Ask the Experts | Bridging the Gap to Digital Transformation

Barriers faced by water utilities

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April 14, 2021 | Rick Gruenhagen

Recently, Innovyze held a virtual event with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to discuss the barriers faced by water utilities in achieving digital transformation. The event also featured the launch of Info360, the latest Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that supports real-world lifecycle management using the power of the cloud. As Water Online noted, this was one of the largest attended webinars they had seen in years.

The audience was highly engaged and asked so many great questions, Innovyze CEO Colby Manwaring and CTO Rick Gruenhagen wanted to answer the most frequently asked questions here.

DEPLOYING DIGITAL TWINS

Q: Why do utilities ignore the usefulness of digital twins?

A: It’s often a challenge for utilities to see how they can get from where they are today to using a digital twin operationally. There is a lack of understanding about the characteristics needed for a digital twin to be effective. A digital twin for each utility might be slightly different, and the planning and implementation has generally been a heavy lift, although there can be an enormous payoff. With Info360, implementing a Dynamic Digital Twin isn’t as onerous as it might seem. Part of the reason we’ve taken the time and effort to launch Info360 as a cloud service is to reduce some of the heavy lifting upfront, so people can quickly get to the valuable part of having a Dynamic Digital Twin in operation.

Q: What are the most common pains that a Dynamic Digital Twin will address?

A: A Dynamic Digital Twin can enhance operators, engineers, and maintenance people in their ability to know what is happening in their system and prepare for what is about to happen. As such, it can optimize emergency response, optimize planning for future maintenance, and improve service levels. The common pain point is situational awareness. Any person has limited capacity for data assimilation and pattern recognition, so a Dynamic Digital Twin can ingest, analyze, and interpret real-time, historical, and calculated data better than a typical human mind.

CLOUD DEPLOYMENT AND SECURITY

Q: Do you offer a private cloud or on-premise solution for Dynamic Digital Twins?

A: The Info360 platform and Info360 Insight application are delivered as SaaS offerings, meaning they’re fully managed services by Innovyze so you, as a customer don’t need to provide or maintain any infrastructure. We manage and monitor those systems 24/7. However, Info360 and its applications are not offered as on-premise, hybrid, or private cloud solutions.

Q: If SCADA is connected to the cloud, what happens if the Internet goes down?

A: Whether the SCADA data is consumed by a cloud-based SaaS solution, such as Info360, or used in on-premise software, most SCADA networks rely on Internet connectivity to collect data. What’s great about Info360 is it was built on AWS, which typically has system availability in the “5-9s” range (i.e. 99.999% uptime), so it’s incredibly reliable. Because it’s a pay-as-you-go model, typically using a SaaS solution will lower total cost of ownership more than a traditional on-premise solution because you don’t have to maintain an IT infrastructure and staff resources to support maximum potential capacity.

Q: When you say, “rigorous security,” what does that mean?

A: Info360 is built on AWS’s security foundation and engineered by Innovyze to protect customers from security breaches. We are using layers of managed security services and adopting security best practices in both development and operations. So even as we are writing the code, we’re verifying it is developed securely, and when we deploy to production, we can confirm production is secured.

In addition, we’re taking this one step further by undergoing a SOC 2 audit which provides reporting transparency on our security availability, data processing integrity, and confidentiality practices.
For more information on our security practices read our white paper: Top Security Threats for Water Utilities and How They Can Be Solved

SAVING TIME AND MONEY

Q: How does Info360 help asset planning and CAPEX savings?

A: Going back to the concept of situational awareness, a Dynamic Digital Twin allows for the network to be continuously monitored, optimizing performance through a continuous flow of data. Where asset performance is in question, Info360 can enable faster response times to emergencies or unanticipated problems. It can also flag the most vital parts of an asset network to verify operations and maintenance plans are working properly.

In addition, it can alert you to the most critical points in the network, where capital expenditure is needed so you don’t end up with outdated assets and might fail unexpectedly. Again, it comes down to situational awareness. If you have the data and awareness to know what’s going on, your ability to manage capital and operational expenditure is enhanced.

Q: Once a digital twin is developed, what are the annual labor costs needed to keep it continuously updated, calibrated, and validated?

A: Digital Twins can be targeted at a specific problem or they can be system-wide, all-encompassing implementations. For example, a small utility looking to keep a close eye on water quality violations in their system could maintain their digital twin with one person, part-time. On the other end of the spectrum, a utility serving millions of people with all sorts of services, such as water quality, pressure, combined sewer overflow alerts, or flooding alerts, they would have a large department of people working on it all the time.

One of the things we’ve been doing at Innovyze over the last 20 years, is trying to simplify and systematize those labor costs and workflows through automation, so that a Dynamic Digital Twin can be a reality for both small and large water utilities. With Info360 being a SaaS service, we’ve eliminated a large portion of labor time and costs for utilities that don’t have the necessary IT infrastructure to run a real-time digital twin.

Really, there’s not one answer, but Dynamic Digital Twins can be valuable for small or large utilities by systematizing the continuous updates needed to keep a digital twin relevant.

Q: Do you have examples of cost savings or performance enhancements before and after digital twins are implemented?

A: While Dynamic Digital Twins are new, some utilities have been using digital twins for years. Miami-Dade County, in Florida, used the digital twin approach to solve a problem they were having with a combined sewer overflow. The initial estimate was about $20 million in capital expenditure to retrofit sewer systems to handle large capacity events. Their operational department implemented a model and a digital twin that consumed sensor data, weather data and system data. In doing so, they were successfully able to cut down the expenditure to only a couple of million dollars, solving the overflow problems and saving tens of millions of dollars just in this one instance.

Q: How many clients would you recommend for a water utility to have to make it worth the capital investment of a digital twin?

A: The number of clients is not the right metric to determine if a digital twin is useful. We have served utilities serving millions of clients down to thousands of clients. For the smaller utilities, it depends on the cost efficiencies, regulatory requirements, and difficulty of running the utility. Sometimes a small utility can benefit as much or more than a large utility from systemizing the Dynamic Digital Twin to ensure compliance and improve performance and maintenance capabilities.

TECHNICAL CAPABILITIES

Q: How does the Dynamic Digital Twin self-learn?

A: A digital twin is not just a digital representation of your physical assets in your network, it’s also augmented by what we know about the assets in the past and present, and what we can predict about them in the future. We make those predictions using our computational algorithms that we’ve developed over the last 35 years of being in the water industry, as well as with Machine Learning tools, like those used in our Emagin solution for water treatment plants. The algorithms and ML tools are continuously being tuned the more they are used, so their accuracy increases with use, allowing the Dynamic Digital Twin to get smarter over time.

Q: How is all the real-time data integrated in Info360?

A: In developing Info360 we implemented a telemetry subsystem, built on AWS’s IoT infrastructure that’s used by thousands of AWS customers, so it’s already proven to be reliable and secure. It was built specifically to support SCADA data today and IoT protocols, specifically Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPCUA). In the future, it will support virtually any IoT or other protocol we want by adding new connectors, such as Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) data, Lens data, or Modbus, as needed by our customers.

Q: How does it connect with SCADA data?

A: Insight is system agnostic and can connect with any available, ODBC-compliant data source whether that be a SCADA historian or general data warehouse. We can connect to your data sources on local servers or in the cloud – either are perfectly acceptable.

Q: Can I integrate a water model in Info360?

A: Yes, Info360 comes pre-integrated with both of Innovyze’s leading industry modeling and simulations solutions, InfoWater Pro and InfoWorks WS Pro

Q: Does the user have the capability to customize the Info360 workspace?

A: Yes, it was designed to allow our customers to customize their workspace, dashboards and metrics. We also aimed for it to be applicable to as many different users as possible – whether in operations, leadership, or engineering – so it’s very customizable to suit the needs of various roles and departments.

TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION

Q: What training is available for learning Info360?

A: Innovyze provides both OnDemand and instructor-led training for all our products, including Info360 Insight. We also provide best practice sharing in our Water Talks webinar series.

Q: Is Info360 FedRamp certified?

A: Not at this time. Info360 is currently in the SOC 2 audit process and we expect results to be available for customer review later this year. For many utilities this will provide the necessary assurances of our security architecture and practices. FedRamp was designed for US government agencies, such as the DoD, but we recognize some utilities are considering adopting it as their guideline for cloud service providers, so we can consider FedRamp certification in the future. We’ll also continue to look at other security frameworks to support our customers globally.

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Tags: Digital transformation, SaaS, software-as-a-service platform, security, lifecycle management, the cloud, digital twin

Rick Gruenhagen

Rick Gruenhagen

Chief Technology Officer

 

Rick Gruenhagen is Chief Technology Officer at Innovyze. He’s delivered SaaS, big data and Internet of Things solutions in the connected vehicle industry, and had leadership positions at PayPal, Amazon, and Microsoft. “At Innovyze, I’m bringing new solutions to customers by accelerating investment in innovative people and technologies,” he says.

Colby Manwaring

Colby Manwaring

Chief Executive Officer

 

Colby Manwaring is the Chief Executive Officer of Innovyze, the leading global provider of smart water analytics software solutions. Colby is responsible for the company’s strategic vision and leads the development and growth of Innovyze’s global software technology portfolio. With advanced degrees in civil and environmental engineering as well as business administration, Colby is a licensed Professional Engineer and an experienced software company executive.

Having lived and worked in the USA, Australia, Spain, and the UK, Colby has a broad understanding of the global water and wastewater industry and the software technology required to elevate professional practice worldwide. Over the course of his career prior to leading Innovyze, he held senior positions as software developer, product manager, consultant & trainer, sales & marketing executive, and commercial manager within the engineering software industry. He has worked with water/wastewater utilities, government agencies, and engineering organizations worldwide to create solutions to empower thousands of engineers to competitively plan, manage, design, protect, operate and sustain highly efficient and reliable infrastructure systems.

Colby holds a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering, with a Spanish Minor and International Emphasis from Brigham Young University, a MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Brigham Young University, with a Minor of Engineering Business Administration from the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Management.