We’ve all heard about the energy-water nexus—how energy is required to make water usable and how water is required to make power work. The energy-water nexus is an important one, but it’s not the only nexus in the utilities mix. There’s another that we are beginning to talk about more and more—how much data is increasingly required whether you’re making power or cleaning and moving usable water (or moving gas, too).
We’re calling this the utility-data nexus (because we’re not creative enough to find an entirely new name).
Two sessions at CS Week 2018 influenced our discussion here on a subset of that nexus, the water/data balance, basically that data nexus with an eye on just the water side of utilities—no offense to power or gas utilities intended.
Josh Bond, Manager of Business Technology with California Water Service, discussed analytics, efficiency and customer satisfaction in the “New Customer Values Through Smart Analytics” session, while Chad Moore, Supervisor of Customer Care at Las Vegas Valley Water District, examined field work and meter data in the “Improving Accuracy and Reducing Costs with Drive-By Data” session.
Both speakers admitted, in different ways, that water may be a few steps behind (when it comes to data) but they’re not out. Yes, power and gas utilities are moving faster when it comes to conquering the big data equation, but water is taking nice steps into the arena and won’t be too far behind at the finish.
So, what else did we learn in these chats about water utilities and data? Here’s our short list of takeaways to help you find that balance.
Plan for timing: It can take months to pull in all the data you need at the start of any numbers-heavy project. Keep that timeline in mind and understand that it will need to get faster in the future, yes, but it won’t start off in real-time by any means.
Don’t forget performance, reliability and security: Those make the foundation of any water utility project. Even as you reach for the cloud and real-time data use, you can’t ignore the basics.
Push for new data projects to shift cash: There’s a move from OpEx to CapEx and more and more of these projects are being allowed to clock in on the CapEx side of the equation—a positive trend.
Think out of the box: The exciting (and frightening) thing about data-based projects is, many times, there aren’t already established rules and guidelines. It’s a great opportunity to really have new conversations about new ways of making connections. The new mantra: unconventional is good.
Clearly define your use cases: Before you get to the development stage, this is positively key. In order to integrate big ideas, you have to start with a smaller scale and pilot things. (And then work toward a point where you can trust the data, but, at the start, verify.)
Educate new and shiny data system users: Utility insiders may not be the tech savvy kind. So, establish training to use this data in the ways you want. Don’t just assume they’ll get it automatically.
Don’t roll the truck; trust the data: The old mantra of “when it doubt, roll it out” is over (once you’ve got your data to a true trustworthy point). Now, it’s “when it doubt, dig it out”—by delving into the data and working that angle.
Accept that the future is in the cloud (and with natural language): Dashboards, trend analysis and nice, clean graphs that explain all the insights that field supervisors need to know are all available in the cloud today. And that will continue, with more and more spoken language/natural language queries—you know, like people already talk, whether those people are your employees or your customers.
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