Industry Perspective is a client-deliverable in a Q&A format that aims to engage audiences with vendor partners. WaterWorld Editor-in-Chief, Mandy Crispin spoke with VertiGIS Chief Technology Officer Drew Millen about modern water network management.
Q: Can you give us a little bit of background to get started?
A: VertiGIS is a software company that provides spatial asset management solutions to utilities all over the world.
We partner closely with the leading GIS provider, Esri, who provides a solution called ArcGIS, and our software extends Esri software to help utilities plan, manage, and operate their networks, whether it’s a water utility or network for electricity or gas. I’m happy to be here and discuss some of the challenges that we’re seeing in the utility space and how we can help.
Q: The way water utilities plan and manage their networks is changing drastically. How are you addressing the change in enabling new capabilities for water utilities?
A: I think it’s important to understand why, and the root cause behind why, they’re changing the management of their networks. And I think there are a number of things happening all at the same time.
First, I want to acknowledge the challenge that these companies have with a shrinking workforce and a changing demographic. It’s harder and harder for them to place people in the organization with the GIS knowledge or the engineering knowledge to manage the solutions that are in place today, so it’s harder for them to maintain those software systems that they used to rely on.
Secondly, we see organizations increasingly faced with challenges around cybersecurity and needing to upscale or improve their infrastructure around providing robust systems that are defended against cybersecurity attacks.
Third, we also see aging infrastructure coming into play. There is an increasingly aged infrastructure that needs replacement, and there are replacement projects going on at a county or a city basis, combined with disaster response and increased emergencies that are occurring. This can be a real challenge for these organizations. All those things are factors that are causing them to change the way they think about planning and managing their utility network.
Q: Well, how do you expect utilities will apply your capabilities, and what impacts can they expect?
A: Understanding these challenges, we’ve engineered our software to help utilities overcome those challenges. The product that we’re offering is a solution called VertiGIS Networks, and it really enables utilities to deploy extremely light, easy to use web and mobile applications. This replaces legacy systems that are monolithic, difficult to use, cumbersome, heavy desktop systems, with easy, intuitive, web-based applications that anyone in the organization can gain access to. That does two things: it lowers the barrier to entry and it also democratizes the use of more sophisticated tools throughout the organization.
For example, anyone can access information about the water network, ask questions about it, maybe do trace activity, things like that. Whereas previously, that was only the domain of a select few engineers within the organization.
Q: That’s a good segue to my next question. What about the employees doing the hands-on work out in the field? How are you making that experience all it can be for those folks?
A: It’s really important for us to think about all of the personas in an organization. Field workers being one, engineering being another, GIS professionals, managers, executives, etc. Those end users have great user experiences. And really, any software vendor can claim that they deliver great user-friendly interfaces, and so on. We certainly do, but I believe that it’s equally important to focus on the producers of those applications. These are the people delivering and maintaining those apps so that they’re always available, so that they’re flexible and scalable and performant. If those producers responsible for delivering and maintaining those applications aren’t successful, then the end users fail as well.
So, for us, it’s extremely important to make the interface easy to use for administrators, but also easy to maintain the system over the long term. There might be technology changes, upgrades, new cybersecurity standards and the like that these administrators need to take care of. We want to make sure that that’s really easy, so that once the applications are delivered and enjoyed by the end users, they’re continually maintained with a total cost of ownership that’s a lot lower than if we didn’t focus on that persona within the organization.
Q: Well, we do love our case studies around here, so can you provide a brief example or a specific example of how you’ve executed that?
A: We just completed a project with a company that’s deploying a field solution for their end users. These are field workers that are going out with their iPads to do surveys on equipment in the field and bring that office data back in. The first version of the app that they deployed was to a select group of users in a proof of concept and user acceptance testing phase.
That phase brought in a ton of feedback, and those improvements that they wanted to make about the usability of the application, what forms were presented and when, and so on. The organization itself was able to quickly react to that feedback and configure a brand new application with new user interfaces and new functionality for their users in just a couple of weeks without vendor support. That’s the kind of flexibility that we’re talking about: enabling an organization to easily and rapidly change according to users’ changing requirements.
Q: Your software is used widely by hundreds of water utilities around the globe, so what makes your approach to network management workflow different to accommodate that?
A: We know that there are options for customers out there who are looking for software to help them manage their network. I think we stand out for a few reasons.
One is that we prioritize our web and mobile applications. Again, coming back to making it easy to use for everyone across the organization is important for us.
Second is that configurability piece going back to the producers of these applications. They can go in and configure the application based on changing requirements or upgrade the application alongside new third-party systems.
Lastly, it’s important for water utilities to be able to integrate their spatial asset management system with other third-party systems. We commonly come across organizations that are using SAP, Maximo, Cartographs, or Cityworks to name some. Whether it’s an asset management system or a metering system, we want to make sure that our software can integrate seamlessly with those systems. And that’s another reason why organizations choose VertiGIS.
Visit vertigis.com/network to learn more about VertiGIS Networks.