A thirst for actionable insights: how water-link brings water management into the 21st century

May 29, 2023
  • operations
  • IT
  • utilities

How do you manage a piping water network that’s over 2,300 km long while also delivering great customer experiences to nearly 640,000 users (or area inhabitants)? For water-link, one of Flanders’ main water management companies, the answer lies in embracing digital possibilities. A pioneer in digital water meter adoption, the company is sitting on massive amounts of data. What was missing until recently was a way to turn all that information into actionable insights.

  • Client: Antwerp-based water management company water-link.
  • Challenge: Use digital meter data to improve transparency, operational efficiency, and customer satisfaction.
  • Solution: A single-source Databricks data integration platform running on Azure connected to an ERP process backbone.

The challenge: Adrift in a sea of data

Since 2018 water-link has been installing smart digital water meters in almost all its connected households. These meters – of which there are currently over 200,000 in the field – provide real-time data on water consumption, pressure, temperature, leakage, reverse flows, and more. Taken together, this data enables more efficient and accurate billing and allows water-link operators to monitor usage patterns and spot abnormalities. In this way, the data (e.g., temperature and pressure) also helps to detect reverse flows and protect against contamination. The digital meters even allow to close valves remotely in case of emergencies. 

The Digital Meter is already making a difference for our customers, employees, and how we collaborate with our stakeholders and society in general. This makes us pioneers in Flanders.
Gert Michielsen, Program Manager at water-link

However, to take full advantage of all the possibilities, water-link had to find a way to capture and centralize that stream of data and transform it to integrate with a wide range of internal and external platforms. This would enable water-link to reduce operational costs in various ways, e.g., by automating maintenance signals, enabling automatic move procedures without any water loss between contracts, the detection of leakage and theft, etc. 

Zoom out: utilities

Covering basic needs in a changing landscape

From aging infrastructure and sustainability goals to greater customer expectations and regulatory compliance: there’s no shortage of challenges for modern utilities companies both in energy and water. To become future proof, they need to optimize operations, increase transparency, and meet their users’ high expectations. How? By taking full advantage of the innovative possibilities of combining data.

According to Maarten Herthoge, solution expert data & AI at delaware, utilities in general also provide a compelling use case for the Internet of Things (IoT). “It’s not just about capturing a vast amount of consumption data, but about adding functionality and gaining a better understanding about what is happening at every level of the network: in a household, in the industry zones, in the grid, etc.”

The solution: Go with the data flow

Integrating data from hundreds of thousands of digital meters, transforming it into a consistent format, enriching the set with other data streams and delivering insights to various destinations? Sounds like a job for a data integration platform. “Like an air traffic control tower, the data integration platform brokers information between applications in real time, orchestrates data movements, validates incoming data, and much more,” says Maarten. “It also makes it possible to serve data to other internal and external parties.”

The setup that delaware proposed consists of a central data hub that feeds into multiple use cases and serves different internal and external audiences and systems. “Everything runs on Microsoft Azure, with a heavy focus on data lake and Databricks,” Maarten explains. “We also use tools like Power BI, Event Hub, Functions, and others to consume and serve data.”

By the numbers

  • 200,000+ smart water meters
  • 500,000+ API calls a day
  • 700,000+ messages and alerts processed daily
  • Data integration platform up and running in less than 12 months

But why these tools, exactly? “To handle this huge amount of data and messages, we needed a cost-efficient and scalable solution that was highly flexible to boot. The Azure-Databricks combo ticked all the boxes: Azure offers amazing supporting services and off-the-shelf possibilities, while Databricks is very intuitive to use and works according to the pay/scale-as-you-go principle.” 

In less than 12 months, the data integration platform was up and running – quite a feat, considering that water-link was completely new to Azure.

Setting up a centralized data platform from scratch in such a short time and making it work with our ERP’s existing data and processes was a real tour de force. Thanks to the unwavering enthusiasm of all project team members, internal and external, we can proudly say that this will be a lasting part of our data architecture.
Gert Michielsen, Program Manager at water-link

Did you know?

This data integration platform received an award in the category Technology at the 2023 Publica Awards. The Publica Awards have been putting inspiring public projects in the spotlight since 2017. A project can be granted an award when it's a unique collaboration between the public and private sector, and when it has the power to set an example for future projects. A great achievement for the water-link and delaware teams!

Use cases: Flooded with possibilities

With just a handful of components, the joint water-link/delaware project team managed to tackle more than 20 use cases that directly impact water-link’s business users throughout the whole organization, employees like customer administration and service desk and field service operators. 


  • Thanks to the Azure Functions integration, users can trigger process flows in the ERP directly from a Power BI report. 
  • Service desk employees have access to a 360-degree cockpit that offers immediate user insights and allows them to assist more efficiently.
  • The business rule engine allows the data integration platform to prioritize and act on hundreds of thousands of alerts without the need for human intervention every day. These actions range from having someone in the call center contact the customer, to immediately dispatching a field service team for serious issues (major leaks, contamination, theft, etc.). Before, only a dozen alerts could be handled daily.
  • Automated data quality control on all asset information enables quick detection of issues and tampering.
  • The API layer is built according to the OpenAPI Specifications (OAS), which enables internal and, in the future, external sharing of data for smart city initiatives.
  • The meter portal provides consumers with full insights into their own data and how it is used with the meter portal, in complete alignment with GDPR. 
  • 24/7 monitoring of household installations helps prevent major damage or leaks for users.
Investing in structured data that can be combined in a modular and flexible way aligns perfectly with our mission and our long-term strategy. For example, it allows us to protect the quality of our drinking water more efficiently through better monitoring of reverse flows. It also enables us to make more efficient use of water resources, and improves the comfort of our end users through automated meter readings.
Gert Michielsen, Program Manager at water-link

“All of these use cases contribute to water-link’s long-term strategic objectives of improving transparency and operational excellence while also providing great customer experiences,” Maarten concludes. “Through a pro-active approach, and by embracing data as the central pillar and basis for decision-making, water-link has significantly decreased unnecessary interactions with its area inhabitants. The societal impact can’t be underestimated either, from better monitoring of drinking water quality to a more accurate assessment of financial risks for certain users.” 

How IoT can drive automation and efficiency

Over the past decade, water-link replaced analog water meters with a digital version with the ability to send alarms, receive requests for automated operations and provide insightful IoT data. In partnership with delaware, water-link built a modern data platform powered by the Databricks Lakehouse paradigm and hosted on Azure. Maarten gave more information about this groundbreaking solution at the delaware Conference 2023.