Guest Column | November 17, 2021

Evolving The SWAN 5-Layers To A Circular Framework

By Shirley Ben-Dak, VP Strategy & Innovation (SWAN Forum)

Building off the industry accepted tech and distribution network-focused original SWAN 5-Layer Smart Water Model (learn more here), this new circular framework is a result of the evolution of smart water and strategic input provided by diverse, global SWAN Members, and thought leaders. Thank you to all those that contributed their insights to this framework, from across social media to the open innovation sessions held for our global membership!

Figure 1: (c) SWAN Forum

While the 5-Layer Model will continue to exist, providing a baseline terminology and understanding of the logical flow between the technical layers, from the physical assets to data fusion and analysis, this new circular model serves to educate the sector with the addition of critical elements supporting SWAN’s perspective on the smart water journey: Value Creation; Strategic Drivers, Strategic Outcomes; and User and Technical Interaction.

Ultimately, this iterative model is a reflection of the desire of the fast-growing smart water community to place more of an emphasis on the core role of the human element in smart water, from how operators interact and engage with proposed smart water solutions through to increased data transparency made more accessible to customers. The model also supports viewing smart water from a sustainability lens and how it drives value for the organisation undertaking the smart water and digital transformation process.

Learn more about the structural adjustments and strategic terminology reflected in this new SWAN model below.

Visual Of A Circular Model

  • Represents a decision to focus on the smart water journey and not only on the traditional smart water network based on a tech stack model. SWAN has evolved to focus on more than just water distribution, including wastewater and stormwater applications.
  • Circular shape reflects that this smart water journey is a continuous process, with the goal being to reach a desired, strategic outcome (further defined below) that addresses a main driver (further defined below).
  • Placing value creation within a circular model enables us to highlight it as the nucleus, with value creation not only reflected as an outcome but as a critical component of any smart water undertaking.
  • Better reflects the dynamic interaction between users, customers, stakeholders, processes, institutions, and culture.

Value Creation

  • Value creation refers to people, processes, and technologies that deliver smart water value across the organisation. This includes the hard-working utility staff, external customers, business, information technology (IT), operational technology (OT), engineering technology (ET) and change management processes, as well as smart water technologies. This is essentially the ‘why’ behind the smart water journey.
  • By focusing on a balance between people, processes, and technology, people can better learn, understand, engage, and effectively use secure smart water tools.
  • Its placement within the centre of the model recognises the core role of value creation and how it is relevant for assessment at each incremental level. You can deliver value to an organisation at each level and not only as an end result.
  • Value creation often relates to an organisational strategy that can influence the level of investment in a specific layer or strategic decision.
  • Value creation is critical for moving smart water from the domain of a closed group of water and data lovers to a domain that belongs and is valued by all stakeholders.
  • For smart water to be adopted and accelerated globally, those implementing technologies will demand to see the direct impact of tech implementation (both now and in the longer term) and be supported by relevant training.

Strategic Drivers

  • Prior to starting a smart water journey, there is often a fundamental driver or push factor to consider. Whether this is an environmental driver resulting from climate change’s impact on aging infrastructure or an economic barrier resulting from plant workflow inefficiencies, there is no shortage of utility pain points across drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities.
  • Drivers provide focus for those along the smart water journey, helping management prioritise strategies and solutions and ensuring that they have the right processes and buy-in in place to produce successful outcomes as they relate to the organisation’s strategy and core values.

Strategic Outcomes

  • A journey should have some type of end point or goal to reach, even if this is a continuous learning process. In this circular framework and building off of the traditional model, all of the layers have a logical flow that leads to a strategic outcome, whether business, economic, environment, social, or otherwise. This could be an outcome in the form of a direct result such as a reduced non-revenue water (NRW) rate, or a macro-level outcome such as influencing future investment decisions and risk appetites in smart water technologies.

User and Technical Interaction

  • The shaded dark blue covering layers 1-5 refers to both the user interaction that exists between the technologies, operators, customers, etc. and the technical interaction that exists between the layers themselves.
  • The smart water journey is an iterative process that does involve some back and forth between the layers to ensure the user interaction is achieved as intended during the value creation stage.
  • Considers that some smart water adopters have found some overlap between some of the layers, with certain solutions covering multiple applications.

Final Reflections

While it is nearly impossible to come up with a model that satisfies all current and future smart water practitioners, we feel this circular framework adds strategic layers and dimensions that help draw in new and vital stakeholders. This model further addresses the “why” and rationale behind a smart water journey, while the traditional 1-5 layers focused on the what and how. While all the layers should be maintained in order to realise strategic and holistic success that drives actionable insights, organisations can uncover value as they move along the smart water journey, making pivots and adjustments along the way as they progress.


I would like to thank my innovation ‘partners in crime’ for co-leading the development of this new framework — Amir Cahn and Nishanth (Nish) Senthilkumar, and all those 100+ individuals that took time to either engage in social media discussions debating the need to revamp the model, contribute their insights on our various open innovation sessions, and those that personally acted as sounding boards and advisors, namely Pernille Ingildsen, Saša Tomić, Andy Smith, Fionn Boyle, Lisa Andrews, James Dunning, Eric Bindler, Rob Main, and Sebastian Otero.

What are your thoughts about SWAN’s new circular framework? Let us know in the comments below or email me at