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Johnny Gunneng, CEO – InfoTiles
InfoTiles has its origin in between the fjords of Norway but extends far beyond Scandinavia. In short, InfoTiles simplifies and automates the tedious steps of consolidating data, applying real time analytics and machine learning so water utilities can turn insights into actions and benefit from more efficient, sustainable operations. Be like water and feel free to reach out for a glass of tap water.
How can water utilities harness the power of data and AI analytics to optimise their operations and improve service delivery to customers?
The real strength in leveraging digital water technologies lies in the usability of a central data platform and its capacity to model, visualise, and present data across all assets and operations, accessible to all relevant personnel to develop the capacity to work smarter.
For example, through our platform, we can capture existing and new data that shows the likelihood of critical failures in water and wastewater infrastructure and resources, including:
- Inflow & Infiltration Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance: real-time monitor wastewater pumps and analyses the system’s response to weather conditions. This can enable them to facilitate instant responses and improve the resilience of water networks.
- Leak Detection: identify the location of leaks and take action to repair them quickly. This can help conserve water resources and reduce wastage.
- Smart Water Meters: predict water demand patterns. This can help them optimise their water supply and distribution networks, reduce operational costs and ensure adequate supply during peak demand periods.
- Asset Optimisation: By analysing data on equipment performance, maintenance history, and other parameters, water utilities can identify opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and extend asset lifespan.
- Alerting/Early warnings: predictive models provide early risk alerts. This enables water utilities to take immediate preventative action and improve the performance and resilience of water networks.
By leveraging the power of data and AI, water utilities can enhance their operational efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure sustainable water for everyone today, tomorrow and in the future.
As we face more severe weather events than ever before, how critical are early detection systems and how do you begin this process/journey?
Droughts throughout the summer of 2022, and the devastating floods in some regions of Europe only a year earlier, have demonstrated the need for digital water technologies that can help utilities and municipalities become more resilient. Water-use evaluation and reduction, flood management and response, catchment health, and asset management are all operations where digital data collection and analysis can help deliver much more robust systems for water, people, and the environment.
We have been collaborating with municipalities in Norway to create synergies across all these critical areas, which can be managed from a single, centralised platform, accessed remotely. Sensors are placed at strategically significant points to collect water quality data, including water level, nutrient content, and soil humidity. Combined with publicly available weather data from national meteorological agencies, such as rainfall and temperature, new insights can be harnessed for water managers. This approach has the potential to go much further, capturing not only data from a single river location, but across a whole catchment. Capture and analysis of such data will prove invaluable in reducing, and even preventing, major damage and supply interruptions caused by unpredictable flood events.
Machine-learning is also being used to combine the whole catchment data with meteorological data. This type of artificial intelligence allows software applications to become more accurate at predicting outcomes over time, without being explicitly programmed to do so. You can learn more about how these models are being applied in a Lillestrøm, Norway case study on the SWAN Knowledge Hub.
This system is being applied in the city of Lillestrøm, Norway, on the River Leira, which poses a high risk of flooding and requires a swift response to avoid major structural damage and breakdown of public amenities. With data gathered through InfoTiles’ platform contributing towards the development of early-warning systems, the municipality can mobilise first responders more effectively and plan closures of integral bridges and release warming announcements in a timely way.
By forecasting river behaviour and tracking levels to within a 50mm accuracy, authorities can gauge flood risk and see how it evolves in real-time. They can also predict more accurately when it might occur 6 –12 hours ahead of time, and what type of response is required.
View InfoTile’s Lillestrøm case study on Turning Water Data into Actions through AI Analytics.
How does the accuracy and reliability of machine learning enabled sewer monitoring optimisation compare to traditional methods of sewer monitoring and I&I detection?
For many utilities and municipalities, inflow and infiltration can account for an average of 20-50 per cent of the annual flow in sewers, however, during snowmelt and wet autumns the figure can hit 80-90 per cent. Increases in the frequency and intensity of rainfall as a result of a changing climate is exacerbating the problem, making the wastewater network ever more vulnerable to failure and putting the environment at greater risk.
In Norway, our digital water and wastewater management system is being used by one municipality for I&I water detection and real-time monitoring of extraneous water in sewer networks and is already reducing service failures.
Using InfoTiles SCADA control system data together with meteorological data and machine learning technologies to consolidate new and existing data, operators discovered that pumps were pushing 5 million m3 of wastewater through the systems per year, of which at least 1 million m3 was water from I&I. The extra operating cost to the utility in processing this extraneous wastewater was up to €2 million, not including the energy cost of transporting the water to the treatment works. As operational costs increase and the need to save energy is paramount, utilities must calculate and understand the true cost of I&I like never before.
What is the importance of partnerships in your day-to-day work and in driving greater impact on the water sector?
In the water sector, partnerships are especially important given the complex and interconnected nature of water issues. After establishing itself in Norway, we are now making significant progress with water utilities in the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, encouraging the active use of digital software to meet the fast-changing demands of digital transformation in water.
In the near future, it will be the norm for all water utilities, wherever they are in the world, to have digitally transformed to some extent. The good news is that the digital water technologies needed to tackle the challenges of today are already here. Additionally, the learnings from those forward-thinking water utilities and governments embracing these innovations, can help realise universal access to safe drinking water much more rapidly.
What advice can you share with young professionals forging their paths in the smart water sector?
For young people who are passionate about water management and sustainability, the smart water industry offers many exciting opportunities. Young professionals could influence the industry by staying up to speed on the latest technologies, developing multidisciplinary skills and expertise, and building a diverse network to solve complex water challenges. In summary, never stop asking “why” and challenge the status quo.
Tim O’Brien, CEO – Metasphere
Metasphere helps customers prevent leaks and spills for a cleaner, greener world. A wastewater application specialist business, Metasphere, has been providing monitoring solutions to the global utility industry since the mid-1980s. The company liaises with all sectors of the industry, from major utility companies to environmental and regulatory bodies. Utilising the latest technology, Metasphere delivers intelligent, innovative all-in-one solutions for full network visibility, performance and forecasting that reduce telemetry ownership cost for customers to manage time-critical remote assets and systems.
What do you see as the impact of smart solutions to improve environmental outcomes?
The focus on solutions opens up opportunities that focus on benefits/opportunity selling, as well as solving/tackling problems. It is the TOTEX view that makes the difference – time matters. All outcomes require an economic benefit; the ESG agenda drives environmental benefits and economic benefits too. It changes how people think and drives intuitive innovation.
Metasphere recently published a case study with fellow SWAN Member, Unitywater. How do you work with SWAN and other industry associations to promote collaborations?
SWAN has worked hard to bring interested parties together, hosting meaningful events around the globe that attract key utility personnel. Standardising the terminology for all to deploy has aided communication and has allowed more focus on the real issues.
Too often, collaboration on research projects does not lead to a commercial opportunity as time eats into cash and SMEs do not have enough resources to carry on with such projects. Having a customer-led project that demands collaboration between different suppliers, provides a purpose and focus.
View Metasphere’s case study with Unitywater on integrated water quality monitoring.
How does Metasphere relate to the theme of the upcoming SWAN APAC Alliance Workshop: “Building Trust. Driving Innovation. Delivering Value”?
Metasphere lives by 6 tenets:
- Closer to the Customer – thinking outside in – be the customer – develop and build trust – it’s all about relationships, people buy solutions from people.
- Intuitive innovation – shorten the lines of communication; stay agile.
- Challenge Constructively
- Be honest & sincere
- Deliver right 1st time.
- Win together.
What is the best advice you were given as a young professional that you have carried with you throughout your career? How can young professionals continue to apply that advice to the water sector today?
Listen first. This means using both ears and only one mouth to truly understand what is being communicated before responding. Contextualizing and interpreting the information is also important in order to understand its significance. Additionally, focusing on the opportunity and planning for it. This is crucial, rather than just operating in ‘fix-it’ mode. I wish I had done more of this.
Being firm, fair, and considerate, as well as encouraging those around you is also essential in building positive relationships and working effectively with others. Young professionals in the water sector today can apply this advice by actively listening to stakeholders, developing comprehensive plans, and fostering a positive work environment where collaboration and support are encouraged.
Annika Malm, Head of Department of Water & Waste – Kungsbacka kommun
Kungsbacka is a small municipality with 85,000 inhabitants, located south from Gothenburg, Sweden. The water utility is a part of the municipality organisation, with about 100 employees. There is one major waterworks, four wastewater treatment plants, and about 1,700 km in total of water, wastewater, and stormwater pipes.
As a smaller utility (serving 85k inhabitants), what have you seen as the biggest benefit to taking the smart water journey?
For us, gaining the support and directive from municipal management is essential. We have a driving force from the municipal management and our own management to improve the efficiency by digitalisation through an overall municipal strategy. As a small organisation, we have a few key personnel with competence to drive and implement digital solutions. Thus, we need to strengthen our skillset such as with an Enterprise Architect. We also have municipal resources that we can use for help. So far, our strategy has been as a manager to never say no if you can afford to say yes. If we take every chance to say yes even without a proven positive cost-benefit ratio, we will be able to learn by doing. It also makes working with us fun when there is a foresight and a mindset that anything is possible.
How does your relationship with the municipality, academic partners, and other critical stakeholders impact your push towards digitalisation?
We are a small municipality and do not have the opportunity to have all expertise in-house. Thus, we need networks with other municipalities, research institutes, and academia. To fulfil this, we are involved in several projects working as test-sites and data providers for research. In this way, our employees both create their own networks and learn new things that we can then use. In one major project to reconstruct our largest wastewater treatment plant, we are receiving help from the best researchers in the field in Sweden who have access to global networks.
What are your plans to build a wastewater treatment plant of the future incorporating a digital twin?
Our vision is to build a digital twin that operates the plant completely on its own to optimise treatment results and energy use every minute. We must purify water at the right level so that we do not consume too much energy unnecessarily. The digital twin can indicate when we need to maintain the treatment plant’s assets by continuously reading and analysing operation and treatment plant data. When we want to simulate a change, such as increased inflows from a new-built area or that a basin needs to be disconnected for a time, we could do it first in the digital twin to see how it works. Currently this is a vision, we are certainly in the very start of our journey and not there yet. We are now 3D-scanning all parts of the treatment plant and the plan is to use these drawings to construct the digital twin.
What advice do you have for young professionals looking to carve their path in the smart water sector?
Each new generation brings new perspectives and new wisdom. My advice is to listen, learn and then go for it. We need new knowledge that dares to question and does not think that new technology, new software, AI and new interfaces are scary. For those of us who have worked in the industry for a long time, the digital journey feels like climbing a mountain and you can help us find new paths.
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.