Opportunity for Small Water Systems to Leap Frog into Digital Transformation

Augmented Water System Management

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March 17, 2021 | David Totman

Like online banking and ordering from Amazon for most consumers, I believe small water systems will adopt cloud-based Digital Twin solutions long before their large water system neighbors. For all water systems, fundamental digital transformation took a huge leap with “work from home” implementations during the COVID pandemic, yet these tended to be basic digital access to utility systems facilitated by a laptop and VPN.

What I am talking about is an augmented water system management, produced by a digital twin using artificial intelligence to alert operators and management about making decisions, all with the convenience of a browser on their home computer or smart phone.

Rural Water Lessons Learned

Back in 2017, at the NRWA WaterPro Conference in Reno, Nevada, I gave a presentation to rural water utilities about the “Paradox of Intelligent Water Systems.” I lectured about “managing the oldest of old infrastructure with the newest of the new technology.” I was inspired by this phrase from George Hawkins, former CEO of DC Water. I also borrowed phrases from Peter Drucker, famous Management Consultant who is credited with “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” I added to the corollary saying, “You can’t measure what you do not map.”

The tough lesson I learned was my expectation of deploying high tech with massive scale to folks who may only have 50 to 100 miles of pipe, dozens to hundreds of valves, not tens of thousands. For many seasoned operators and circuit riders they had the whole system memorized, so deploying a high-tech mapping system was not high on their priority list.

Fast-forward only 4 years and that high-tech is more commonplace than ever.

GPS and GIS are more affordable and more accurate than ever; and nearly expected by the next generation workforce coming in to manage our water systems. Add in artificial intelligence that was only in the movies back then and now it’s almost an industry norm along, with the power of our current smart devices.

The Power of Amazon

What I learned, as Innovyze launched the Info360 platform built on Amazon Web Services, is that every detail to making the user interface easy to use, intuitive water functions, and answering the basic daily questions, is forefront in the design of the interface. I am amazed at how many intelligent programmers it takes to make complex tasks seem simple. I think that is the reason small water systems will adopt these solutions, as they do not have the time to calculate water mass balance equations or determine how long to run their pumps to optimize their energy savings, while still meeting customer demands because their workforce is stretched so thin over such long distances in rural systems. That is why we have adopted online banking and order goods from Amazon, because we have not had the time to do our job and drive to the bank and other stores.

Amazon is also introducing amazingly affordable IoT sensors that can web-enable basic engineering properties of common water system devices. You can manage a lot when you know on/off, temperature, vibrations, etc. on your pumps. This is also an underlying principle to having asset management. Knowing where and what your assets are doing, at all times, is critical to managing all your assets, not just the ones that are breaking and getting your attention.

The Moral of the Story

Amongst these clips of information, what I am trying to say is that managing any size water system is complex, so why not use online tools that help you do your job better and with confidence. I don’t worry about paying bills, as much anymore because I have automated payments fully configured. I can better plan home projects knowing I can order supplies and have them delivered to my front door. A Digital Twin powered by Artificial Intelligence does the water engineering calculations for you with the latest SCADA/IoT data so you can make more timely and accurate decisions.

To learn more, visit: Info360

If you have any questions about the content of this blog, feel free to contact me at david.totman@innovyze.com.



Tags: small water systems, digital twin, artificial intelligence, asset management

About the Authors

David Totman

David Totman

VP of Asset Management


Having been a public servant for many years, David's passion for infrastructure is exemplified throughout his experience as the VP of Asset Management at Innovyze and advisory Past-President for the Utility Engineering & Surveying Institute in the ASCE. 

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