Member Spotlight

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.