Mastering the data deluge to address water challenges
The world is increasingly challenged by water supply problems because of aging and deteriorating infrastructure, operating incidents and disruptions, drought and water scarcity, declining water quality and climate change. Citizens and governments worldwide are coping with these water cost, health and safety problems:
- In the US, 22.3 billion liters of water per day are lost to leakage, poor accounting and other unbilled consumption—more than enough water to supply the ten largest cities in the USA.
- In London, UK, half of the water mains are more than 100 years old, and one-third of them are more than 150 years old, according to Mark Simister, leakage strategy manager at Thames Water.
- In Perth, Australia, dramatic shrinkage of available water resources is forcing the adoption of a full set of measures to reduce water consumption by 15 percent by 2030.
- In Chicago, Illinois, city officials declared disaster and closed beaches in 2010 when seven inches of rain fell, forcing the discharge of sewage overflow into Lake Michigan to prevent further flooding.
The use of information and communication technologies potentially holds great promise for complementing traditional approaches to tackle the growing list of challenges to water suppliers. Here are few reasons why:
- Tremendous volumes of data generated by installed environmental sensors, smart meters, mobile devices and even social media can be leveraged to support real-time and detailed analysis of operational anomalies that occur in water and wastewater systems.
- Powerful analytics can help water managers make the right decisions and steer operations. For example, water pressure and flows in the network can be optimized in real time, water losses can be detected and leaks localized, overflow of contaminated water into the environment can be minimized and flooding can be anticipated and mitigated.
- Mobile devices can provide the right information at the right place at the right time, enabling water utilities to empower their mobile workforces by providing tailored technical information in the field or propose new mobile services to their customers. Mobile services allow customers to act as sensors by using their mobile devices for reporting observed problems.
- Cloud computing provides small water utilities the access to new services and capabilities without the challenge of large, upfront investments.
However, even if these information-based technologies carry significant potential for cost savings and operational efficiencies, the challenge of handling them with data that is scattered across disparate and within system silos may prevent adoption of those data-centric smarter systems.
How can analytics help?
To help address and resolve these issues, IBM and Veolia have formed the Water Operations for Waternamics (WOW) alliance.
WOW is an integration and analytics platform—a system of systems. It does not replace the numerous specialized systems of record used by water utilities such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), geographic information system (GIS), computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), data historians and so on. Rather, WOW complements those systems by aggregating the information they produce, enriching the information with additional data, enabling situational awareness and generating analytical-based insight that can help the water operator make fast, enhanced decisions and provide better services than ever.
What makes WOW different?
One key success factor of this initiative is the partnership formed between IBM and Veolia, the worldwide leading environmental and water services company. WOW is the result of that alliance, and it offers the following features:
- A combination of IBM data management and analytics expertise with best-in-class experience in water and wastewater operations from Veolia
- Continuously improved and extended new capabilities supported by a dedicated offering development team comprised of experts from IBM and Veolia
- Process and related resources that are in place to gather market needs, collect and analyze customer feedback, manage a pipeline of innovation and develop new analytics modules
- Influence from WOW users and customers that can shape the future of the product
- An open system with existing tools that can be interfaced with WOW and in which the developer community is welcome and encouraged to develop modules to improve water management and leverage the significant capabilities of WOW
Armed with creative innovation and the potential of WOW, water and wastewater utilities can begin to address the significant challenges facing the industry by helping utilities make better, more informed and timely decisions.