pakistan involve non-revenue water management and digitalization and digitizing maps using vector GIS and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) by NESPAK. The task of digitizing water was introduced in Pakistan by aiming to measure non-revenue water management to deal with the water supply issues (Memon, 2021). This project aims to deal with water management issues and improve climate resilience and energy consumption. This framework is highly beneficial for dealing with energy consumption and water challenges, as per Suber (2019).
Sanitation is another challenge that needs to be appropriately addressed by digitization.
Maintaining hygiene and sanitation is highly essential in Pakistan to improve the water sources and consider the country’s urban development. Pakistan’s water and sanitation program aims to develop technology for controlling wastewater systems and preventing health issues within Pakistan’s community. Lack of digitization in the sanitation industry can impact the well-being and health of the community living in Pakistan. Some notable projects worth mentioning in Pakistanis the The Monitoring Community-Led Total Sanitation project also addresses include Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) and Khadim-e-Punjab Saaf Pani Program. Digitizing the water industry is highly essential to deal with water supply and wastewater management. It also provides an opportunity to deal with the increasing challenges of waster due to improving urbanization.
Although the Pakistani government is taking different measures to introduce these steps, like the involvement of digitization, there is still a lack of implementation and planning. Also, the limited initiatives are not enough to deal with these challenges. Management of big data and finance are some of those challenges impacting the development of utilities in Pakistan (Klapper & Singer, 2017). Some of the recommended strategies that Pakistan needs to introduce for dealing with the digitization challenges include the reduction of complexity in the projects and providing insights and training to government officials to understand the benefits of digitization utilities. Furthermore, the government needs to consider establishing a national innovation and digital transformation policy while encouraging all stakeholders to come onboard a unified platform.
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Klapper, L., & Singer, D. (2017). The opportunities and challenges of digitizing government-to-person payments. The World Bank Research Observer, 32(2), 211-226.
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