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By Mark S Smith, VP & CIO, American Water
You have likely heard references to the “Internet of Things”. Simply put, the “Internet of Things” can be described as a series of devices connecting people, process, data, and things to one another via the internet. Additionally, because of automation, these interactions can happen without user intervention. Imagine integrating cloud computing, mobility, big data, and location awareness together to enable innovation; that’s the “Internet of Things”!!
Now, imagine how the integration of technology might be leveraged to improve a basic and fundamental service that every American tends to take for granted: water and wastewater systems.
At American Water, we believe we need focus on the integration of Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) in order to gain a competitive advantage and to drive operational efficiency. OT consists of hardware and software systems that monitor and control physical equipment and processes that manage mission critical operational infrastructure. IT consists of similar systems and processes that support “back office” business critical hardware and software for functions such as Legal, Human Resources, Finance, and Supply Chain.
Traditionally, Operations and Engineering departments have managed OT and, not surprisingly, the Information Technology department has separately managed IT. In many water and wastewater utilities, it is typical to have a collection of disparate technology. Often times, the OT machines store data locally and there has been no way to extract this data in order to make better business decisions.
At American Water, we have a vision for leveraging information and operational technology to improve our effectiveness and efficiency and to drive operational excellence
We believe we can leverage best practices across operational and information technologies and then combine “layers” of data throughout the water and wastewater life cycles. This integrated view of data across OT and IT can be utilized by a variety of technologies and can ultimately lead to our being able to provide better service at a lower cost to our customers. Think about data through the water operations life cycle from treatment (SCADA data acquisition server data) through distribution (asset location, customer, and water meter usage data) combined with “back office” IT data for financials (revenue and expense data) and employees. These integrated views will enable us to accomplish some terrific things:
• Improve customer service by: > Being able predict the issues behind a customer call so we can be better prepared to address their needs > Providing easier customer access to outage and notification maps > Better preparing the field service worker with one comprehensive view of the customer > Being able to share real-time water usage data with the customer • Identification of non-revenue water usage • Revenue, cost, and usage pattern analytics that lead to a better understanding of customer service costs
Many of these benefits are driven by information technology management of data and business analytics. But there is also dependence on operational technologies such as Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) that introduces the “smart” meter. The “smart” meter enables two-way communication between the meter unit and the home base and also gathers much more data in better intervals than traditional AMR (Automated Meter Reading) devices.
At American Water, we have a vision for leveraging information and operational technology to improve our effectiveness and efficiency and to drive operational excellence. We believe technologies must prove to be cost effective, but we also believe the technologies exist today and we are already beginning to utilize many of them. For us, the next step is to develop a comprehensive roadmap for the integration of operational and information technology that drives our business success.
We are relatively early in our efforts, and with enhanced integration come special challenges (especially with cyber security), but we are prepared for an exciting journey that brings a competitive advantage to American Water!!