Annual Water Event Showcases Growth in Data Management

The challenge of data management is not exactly a new topic of discussion in the water market, but this year several companies exhibiting at the American Water Works Association's annual convention, ACE11, were focused on helping water utilities use data to optimize operations.

Jul 1st, 2011
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The challenge of data management is not exactly a new topic of discussion in the water market, but this year several companies exhibiting at the American Water Works Association’s annual convention, ACE11, were focused on helping water utilities use data to optimize operations.

Every year when I attend ACE one of my main duties is to walk the exhibit floor and talk with company executives about the new products and technologies on display. In doing so, I often identify trends in the equipment market. This year, the importance of information management was a recurring theme.

As an example, metering companies are now offering “smart grid” technologies for the water market that go far beyond simply collecting water consumption data. New two-way communication systems not only allow utilities to automate meter reading, but they can also be used to monitor distribution lines for leaks, perform field operations remotely and interact with customers through web portals and home area networks.

New intelligent software in the metering space turns data into knowledge for billing, operations and overall utility management. Benefits include early leak detection, supplying customer with tools to monitor and reduce water usage, providing more accurate water pricing rates, curbing overall water demand and improving a utility’s ability to conduct preventive maintenance.

At the same time, improved leak detection and customer conservation can result in lower demand, which in turn can help utilities postpone or avoid system upgrades and capacity expansion at a time when money is tight for everyone.

Let’s face it, water utilities are under constant pressure to do more with less. While automation can help with that goal, the flood of data that comes from automated systems can be daunting. A variety of software and data management systems are coming onto the market to help integrate that data into useful formats for utility management.

A variety of companies are offering data management software designed specifically for the drinking water and wastewater industries. The software integrates data from many sources into one central, secure database for monitoring, analysis, reporting and predictive modeling. Many of the systems are configurable to meet the needs of the specific utility. Streamlined reporting tools, user-defined alerts, powerful charting, graphing and mapping tools all combine to help utility managers make more informed decisions about their operations.

While data management often resides on the utility network, a number of companies are now offering subscription services that move data onto the Internet for both storage and management. Subscription services also are available to install and maintain sensor networks for those utilities that don’t have the staff band-width or knowledge to handle the tasks.

Water quality management, process control, laboratory information, customer service and workforce management all are being merged into integrated enterprise management systems that provide utility managers a complete view of their operations, helping identify problem areas, address challenges and optimize performance.

I remember the “old” days of scanning through seemingly endless Excel spreadsheets trying to spot trends. Now, custom reports can be generated complete with colorful charts and graphs. Don’t like filling out reports for the state or Feds? There’s an app for that. And more being developed every day.

For an example of how data management is being used at one utility, visit the WaterWorld TV Video Gallery and select the Case Studies section. There’s an interesting video case study narrated by Angela Godwin, WaterWorld Digital Media Editor, on use of the Schneider Electric Ampla system to help optimize water production and distribution at a Southern California utility.

James Laughlin, Editor

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