Focusing on data-driven expertise

Fourth Knowledge Exchange Meeting of the Hydroinformatics Platform

For staff at drinking water utilities the sharp increase in the volume of data means that a great deal is asked of them. They have to work increasingly from a data-driven perspective, so that all the available information is optimally used. How can drinking water utilities assist them in this? According to the experiences shared during the fourth Knowledge Exchange Meeting of the Hydroinformatics Platform, it is important to focus on data-driven expertise. Only with good data organisation and data availability can data contribute to the weighing of alternatives in the decision-making process.

During the fourth Knowledge Exchange Meeting of the Hydroinformatics Platform, drinking water utility representatives shared their experience with data-driven work. KWR Water Research Institute and the Foundation for Water Education – the professional training organisation of the Dutch water sector – also took the floor. What follows is a brief impression.

Non-target screening as a specialist tool

KWR kicked-off the meeting. Drawing from a case study, researcher Nienke Meekel spoke of the need for data-driven skills. She illustrated the work activities associated with the detailed determination of the identity of compounds present in water. This involves the combined use of liquid chromatography and high-resolution mass spectrometry. The analysis and interpretation of the data produced from these measurements is an intensive and lengthy process. Data analysis techniques can lend a helping hand here. The challenge in this case is that both knowledge of chemistry and data-science techniques are required. In addition, programming skills are also needed to work with the software, as is a familiarity with various pieces of equipment. The researcher used this example to make it clear that specialised work demands both data skills and substantive knowledge.

Need for knowledge

This was followed by an outline of the need for more knowledge about data-driven expertise. Ingrid Schröders, from the Foundation for Water Education, spoke of the requests she receives for courses in the data field. In her experience, it is particularly the Water Authorities that express a strong demand for training in the field of data interpretation and software.

What one finds in operational practice is that the analysis of data requires both knowledge of the water system and of the software. Moreover, within organisations data are managed in a scattered manner and the inter-departmental sharing of data is often complicated. It is striking that there is currently no course offered on data management at drinking water utilities. Water Education will explore whether they can play a role in this regard.

Characteristics of data-driven companies.


Dunea: people at the centre

Eline Krapels and Vincent de Man, staff members at Dunea, talked about how this drinking water utility works on data-driven expertise. For Dunea, people will be at the centre in the future. This means that the data that people need to do their work will get to them. An example is the use of AR/VR. In the run-up to realising this objective, the focus at Dunea is on the optimal use of the available data.

In 2017, Dunea started to study all of the possible uses that could be made of the available data. This revealed that the existing software analyses overlooked some opportunities. The conclusion was that there is a need for smart data use. This means that the data have to be in good order, and their quality guaranteed. All data must also be collected in a single platform. A team of data specialists was put together within Dunea to work with experts who have substantive knowledge of water processes. Establishing this kind of connection is essential, and puts into practice what the transition from ‘data at the centre’ to ‘people at the centre’ is all about.

Processes in data-driven work (©Dunea).

Evides: data as strategic component

Matthijs van Stel, from Evides, talked about how the Datamanagement & Analytics department is organised at this drinking water utility. Data management at Evides is incorporated into policy as a strategic component. This has to do with manoeuvrability and innovation, digitalization and being an attractive employer for enthusiastic and engaged staff members. Van Stel explained that organisations that want to be successful in data-driven work need to have a team with the right inspiration.

In 2018 Evides established the Smart Data Platform for the storage, sharing and processing of data. In addition, the drinking water utility offers tailored training for its staff members. A Chief Data Officer is a member of the management team. Evides recognises that it is important that people who analyse data have the required analytical thinking skills. In this way data can provide support to the operational activities within the utility.


The discussion following the presentations revealed that data-driven work does not yet enjoy an official status at all drinking water utilities. The examples drawn from Dunea and Evides were however familiar to those in attendance.

This was the last Knowledge Exchange Meeting of the Hydroinformatics Platform of this year. In 2023, KWR will continue organising such meetings, so that drinking water utilities can stay informed about this emerging field.