SWAN Member Spotlights

Showcasing SWAN Member thought leadership helping to revolutionise the global smart water sector.

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Christa Campbell
Director | Water, Industry Solutions,
Esri
Paul Costa
President and CEO,
RJN Group, Inc.
Raziyeh Farmani
Professor of Water Engineering and Industrial Fellow of Royal Academy of Engineering at Centre for Water Systems, University of Exeter
Ted Smith
Research Associate Professor
The Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, University of Louisville
Günter Müller-Czygan
Professor of Water infrastructure and Digitization. Hof University of Applied Sciences Institute of Water and Energy Management
Freddie Guerra
North American Digital Water Lead, 
GHD
 

Christa Campbell, Director | Water, Industry Solutions – Esri

ArcGIS® by Esri empowers utilities with solutions that devour underutilised data, harness analytics, and run on any device. Solutions that help safely deliver better service; improving collaboration, coordination, and decision-making. Maps, applications, and dashboards enable staff to access and create data in real time, saving time and reducing errors often introduced in paper processes. Esri’s network models include business rules that reduce workload and prevent common mistakes. ArcGIS® transforms utility management by bringing data together; turning disparate data from business systems into information through visualisation and analysis. Dependable information is made available in real time, making everyone’s job easier.


What role does GIS play in the water sector and digital transformation of utilities?

GIS is the foundation for digital transformation. It is designed to be used by anyone, from anywhere, and on any device. GIS can take in, display, and analyse data from digital hardware and software, flow meters and water quality monitors to billing and work order management systems.

There are many ways that utilities transform how they work. For some utilities digital transformation may be moving from paper-based workflows to digital workflows. Web GIS provides an affordable option to begin digital transformation using mobile applications, web maps, and dashboards. The results of having authoritative data, knowing what assets you have and where these assets are, in an easy to understand and easy to access system provides the foundation needed to implement digital workflows that transform how utilities operate and manage their systems.

Many utilities are transforming operations by using GIS applications to put data in the hands of all staff: field crews, customer service representatives, engineers, and financial planners. Providing access to up-to-date information across the organisation optimises efficiency and improves workflow with internal and external stakeholders. GIS is also a strong tool for transforming how utilities integrate, visualise, and analyse real-time data. In addition to SCADA, system sensors, and AVL water utilities are integrating real-time weather and even social media.

Using GIS to transform how facilities and vertical assets are managed is something that I’m seeing more of recently. The capability of GIS to visualise treatment plants, pump stations, and other facilities in 3D is helping utilities transform how they manage vertical assets as well as train new employees.


What are some specific challenges that municipalities face in environmental asset management and how can GIS be a positive tool in overcoming these challenges?

There are many challenges municipalities face while planning for and implementing green infrastructure. They often have limited resources, may not understand green infrastructure and how it can be used, and struggle to identify where to plan projects that will have the highest impact. Learning about projects that have been implemented across the nation, and globe, is a great way to learn and gain insight into the challenges and benefits of various green infrastructure strategies. Understanding that green infrastructure can provide more benefits than traditional, single purpose, projects is important as well. This will help overcome the temptation to fall back on what has always worked in the past. Benefits such as, habitat protection or creation, improved water quality, community green spaces, even improved air quality. Most green infrastructure projects have multiple benefits.

Traditionally, utilities use GIS to create a map of their system. This map will include the asset information and location. Although this is a great use of a GIS, it’s only the starting point. Using a GIS to bring data together; system data, imagery, demographic, cultural assets and more provides a holistic view when planning. By visualising this information on a map, along with other important information (zoning, parcel data, easements, and more) utilities improve their understanding of the true impact of a project before it happens. Using a GIS in this way is more efficient than reviewing data in silos or spreadsheets. Taking a system wide approach, and even looking beyond service boundaries, helps utilities to understand how each project is connected and help to identify the highest impact projects.


Esri released the GIS & Digital Water Report in collaboration with fellow SWAN Member, Bluefield Research. What was one of the main findings of the report and what is the importance of strong partnerships in your work?

The GIS & Digital Water Report is the result of a great collaboration with Bluefield Research. When developing the report, the team reviewed industry data and interviewed water utilities to get a strong understanding of how GIS is being used and what role it plays in digital transformation. One of the main findings was that many utilities are using GIS and have built a strong foundation that will support digital transformation. The GIS they already have in place can help facilitate better coordination and collaboration between field and office staff, enable visualisation and analysis of real-time data, and provide more precise, granular models of the performance and behaviour of critical assets. GIS can serve as the cornerstone for digital transformation initiatives.

One of the findings that I found interesting was that time, rather than cost, is the biggest barrier to digital transformation in the water utility sector. Identifying resources that are able to dedicate time to the implementation of new technology as well as the resulting changes to how employees work can be a challenge. There are some utilities that don’t have the resources needed. This is where partnerships play an important role. Partnering with other utilities or consultants can help kick start digital transformation. Learning from the expertise that industry peers have will strengthen utilities abilities to transform and thrive.


How can young professionals passionate about smart water and innovation best prepare themselves for a career in the field?

There are many paths to a career in the water industry. My advice, go beyond learning the “job” that you’ve focused on. Identify internship opportunities and apprentice programs. Take advantage of learning opportunities outside of your focus. Build a network within the water industry as well as related industries. Making connections will provide an avenue to grow your knowledge of our industry, it’s impact and the impact other industries have on it. Smart water and innovation is often focused on technology but it’s how technology is applied that makes a difference and we need dedicated, passionate, and creative people to innovate and grow smart water initiatives.


View Esri case studies with New Jersey American Water and Cobb County Water System.

 

Paul Costa, President and CEO – RJN Group, Inc.

Established in 1975, RJN Group Inc. is a 100% employee-owned, professional engineering and specialty field services firm with a focus on water, wastewater, and stormwater systems. RJN’s mission is to lead with innovation, ingenuity, and an unwavering commitment to the water environment, to help utility owners meet their level of service goals.


Last year’s passing of the $550 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act marks the most
significant investment in clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in American history. What is the value of utilising smart, data-driven solutions in such investments?

Signing the infrastructure bill will help bridge a funding gap to address the aging infrastructure crisis and service risks many municipalities face.. The ever-evolving pool of smart data analytics and easily accessible data management tools will promote smart planning, enabling cities and towns across the country to maximise the benefit of every dollar spent on infrastructure improvements. Smart, data-driven tools harness the millions of data points captured by utility operating and monitoring systems and transform them into actionable roadmaps for daily operations, planning, and management. Success in today’s data-centric world requires utility owners and operators to move beyond sensor technologies. Informative, smart data tools promote rapid processing of large volumes of digital data, empowering utility owners, operators, and managers to efficiently manage, analyse, and ultimately make timely and informed operations, maintenance, and planning decisions.


What do you see as the impact of sewage overflow monitoring in the US? What is RJN doing to
help solve this challenge?

Every community leader, resident, and business is vulnerable to raw sewage exposure caused by overflows, backflows, spills, or other sanitary sewer system discharges. Each year, increasingly severe storms, coupled with deteriorating infrastructure, trigger events that impair protected receiving waters and devastate public and private property. The result is significant restoration costs and public health risks. While the impact of severe storm events cannot be prevented, well-planned sewer system monitoring, maintenance, and management programs fed by timely system data can lessen the risk and potential of wet-weather impacts.

RJN is developing smart monitoring solutions to offer protection from sewage discharges through real-time monitoring, early warning notifications that can proactively dispatch utility crews, and artificial trending routines to measure and forecast the potential for overflows.

Sewerage overflow monitoring often requires multiple technologies to track overflow conditions. As we say, no two overflow structures are alike, and each must be constructed with the right technology for the right hydraulic conditions. Our approach is to bring disparate data technologies into a single source. By communicating with any overflow sensor technology, we quickly put critical data and insightful analytics tools in the hands of our clients.

As engineers, we are passionate about working with communities to build long-range plans and solutions to ensure their sewer systems can continuously operate at design capacity and handle the increasing frequency of severe wet-weather events without impacting services to the community. Smart and engaging data-driven technologies commingle decision-centric details and put power in the hands of the decision-maker. When all data technologies are tuned to operate in concert, utility owners and operators will have a clear picture of conditions and problem points.


Beyond technological advancement, what do you see as the societal and environmental impact
of smart technology? What message can utilities convey to their communities?

Smart technologies are becoming a part of every person, business, and utility’s day-to-day life. As these technologies advance and evolve, they are becoming ingrained in daily work operations, changing the landscape of the traditional office work environment and the timeliness of critical work information. Critical operations information, data, and analytical tools make dissecting problems and predicting potential service issues possible in near real-time, whether working in the office, in the field, or at home. Utility leaders have the tools to fast forward to what’s critical, and proactively and efficiently deploy resources to ensure public safety, health, and social challenges. With 24/7 smart data and smart analytics, powered by artificial intelligence algorithms, utilities can assure community members of continuous water and sewer services, protection of their property, and efficient utility operations that focus budgets and tax dollars where needed.


How can young professionals passionate about smart water and innovation best prepare
themselves for a career in the field?

It’s exciting to see young professionals’ impact on the industry today; they bring a unique skill set, easily grasping and adopting new tools and technologies to redesign daily workflows. The industry’s future is bright as the water and sewer industry embraces advancing artificial intelligence tools for predictive and trending analytics, innovative inspection and sensor technologies for asset management, and single source management tools built with APIs and inter-system communications. Constantly evolving technologies are the norm for YPs who have grown up with smartphones, smart cars, and smart houses operating through smart apps. These tools are embedded in everything they do and every problem they solve. YPs looking to positively impact the industry should continue looking for smart solutions and consider the big picture as they embrace and apply these solutions.

 
Raziyeh Farmani
University of Exeter (UK)
Ted Smith
University of Louisville (US)
Günter Müller-Czygan
Hof University (Germany)

Global Universities Shaping the Future of Smart Water

Innovation and creativity are critical to developing and advancing smart water solutions. This ingenuity is often sparked by student researchers and young professionals. To understand how universities are now impacting the smart water sector, SWAN spoke with three leading, global institutions: University of Exeter, University of Louisville, and Hof University. Learn how these universities are cultivating talent across disciplines, building collaborative partnerships, and shaping the next generation of smart water leaders.

Q: As a leading research institute, what do you see as the role of innovative technologies to advance the water sector?

Raziyeh Farmani, Professor of Water Engineering and Industrial Fellow of Royal Academy of Engineering at Centre for Water Systems, University of Exeter: The water sector is facing many challenges including climate change, societal changes, and regulatory requirements. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the sector needs to be resilient to deal with known and unknown future challenges. This will require investment in skills, education, research, and innovation to adapt, by taking advantage of technical innovations.

Ted Smith, Research Associate Professor, The Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, University of Louisville: We are part of a medical school and we take a very basic science approach to the issues of drinking water and wastewaterDuring the COVID-19 pandemic we have scaled up our methods to not only look at sewered systems as signals from health risks “above ground,” but have worked to leverage the approach to help utilities. For example, PFAS chemicals are typically viewed as a testing and remediation issue. However, we can now use the kind of sewer-tracing methods perfected during COVID for identifying PFAS sources which may be more cost-effective to reduce than to treat. The technology stack to do this work well comes down to better informatics in the pipe.

Günter Müller-Czygan, Professor of Water infrastructure and Digitization of Hof University of Applied Sciences Institute of Water and Energy Management: In the future, data and associated smart plant controls and integrated solutions will play a decisive role in meeting the challenges of climate change in water management. One research focus in Hof is the development of AI-based interconnected solutions for data linking and predictive control of sewer networks and connected wastewater treatment plants. In addition, these solutions are also being investigated to see what significance they can have for the development of urban spaces as sponge cities.

 

Freddie Guerra, North American Digital Water Lead – GHD

GHD recognises and understands the world is constantly changing. We are committed to solving the world’s biggest challenges in the areas of water, energy and urbanisation. We are a global professional services company that leads though engineering and architectural skills and experience. Our forward-looking, innovative approaches connect and sustain communities around the world. Delivering extraordinary social and economic outcomes, we are focused on building lasting relationships with our partners and clients.

Established in 1928, we remain wholly owned by our people. We are 10,000+ diverse and skilled individuals connected by over 200 offices, across five continents – Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America, and the Pacific region.


GHD is focused on the nexus of innovation and technology within the water sector. How do you help utilities shift their mindset from “doing digital” to “being digital”?

There are two types of digital attitudes for organisations – “doing digital” or “being digital.” “Doing digital” describes companies that leverage technologies to enhance their capabilities or address issues while still relying on legacy operating models.

In contrast, “being digital” describes those that have shifted customer, employee and asset models into a new reality. A reality where agility is the new norm, technology and data are the enablers, human experience is the focus, and certainty of value is the outcome.

GHD is empowering and building capability within organisations to allow them to solve problems today, tomorrow, and beyond, and achieve their missions. We’re helping organisations implement digital functions so that they can do things faster, cheaper, and better while also reimagining the way they work, operate, plan, and more.


Utility digital transformation is driven by technological advances, heightened environmental awareness and evolving customer expectations such as affordability and equity. What are the key challenges to realise digital opportunities to foster this transformation?

True digital transformation is more than the implementation of new technologies – it requires an overhaul of organisational structures, governance, work processes, culture and mindset.

We also need to be prepared to address the challenges associated with digitisation:
There needs to be collaboration to figure out exactly how to scale up new processes enabled by digital technology. How are we going to capture, store and share valuable data across our system? Machine learning and artificial intelligence will play an integral role in this. We need to think about how to implement end-to-end processes from smart capital to intelligent operations.

Along with technology, it is essential we do our due diligence and phase in the right IT systems to support the switch to digital. It is imperative to have a planned transition strategy because being digital requires an overhaul of organisational structures and distributing new roles across existing staff to support the new technologies. By addressing these challenges, utilities will better understand their customers and deliver improved outcomes, provide services more effectively and efficiently, find new solutions for challenges, find new sources of revenue, and more.


As an experienced strategist in the water sector, what critical areas must utilities consider if they are to deliver on a 21st century mission?

In the past, the core mission of utilities like water, was to protect public health and provide quality water service. However, in a world that has been shaped by pandemics, extreme weather, and economic disruptions, today’s customers are expecting more from their water suppliers.

Digitisation is helping meet the demands of 21st-century consumers in several ways. Through elevating the customer experience, generating more public value and expanding citizen security, utilities are creating tools to encourage greater collaboration and participation by consumers, all while safeguarding and protecting them. Utilities must be prepared to protect their customers from a wide range of threats or risk losing trust. Active defense strategies and advanced threat intelligence that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) provide a basis for withstanding more sophisticated attack methods.

Utilities must also create the future workforce. Utilities need to augment their employees’ skills and capabilities to drive greater efficiencies, elevate customer focus while strengthening inclusion and diversity. In a competitive labour market, the public sector has not always been the first employer of choice for top talent. As utilities gradually build a more dynamic work environment, they will need to consider options to attract younger workers and millennials who are in search of purpose-led roles where they make a difference to society. Organisations ought to do more to attract, retain and develop people with the required skill sets across a wide range of areas.

Lastly, by developing smarter infrastructure, utilities can harness the latest technologies to maximise value and efficiency while creating resilience and sustainability. By taking on this outlook, companies will begin to apply digital technologies, such as smart devices, sensors, and software, to physical structures like pump stations or water treatment plants. These intelligent applications result in more efficient and effective monitoring and greater control of water and wastewater systems.


Please share your outlook on the value of intelligent asset management in the smart water world.

Utilities should consider leaving traditional asset management behind and developing a holistic strategy with robust data governance and cybersecurity at its core. Previously, infrastructure was managed based on historical snapshots from condition assessments. Digitising assets allows for the proliferation of smart devices and enables utilities to manage assets intelligently through real-time data and insights.

GHD’s intelligent asset management enables utilities to manage assets with near real-time data and insights vs. managing assets based on historical snapshots from condition assessments. These smart devices link data with communications technologies, then use analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to inform utilities about “what is going on,” “what may happen,” and if something does occur, “what to do.”

Intelligent asset management advances new ways to manage assets in near real-time while boosting operational efficiencies, saving costs, increasing asset life expectancy, improving reliability, and enhancing safety. This approach is the foundation for a smart water utility.