West Monroe has been promoting the use of multi-use networks to achieve Smart City benefits. Both at the American Water Works Association Illinois chapter meeting, and the most recent M-WERC Smart Cities Technology event in Milwaukee, audiences expressed great interest in learning more.
While many Smart City initiatives are underway, West Monroe believes that for Smart City initiatives to be successful and yield quantifiable benefits, they must:
- Improve customer service: Through technologies that reduce citizen and business effort while encouraging citizen participation.
- Reduce system duplications: By eliminating redundant systems across city departments (e.g., IT, data management, or communications).
- Efficiently utilize assets: Through data driven asset management and KPI focused governance.
One element of a Smart City, often not considered, is its water infrastructure. It is important to realize that the management of water suffers from a highly-fragmented industry, with each component optimized to serve its narrow function. This can be disrupted with the use of low cost sensors and telecommunication networks to develop the IoT of water.
The benefits ultimately arise from having a singular place to host water quantity, quality and associated hydrologic data across the entire watershed, enabling analytics and a common set of information for all stakeholders. For water utilities engaged in building and managing these systems, the benefits are numerous:
- Customer engagement
- Optimizing billing and collections
- Extended SCADA
- Mitigation of non-revenue water
And for other stakeholders, the benefits are only limited to imagination and the power of analytics. Fortunately, there are four major trends that will drive the imagination of our engineers, ecologists and utility and business leaders to break down the silos and integrate this overlooked, but critical, infrastructure. For example:
- Citizens are becoming more water conscious. The onslaught of news regarding drought, flooding, and risks to our water quality has significantly raised awareness.
- Managing watersheds has shifted from advocates to a mainstream approach supported by regulations.
- Utilities (water, electric, gas) are building telecommunications networks, laying the foundation for multi-purpose networks.
- Water systems are regionalizing to develop the scale to enable access to capital, technology and innovation.
Although many maintain the view that water utilities are staid and conservative, there is a great deal of innovation happening. Utilities are becoming more data-centric, expanding their role in society, and will be the linchpin of any significant Smart City initiative.
The very reasons that some point to utilities for being out of date, are the strongest reasons behind why they should assume a leadership role. For example, the workforce of utilities is aging, across the nation; ~21% of utility employees are 55 years or older. This is an opportunity to attract additional skill-sets, ones that match the future demands of managing water, such as data management, telecommunications, public outreach and stakeholder management.
Finally, water management has driven the rise and fall of our greatest and most lasting civilizations; consider the sewers of the Indus Valley civilization or the Roman Aqueducts; the collapse of the Mayan civilization due to drought. The Chinese word zhi has two simultaneous meanings: “to rule” and “ to regulate water”. This points to the deep understanding and historical experience that to manage water well is to manage society well. At this critical point in time, we are reinvesting in our water systems and water management – let’s prepare for the future and invest in intelligence.