Evolving World of Water Utility Management

Like everything else, the task of managing a water utility is evolving. When we decided to develop a supplement on Water Utility Management, I tried to think about all the topics that would be of interest to utility managers.

by James Laughlin

Like everything else, the task of managing a water utility is evolving. When we decided to develop a supplement on Water Utility Management, I tried to think about all the topics that would be of interest to utility managers. As editor of WaterWorld, my focus is typically on the tools and technologies of water treatment and distribution/collection. So, my natural reaction was to focus on the “tools” of utility management.

Managing a municipal drinking water or wastewater utility is a complex task. To help make that job just a little easier, a wide variety of automated systems and software has flooded onto the market in the past few years. New systems are being developed and implemented to help with managing the huge amounts of information involved in operating a utility, including systems for database management, asset management, maintenance management and mobile workforce management.

Customer information systems are becoming more sophisticated and comprehensive; automated metering infrastructure is evolving rapidly with the advent of new communication technologies and longer battery life; mapping and modeling systems can provide insight into utility operation never before thought possible. Asset management has become extremely important as utilities struggle to maintain service with limited funds.

A number of large, international corporations offering information management systems have focused their attention on the water market recently. Big players include Oracle and SAP, AutoDesk and Harris Computer Systems. At the same time, the metering infrastructure market is really taking off, with several players jockeying for position. A short list includes Elster, Itron, Sensus, Neptune, Datamatic, Master Meter, Badger and Aclara (formerly Hexagram).

The market for CIS systems is also growing. The customer-service focused CSWeek event, to be held May 19–23 in San Antonio, TX, has traditionally targeted the electric power industry, but water utilities have been participating in growing numbers over the past few years. Event organizers are expecting a record number of water executives in attendance this year.

While the technological “tools” of utility management are important (and are backed by potential advertisers!), they are, in fact, just tools. Managing a modern water utility is an extremely complex task that involves a host of skills on several different levels. In my humble opinion, a good utility manager should be part politician, part environmentalist, part humanitarian and part dictator (hopefully a benevolent one).

I would hope the manager of my local water system has a clear vision of what’s needed to provide safe, affordable water – both now and into the foreseeable future. And has the ability to meet that need while making his or her way through the mine-field of local politics, state and federal regulations and an uncertain economy.

If you find the articles in this supplement to be particularly useful or pertinent, please contact the authors and let them know. I would also love to have feedback. We hope to repeat this supplement later in the year. If you have ideas for topics we should cover — or would like to volunteer to write an article — send me an e-mail at jamesl@pennwell.com.

James Laughlin,
Editor/Associate Publisher, WaterWorld magazine

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