There are many challenges facing our industry today—aging infrastructure, climate change, stringent regulations, aging workforce and cybersecurity. While addressing these needs, we must also maintain current service levels at an affordable cost to our customers. Technology advances and IT/OT convergences have changed the landscape for Water and Wastewater business management. Every 3 years, our utility develops a strategic technology plan, in alignment with our City and IT initiatives, to establish a shared vision of our digital utility future. Over the years, our utility has built a strong technology foundation in the areas of asset management, mobile workforce, SCADA systems, and laboratory systems, allowing us to tackle the many challenges in our view.
One of the biggest challenges in today’s digital world is managing the volume of data collected within various systems and making sense of it. To be a smart utility, we need to make smart decisions, and that begins with quality data and the ability to correlate the information. To help us optimize asset performance, each month the management team reviews analytics and insights from our asset management system, with the condition and maintenance of assets, and poor performing resources. Having such actionable data helps prolong the life of our assets and examine the trends, and balance the information against your specific business goals. This approach allows us to make key decisions to optimize current operational plans. In the year ahead, we hope to simplify the analysis and decision-making process even further by implementing a risk-based assessment system to consolidate information from multiple sources into a single pane. Risk-based systems measure the likelihood of failure and consequence of failure of major water and wastewater assets in the ground, allowing a greater shift from reactive to predictive maintenance. The result is better-informed decisions, keeping assets productive longer, and not allowing them to become disruptive liabilities.
Another growing concern is the increase in crippling cyber-attacks against utility infrastructures. Working with our IT department to employ a defense-in-depth network security strategy is only one facet of our protection. While hardware and software security measures represent one aspect of control, educating our personnel on good cybersecurity practices is another. We supplement IT Security training and phishing expeditions, with additional awareness training, enabling staff to act as “human firewalls” with respect to threats. Security is not just an IT responsibility, it is everyone’s responsibility to help prevent unwanted cyberattacks and security breaches.
Keeping the Customer in Mind
While technology can make our jobs easier, true digital transformation comes from services that deliver value to our customers. Keeping the customer in mind will help drive solutions, and help us define useful customer-centric metrics. The on-going need for actionable data and security, changing customer expectations, and constant industry challenges will continue to drive the digital agenda within the Water and Wastewater sectors.
As we face a changing technology landscape and many industry and regulatory requirements, having stable and reliable tools helps water and wastewater utilities achieve its mission of providing safe, reliable, and superior quality water; and maintaining infrastructure and facilities in a cost-effective manner. While technology cannot solve all of the business issues facing the water and wastewater sectors, making smart decisions about the technology fit and having staff trained on how to use the technology helps drive problem solving. The convergence of information technology and operational technology and the changing eco-political climate drives the continual need for Cybersecurity training and awareness, strong policies and procedures and an informed workforce.
Rebecca Delaney, P.E., Associate Director and Operations Leader for Sustainable Engineering Studio, and Luke Leung P.E., ASHRAE Fellow, LEED Fellow, BEMP, P Eng, Director of Sustainable Engineering Studio, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill