IT and software advances too fast. In such way that there are a lot of chances that someone has posted two new apps related to water management while you’re reading this text. In addition, the IT current possibilities are huge. Something broad enough that open new opportunities to face technologically complex and heavier things in less time. And in a way that even ordinary people like us can understand.
However, compared with other sectors such as finance or electricity, the water industry does not seem to be taking advantage of this huge potential conveniently. Most of the Water Utilities in major planet economies are still managing the information as they did several years ago, with the back facing these technological advances.
On the other hand, everyone knows the importance of water and how strategic is such a precious and scarce resource. Most probably they do not know about the looming water crisis many are already talking. In the coming years, we will have to face a substantial decrease in availability and quality of this resource, to not being able to meet demand in large areas of the planet or simply the need to replace our assets in order to guarantee the same level of current water service. Definitively, the future is not very promising.
It’s time to make a firm commitment to successfully implement IT in the water industry. To take advantage of economic savings opportunities that software and IT are generating daily. To realize about how to make the information and data process really efficient. To define and implement an IT strategy that considers all that nowadays is already viable and proven to minimize the impact of an incoming crisis. The future of our children depends on it.
Trying to make the most of my experience in both fields, I’ve prepared a 30 minutes duration video in which I review the possibilities of Water & IT binomial, trying to provide an overview of what could be the keys to address the critical coming challenges for Water industry. In first ten minutes I speak in detail about each essential aspect around Water today, both context and main problems. After that, I provide ten different proposals using technology to leverage the most of tech revolution world is living today with an apparently few impact in our Industry.
This is in essence a complete guide to face the IT challenge for Water Industry. This must help to avoid major Water problems like Water crisis many worldwide financial or environmental organizations are refereeing nowadays.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I have done preparing …
Today I’d like to set out one question involving two closely related concepts that I will try to answer in three times. The concepts are clear, Water, essential element for life on our planet and information technology a very necessary means to make this last.
The question, concise and direct. Given the crucial challenges for the future in the Water Industry, how should take advantage of the immense potential that IT offers us today?
The times, intended to be as clear as possible. That is, putting the reader in context, indicating the problems and trying to find solutions.
To put the reader in context we say that 71% of the earth's surface is covered by water. Only 2.5% is fresh and only about 0.75% is contained in groundwater, rivers, lakes or dams. This small percentage is consumed unevenly. 70% goes to agriculture, 20% for industry and only 10% to the supply and consumption of domestic use.
Furthermore, living things are composed by 50 to 90% water. Therefore, water is essential for life
What do we mean when we talk about IT? We're talking about different types of systems like:
Transaction processing systems designed to ensure the control and traceability of input, processing and output of information in key business processes
Business process management systems oriented to ensure optimal data and responsibility workflows during the path the information does within organizations
Business intelligence and analytical platforms that prepare the info in such way it can be consumed conveniently by each role within organizations
Advanced analytical systems always trying to take a look at a potential future to predict the effects of changes in operational and business decisions
Geographic information systems that visualize, manage and analyze information under a spatial perspective
Customer relationship Management Systems, thought up to check that the crucial customer care process is executed with the maximum guarantee of success and satisfaction
Real-time systems that monitor any event that should be taken into account by the organization and operate their assets taking control of remote devices
Statistical modeling that creates knowledge based on multiple scenarios simulation applicable to different areas of the organization
The content management systems that take care of catalog, manage and query huge volumes of documents inside the organization
And other systems that today are gaining prominence as augmented reality, virtual reality and other disciplines that nowadays might seem more distant as 3D printing
And the water cycle? What do we mean when we talk about the cycle?
Well, we mean the way in which we solve a simple equation. To make use of a resource with the help of some assets, providing a service that can meet the needs of our customers
There are multiple ways of representing the cycle. For us, the simplest is start with the water collection and treatment, following with the production and storage, arriving to the distribution and transport where it has to be consumed with the subsequent sewage collection and treatment for finally return to the receiving environment. All of this without forgetting key issues such as stormwater drainage, water consumption for irrigation or environmental monitoring of the entire cycle.
There are some key operational processes in any organization. The combination of these ones with the stages of the cycle can help us to draw the water business processes. These are:
The asset management that, beyond providing a simple inventory of them, should maximize their life and optimize the investment
The operation and maintenance focus on the daily reactive and planified field work to assure that everything works fine
Project Management that planning and make the proper follow up of the correct way to run OPEX and CAPEX processes
The business cycle, key to ensuring the fair resource distribution and billing through a high-quality customer service
The measurement, that allows the company to quantify resource consumption, whatever the way it's done
And the customer care processes that always take care of the most valuable asset for a service company, its customers
The combination of the key aspects of the cycle and its processes produces multiple views of the same business processes. I'm sure in the sector, each one has its own ...
Optimists draw an ideal future without problems. A future where energy will be free and clean thanks to the cold fusion and renewable. It will be like having the sun at home. Where robots will be smart enough to be able to perform major engineering works easy and cheap. A world where we can desalinate water and bring it wherever it was necessary. A world without water problems
The truth is really other. There will be less and less available water due to its quality and quantity. More adverse events like droughts and floods will occur, and more severe. And there will be more more people to supply and feed
This is why many people is already talking about water crisis.
Something to be worry about is the fact that the World Economic Forum mention the Water Crisis as the world's largest social problem in terms of impact in their two thousand and fifteen (2015) report. The availability and quality of a precious resource like water are key factors to the future of the planet.
We need to know that water stress or the inability to meet demand due to different factors, will increasingly affect the developed world over the next decades. Today it is estimated that 18% of Europe's population lives in countries with this pressing problem. In two thousand and twenty-five (2025) global demand for water will exceed available water resources by fifty six (56)%. And in the following years? Is it going to be a better situation? Nope. The World Resources Institute notes that in two thounsand and forty (2040), among the most affected, we are going to find the world's major economies like the US, China or India. Cases like Chile could be dramatic. From a mid average stress ratio, they will easily reach the maximum as result of rising temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns. And Spain? They don't have to sleep pacefully. The ranking puts them in position thirty two (32) with a worrying four dot ou seven (4.07) points out of five (5) on the scale of stress. But the ranking clearly shows that the Middle East will suffer the worst.
We are all aware that water has caused and will cause wars. Something that does not benefit at all to an unstable area with an open war in Syria or an eternal conflict between Israel and Palestine. Let us keep in mind
Down to a local level, we also have a serious problem with our assets. Welcome to the replacement era. Thousands and thousands of kilometers of buried pipes are arriving to the end of its useful life. To face properly this tremendous challenge, the American Water Works Association is estimating an investment of $ 1 trillion dollars over the next twenty-five (25) years. If we don't do nothing, the number of water leakages (two hundred and fifty thousand only in the US) will continue to increase annually with the consequent deterioration of water services quality and the misuse of funds to pay more repairing than replacing
How this huge investment is going to be found? Who is going to pay the party? How is going to manage CAPEX? And OPEX? Increasing the typical family's water bill as usual. In some areas, mostly depending on the community size, this can triple easily the impact of water bills on the shopping basket.
Last but not lower we need to focus on the problem of talent retention and collection. This means how to face the knowledge retention from an aging workforce and the difficulty to finding qualified people to cover IT and engineering areas. How to meet the new needs the Industry will have to deal with?
Facing this worrying scenario, the question is obvious. Is the Water industry ready for this?
Unfortunately, there is no ideal solution. Nevertheless, there are good approaches if we do things correctly. We must definitely make a more coherent, rational and sustainable water use. But this only will succeed relying on the best available technologies.
My proposal is based on a simple process:
Collect as much information as we can
Transform these data into reliable and accurate knowledge
Bringing this power to those who should take decisions
In the shortest time possible
At a reasonable cost
From this point forward, I would like to outline several keys oriented to help water utilities to achieve the implementation of this simple process successfully. My two cents' worth in just 10 points.
10 proposals to leverage IT in Water Industry
First, it is important to be connected
It is important to be aware of the "Internet of Things" (IoT) evolution or how 50 billion devices are going to be connected by 2020.
The IoT is the natural evolution of SCADA. From the the old paradigm of Implement (PLCs), Acquire (SCADA) and consolidate (BI), we are going towards the Sensorization (sensor), ingestion (IoT) and Analysis (Big Data). The industry must take advantage of this wave to achieve a maximum sensorization at the lowest cost
We must go a step forward than nowadays and think not only in the network and plants. We must see our clients, the entire Web, social networks, open data and other information as an input. The industry should take advantage of their assets and their relationship with customers in order to understand well the environment and act consequently
Remote sensing could be a new and valuable input for IoT... A more than a science easily applicable to agriculture, biodiversity, Logistics or Health & Safety. For us, it's a technology that nowadays can be extended to anyt airborned sensor. Even the drones, so fashionable today...
There is a large space for improvement in water for industrial use. This can and must be monitored correctly right away by remote metering. It is also an obligation for large consumers to monitorize, analyze and act on their consumption pattern.
Smart Metering makes sense nowadays because:
It helps in the billing process
It helps customers (notices)
Is a valuable tool to help customers (recommendations)
It helps optimize (patterns)
It helps to convey trust and an innovative vision of the company to the customers
Is a firm commitment with the future
It is already possible
And, what the hell, because is "cool" ...
However, the smart metering, as we currently conceived it, only gives the big point of water service. Maybe it's time to enter in the customer house and get detailed information about their usage. The main objective should be understand how they are consuming to make the most sustainable and custom-made recommendations
And all of this, keeping in mind that if we want to talk about a real IoT solution IoT we should contemplate a proper:
Analytics application on data
Integration mechanism (mainly via APIs)
Security for the entire solution
The focus here is having a well-defined strategy for data collection automation and set a credible horizon for its implementation taking into account the state of the art in the market. Beware of being unrealistic
Create knowledge from data
Another key aspect is to create knowledge from data
We want to address here at Big Data or the ability to decoding the human genome in 7 days (it took 10 years to do so), analyzing more than 30 petabytes of user data (Facebook Store for instance), respond more than two million queries in a minute (as Google does) or monitor the ten (10) Terabytes that generates a flight computer every thirty 30 minutes / To do this, keep in mind that ... Every day two dot five (2.5) quintillion bytes of data are generated, every minute people send one hundred thousand (100,000) tweets or simply that 90% of global data have been generated in the last 2 years
From data to knowledge, a path that all companies should be clear about. With Big Bata they nowadays can answer complex questions, rethink or create new business processes and customize their products and services. If they don't do it yet, they're losing a lot of money and opportunities
It's necessary to evolve to make the right decisions. From an easy information management, companies should progressively evolve to a true optimization. From the obvious analysis on what happened, companies should go towards forecasting and question how I can make that not happen again? It is a path that brings more value but imply a greater difficulty
The old demand for a traditional modeling applied to large data volumes, now it is possible. We can face complex calculations like obtain a precise pattern of consumption for each individual customer, get a more effective water demand forecasting, detect fraud or anomalous consumptions, access to a reliable analysis of our large customers, play with smart event detection and management or leaks, refine our raw data validation, estimation and edition mechanisms, calculate hourly water balances and many more
It seems like Big Data offer starts to be strong enough and credible. It is no longer a pipe dream. The velocity and volume are key to Smart Metering. Variety is key to take better operational decisions. And currently there is a real value from their implementation. It is highly recommendable to go to the market and take a look. But be careful and don't get sick. The offering is very wide and diverse ...
The focus here is have a deep knowledge of the problems you need to solve, which are the kind of decisions you need to take, always aligning the data collection strategy with the data processing capacity required. Beware of being greedy.
Important. All the knowledge generated has to be correctly applied
The Data Analytics world is suffering a boom in recent years. From traditional Business Intelligence that analyzes the past we're turning to Business Analytics that tries to advance to the future. From reporting we're chanching to self consumption
From look and find we're arriving to discover. Today it is possible to obtain real value from the application of a three hundred and sixty degrees (360) vision to the Water Business. Today we can work with multiple insights offered by a huge volume of collected and processed data, without die trying
The analysis must be covered from the overall view of processes through indicators and trends ... We talk of different kind of analysis focus on consumption, billing, customer satisfaction, Service Level Agreement compliance, meter deployment, maintenance projects or investment
Companies should cover the comparative analysis of the main indicators between business units and equivalents organizational elements. They must also cover segmentation based on profiling and pattern analysis using different criteria. This is the case of types of customers or meters
Companies also need to cover the prediction of future events and the information they'll need based on its previous knowledge. So, we need to be aware of water demand forecasting, the customer default rate, the fraud rate or the billing cycle closure forecasting.
The simulation and recommendation should be covered also by means of a proper process modelization. We are refereeing here to water bill simulation, the elaboration of a predictive maintenance plan or the customer contact recommendation, when and how to do it
It's time to discover the water business. It's time to offer knowledge to take decisions in a visual and interactive way
The focus here is Have in mind how you want to measure the business processes, choose the right metrics and indicators and define a global vision of the entire water service that combines warranty service, operational matters and business cycle. Beware of don't see the forest
We must never forget to be integrated
Integration, integration and integration. Is what everybody wants, and few companies rarely get. Much time and money buried in integrated systems that never work properly. My proposal goes to build platforms, not bridges between isolated systems
At this point we must differentiate between systems integration and integration platform. The first draws a scenario where the information systems are connected through projects and the data travel constantly from one place to another to be calculated or simply visualized. This strategy can easily become a nightmare trying to maintain a rats' nest
The second is aimed to provide rich environments with applications and services available that could represent a good foundation to support the organization business processes
Only in this way companies will be enabled to work with different views: technical, commercial and organizational
Only in this way companies will be enabled to work with cross processes and execute real three hundred and sifty degrees 360º analysis / The information architecture, designed as a data model, is responsible for properly connect these worlds either at lateral level - Servive connection, at site level - Organization or at customer level - contract
With a proper integration we get the correct vision that improves processes. If we combine: The real time network operation + the customer care (call center) + the geographic intelligence + The process modeling = BETTER MANAGEMENT AND RESPONSE DURING CRITICAL EVENTS
The software as a platform is a reality. Now we can find a decent offering. All large software vendors are considering going for this model based on interoperability. It's worth to rethink the IT strategy to build systems using these platforms and avoid constant overruns. It's worth to thinking about the gradual migration of legacy systems to obtain quick and obvious advantages
The focus here is on define (or redefine) an IT strategy based on platforms, analyzing in parallel the current and future technological proposal of the most visionaries manufacturers. Beware of being immobile and believe that my integrations will always run...
Combine technology smartly
Combining correctly the technology is an essential aspect
It's the Barman law. Combine the ingredients properly to succeed
Every need or business process has the right combination of technology. Now we're going to propose the magic formula with some approximate proportions of amount of technology for each main process. As always, this amount have to be adjusted according to everybody’s liking
In Plants operation always wins the Real Time and transactionality represented by the asset management, a good ERP or laboratory information management system
In Network operation the weight is shared equally. We must give the weight it deserves to transactionality, next to Real Time, modeling and GIS
In asset management is more or less the same, increasing the weight of analytics and decreasing real time
In Works and interventions processes, the transactional systems (order management and project management) are the key to success, together with a propor use of analytical platforms and GIS
In the Measurement process there's no choice. Real Time and analytics are crucial
In the customers side we play all to three cards, a good transactional system (customer information and billing system), good CRM and good analytics
In the crisis management process, the weight is equally distributed between Business Process Management systems, analytics, GIS and content management
And always seasoned with a good pinch of consulting
The focus here is on look beyond the immediate need (always ensuring the essentials), avoiding fall short just with the pure transactionality. Beware of being unambitious...
We have to be GEO. The web mapping should be present in the water utility IT ecosystem and also the traditional GIS
90% of the data managed by a water utility can be represented on a map. Maybe we don't need to visualize all of them, only the majority. And maybe we don't need them with an absolute accuracy, only the necessary
Asset management is meaningless without knowing the correct location of them. Metering improves dramatically with the application of geographical intelligence. And a complete analysis of consumption and billing is only possible if we consider the spatial distribution
If we don't apply geo science, we are not going to achieve a real efficiency in operations. We're talking about calculating advanced routes with multiple crews and multiple locations, about logistic seeking the right combination of space-time, about intelligent dispatching finding the closer and optimal resource allocation for an event or about maintenance plans automatically proposed from selected assets. Moreover, the simulation of maintenance works or leakages should not be a desire, it has to be an obligation, for example to calculate automatically the connections affected by a leak
Geocoding is the key to a successful Global management of the location. Unification and homogenization of postal address inputs is crucial to the location of:
A service connection point
A metering asset
An event associated to an asset
The geographic intelligence (Geoprocessing) must be combined with advanced analytics and Big Data to improve operations and customer care. If we take the map of customer satisfaction + the Map of risk and criticity of our assets + the Map of network conditions = THE INVESTMENT PRIORIZATION MAP
On the other hand, geographic intelligence must be integrated with the hydraulic modeling from minute zero. The benefits are obvious: it eliminates the need for continuous upgrades in separate BDs, saves a lot of time in the data collection and pretreatment phase providing at the same time more info for modelers and provides a new fully functional and integrated environment where the model results can be easily consumed.
Finally, we must not forget some technological pearls close to be 100% feasible and operational for Water Utilities. We are talking about Geofencing. Location-based alarms, augmented reality. Maybe too early to take advantage of that and 3D. Coming shyly to stay as a standard in the mid term
The focus here is on build the Geo layer based on the needs identified on GIS and Web-mapping and ensure the quality and integrity of data, avoiding an excessive detail. Beware of staying in the traditional GIS...
And now perhaps the most obvious point of all, we have to be mobile
A proper use and deployment of enterprise mobility is not negotiable, it is an obligation to be efficient and sustainable. The objective of the company should be to be able to take the right decisions anywhere with any device. No more paper please ...
Companies should think in real mobility, not in desktop Apps forced to run on a mobile device. That means giving up in most cases to an excessive completeness with eternal assistants, access to absolutely everything in the field, ultrafast data charges (or at least fast) or launching complex processes on a mobile phone
Mobility means in many cases a deep reviewing in fieldwork process. A proper mobility implementation means many hours talking to end users. Here supervisors and blue collars are key. Poor mobility is counterproductive
Mobility for field work and operations is a mature industry that is turning gradually from industrial terminals to devices. A mobile strategy based on these terminals is absolutely recommendable today. The mobility for Plant operation is another story...
Any decision about mobility implementation must have into account some relevant aspects like:
The offline work - Very important for a Water Utlility and solved in many different ways,
Geo integration - Fast access to assets and routes is essential for fieldworkers,
Legal aspects - Third-party and blue collars signature,
Health and safety - All the info has to be accessible to ensure these aspects and
Online Support - The possibility to ask an expert at any time"
Mobility for supervision and control is necessary. We're talking about Push events and alarms, historical data to understand the context and a operation capabilities to start and follow up the actions
Mobility for the management layer is desirable. KPIs evolution, access to Operational Dashboards or simply share info with the operators
Mobility is essential for the customer because:
My water bills
A true virtual office
Here the focus is on a good analysis and design of processes where the mobility can de aplied and just build simple and effective Apps. And once they run properly, connect them to the entire organization... Beware of bitting off more than can you chew
Collaboration and share
Another key aspect is to share
The aim of any water company is or should be to achieve maximum transparency for the regulator and the citizen. To do that we must essentially SHARE. And our information systems should be prepared and oriented for it
Giving information should not be a tedious and expensive job. The goal is to create customizable services that allows us to publish information and different capabilities to interact with us. Welcome to the APIs world ...
What is an API? An application programming interface. Technically - A set of functions and procedures offered by a library for use by other software as an abstraction layer. Plainly - An application that makes it easier for other companies or organizations to connect to your systems and use your data quickly and easily
Why an API?
To expand and generate more business without investment
To meet regulatory transparency commitments
To reduce the cost of developer integrations and applications
To reduce the cost of system maintenance
To reduce the complexity of systems and the chances of failure
To secure the access to your systems
To promote the building of multidisciplinary systems
To promote the knowledge generation
To be honest with customers and citizens
With APIs we can help to achieve a common goal, the SMART CITY. With them we can contribute to the OPEN DATA initiative
By opting for the own development, companies should consider building their own APIs. By choosing software market products, companies must decide the purchase considering this capacity
Here the focus is on building or buying software keeping in mind to share the information. The reputation and money are at stake ... and always participate in initiatives that promote knowledge generation
User center design
Our organization has to be user centered
There's a huge offer of Information Systems outside for Water Utility. Whether you decide to build or buy software, the options are almost limitless. The key again is a good IT strategy definition
Software products must be perfectly aligned with the needs of our users. 9 of 10 Information Systems projects fail because the expectations are not well managed. So, before launching, it is worth to do an introspective exercise
Analysis of User Experience (UX) is key to selecting products to purchase or develop. Without UX there is only failure and unnecessary investment. Few companies do a real UX analysis. Managers and technical staff device usually what to do
For companies it is important to ask the right questions Do you really are meeting the user needs? Are these needs being correctly priorized? Or the organization is simply deciding on the same accquired bad habits? Are we counting on them to take the decision? How this decision can affect company business processes? Is there enought margin for improvement or evolution of these processes?
Ask, ask and ask. Those who will use the tools have to be the center of all. Assimilate, process and decide. Those who will decide must do it using the information, balancing what is feasible, what is desirable and what is viable
Here an important message for suppliers. It is important to make a good target segmentation, if not, the products won't have space in the Water Utilities market / Keep in mind that not all water companies need the same. Small ones want to concentrate the data in a single easy tool. Medium ones want to successfully run all the operational processes. And Large ones just want to improve and optimize constantly
Here the focus is on apply a User Experience process before deciding important software issues and put the user always in the center prior to the managers. Beware of considering all settled
All these topics are nonsense if you don't exploit your talent. There are several key roles related to the design, built, implementation, monitoring and maintenance of a successful IT strategy. We are not going to discuss here how they should be organized or what should be the relationship between them
The important thing is to sponsor a geek
Someone in the organization have to understand what lies behind this presentation. Someone must understand how to land it and make it work for the benefit of the organization. Someone must have the ability to translate between the technical language and the language of business
There's a huge number of consultants outside who know very good just a piece of the film. But they don't have the whole vision of the business. It is important that someone with enough technological knowledge, lives the IT inside the core of the business
Your geek should ... Keeping up with the evolution of technology, getting involved in the IT strategy definition, defining the roadmap entering to the appropriate level of detail, Leading a team of people able to build software, Leading the selection of products, platforms and technologies, serving as a lure to attract more talent, being proactive and highly productive to ensure the success of the strategy and not eating or wetting later than 24:00
If, as I fear, all talented people are in Silicon Valley we will have to get a move on to find one. If, as the well-informed people say, the IT future will be for the Free-lancers, we should to explore that option asap…
Here the focus is on open our minds and our organizations to "geek" profiles, don't be impatient and don't give out until finding the right people. Beware of not understanding the IT reality
Finally, a last appeal. The water industry has to jump into the cloud and doing it monitoring the security of their systems. Don't take too much time… You're already late