System Provides Data Management, Improved Operations

Feb. 1, 2002
Name one utility today that isn't trying to optimize operations across its entire organization.

By Craig Yokopenic

Name one utility today that isn't trying to optimize operations across its entire organization. Continuous improvement and innovation are required to maintain success. A national consulting firm has released a data management tool that allows utilities to sort through and share data from all departments via a Web-based software.

Data from multiple sources can be rolled up into information that is used for reporting and real-time notifications based on user-defined criteria via email, pagers, etc. Information is further refined into a knowledge base that allows for optimization of the entire organization.

e-OPS, from EMA, consolidates data from existing information systems (i.e. Financials, Customer Service and Billing, SCADA, Work Management, Laboratory and others), providing a consolidated business view of the organization. The software also provides all users access and customization for any portion of the information using a Web browser. It also can be configured to generate regulatory compliance reports.

The system is a result of EMA's 26 years of water and wastewater industry experience. Based on its understanding of utility business requirements, the company developed a reporting tool to address information distribution, sharing, and dissemination needs.

Although e-OPs provides a window into detailed data, its real value is the ability to view the entire organization as a whole and thereby:

  • Identify individual and cross-department opportunities for optimization.
  • Monitor data and alert users when action is required and liberate the end user from arbitrary times and restrictions to receive access to information.
  • Help speed and simplify decision making.
  • Provide real-time performance measurements.
OperationThe e-OPS system uses Internet/ intranet technologies and open standards components for computer platform, database, and reporting tools. It connects any authorized staff with an organization's database at the click of a button. Data is automatically transferred from existing operations systems and then manipulated, analyzed, and stored.

The program provides utilities with the following capabilities:

  • Monitoring - It can consolidate data from different sources and provide summary information at increments of your choice. The system prepares trend analysis and performs event and alarm triggers which notify operations staff via email when specified parameters are hit.
  • Reporting - The system features customizable reports and templates including report formats that meet local and other regulatory reporting requirements.
  • Performance Enhancements - It compares actual data to targets.
  • Analysis - The system uses operational information to chart data, summarize operating statistics, conduct statistical process control.
  • Optimization - It provides utilities with the ability to review comparative data against other utilities' performance.
Case StudySeveral utilities have this solution in place, including United Water, Orlando Utilities Commission, and others. The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners (PVSC) recently began using the system.Overcoming Data IsolationOperations at PVSC has always required data from the Process Control System and the LIMS system to make day-to-day decisions on how to most efficiently run the plant. To accomplish this, a large number of intricate linked spreadsheets were designed to facilitate data capture, entry, and summarization.

This required that many different personnel all over the plant do daily process data entry. Laboratory data is also required and Laboratory staff had to populate spreadsheets as well as their own LIMS system, thereby causing duplication of effort. There were even situations when the lab would also provide telephone updates on critical data points in addition to the spreadsheet entries and LIMS data entries.

The spreadsheet data entry system was a good solution when it was implemented and provided the plant with important relevant information. PVSC recognized, however, that automated data acquisition would greatly increase the accuracy of results while dramatically decreasing the workload of the many plant personnel who did daily data entry.

To add to the complexity of the problem, it was quickly becoming apparent that today's requirements for intelligent plant operations were driving PVSC to integrate data from other systems into its daily analysis of operations. These systems include its computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), financials, and trucked-in waste tracking system.

Therefore, one goal of this project was to provide an automated, secure data sharing environment for PVSC staff that would eliminate the time-consuming job of doing data entry into multiple different spreadsheets and systems.

As at most utilities, historically, data is treated as being owned by one department. For example, Finance owns the Accounts Payable, General Ledger and Accounts Receivable data, the Maintenance department owns work order and inventory information, and Laboratory staff own the data generated by their rigorous testing requirements.

In the case of Process Control, the data is typically owned by the plant's operators as it is used to help them run the plant more efficiently. The plant operators may also have access to some sub-set of Laboratory data as well, either through a printed report or via some other direct contact with the Lab. In PVSC's case this was accomplished using their network of spreadsheets.

Data IntegrationWith the advent of Web-based technologies, data warehousing tools, and object-oriented programming techniques, strategies are available to allow access to data from many diverse systems in an inter-related manner. These techniques allow sharing of data with a wide audience without affecting the performance of sensitive processes such as Process Control.

The approach taken at PVSC used a Web-based front end to a common data store (eOPS) for subsets of data from the plant's Process Control system, Laboratory Information Management system, Industrial Monitoring and control system, Financial Information system, CMMS, and Trucked-in Liquid Waste tracking system.

There are a number of database links established for use by the e-OPS database server to allow data retrieval from the other PVSC enterprise systems such as the LIMS system and CMMS system. These data sources include the six WonderWare area servers, which collect plant process data. WonderWare stores its data in a Microsoft SQL Server-based database with proprietary extensions. These InSQL databases provide the local operations personnel with localized data trending displays for their specific area. The JAVA data collector program provides the data acquisition and translation services required to move this data into the Oracle-based e-OPS database that shares the data with other plant personnel.

A subset of plant data is retrieved from the data historian and transferred to the e-OPS database server by the JAVA data collector program that wakes up every 15 minutes to provide this data transfer capability. In this way, any recent process data is always available to users of the e-OPS system without giving them direct access to the Process Control system.

Similar techniques being used to harvest subsets of data from the other key enterprise systems. The data is inserted into the e-OPS database by each of these data collectors and the database aggregates and stores the data for integration and retrieval by its users.

Centralized Data AccessThe PVSC end users of the e-OPS system are well shielded from all of the technology since their interface to the system is through their Web browser. The typical user opens their Web browser and navigates to their e-OPS home page. A sign-in screen, which requires a user ID and a password, will then greet them. The end users' privileges and functional capabilities on the system are determined by the permissions assigned to them by their administrator. A typical user will be allowed to view standard and custom reports as well as perform ad hoc queries of the database.

The report presentation is provided to the user based on their needs; they have a choice of viewing a Web-based report, a presentation-quality report formatted for printing, a spreadsheet format, or a PDF file format. The reports are available in both tabular and line graph formats and can be emailed. WW/

About the Author: Craig Yokopenic is a Managing Partner at EMA, Inc., an ideas-through-implementation management and technology consultant providing expertise in water, wastewater, gas and electric utilities and public works organizations. The firm is headquartered in St. Paul, MN.

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