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Can water utility data management software rescue utilities from drowning in challenges?

By Linda Schwefel
August 17, 2023

The 2023 Outlook for Water Utilities by the American Water Works Associate reports that water utility leaders generally view the industry favorably, giving it a 5 out of a possible 7 “optimism rating.”  However, this positive outlook doesn’t imply that everything is smooth sailing. From resource allocation to environmental impact to sustainability to retaining appropriate technical and field staff, water utilities still face stiff headwinds (undertows?). In this blog we’ll look at environmental and operational challenges, and how water utility data management software can make a difference in providing long-term, sustainable solutions.

Environmental challenges solved by water utility data management software

Second only to air as a critical resource, water resources continue to face increasing burdens. For example, drinking water sources in the United States remain relatively unchanged from 70 years ago. In the same period, however, the population has grown by nearly 190 million. Other places on the globe face truly dire water conditions, with over two billion people living in countries with inadequate water supply. Rising global temperatures leading to more extreme weather patterns such as floods and droughts also fuel water stressors.  Fortunately, water data utility data management software can help water utilities overcome many of these environmental challenges.

Environmental impact

As a steward of a valuable natural resource, we often hold water utilities to a higher standard for protecting the environment from its activities. Detailed environmental impact studies prior to beginning work on water projects help utilities uncover potential issues, including habitat destruction, impacts to threatened wildlife, and potential for other unwanted effects such as increased runoff or surface water contamination. Using a digital data collection tool to perform these environmental impact studies gives utilities the thorough and precise data needed to devise plans to help mitigate any ill effects.

Leak detection

In addition to adding to greenhouse gases from its emissions, the water industry also causes water pollution from leaks, spillage, and discharge of sewage into bodies of water. Water utility data management software helps field teams more easily identify, quantify, and analyze the nature and extent of leaks should they occur. The captured record can be annotated with photos, precise geolocation, and even water, soil, or air analyses to give the leadership team a full accounting of what happened, and its effects on the environment. Armed with this information, projections may be made, patterns can be discovered, and remediation efforts were undertaken to not only address the instant leak but prevent future ones.

Sustainability and conservation 

The international think tank Aspen Institute addressed the issue of using data to promote water sustainability and conservation in its 2017 Internet of Water report. The report pointed out that the inability to easily answer fundamental questions such as how much water is there, and what is its quality, results in a lack of overarching insight into our water systems. In addition:

The data needed to answer these questions often exist, although collected by multiple agencies across different scales of government and non-government organizations for different purposes. Since data are scattered across multiple platforms with different standards, much of it cannot be re-used beyond the primary purpose for which it was collected and is not used or ever transformed into information that supports real-time decision-making, identifying trends and patterns, or forecasting future conditions at a larger scale. Id.

To sum up, the issue is not so much that there isn’t enough data, but that the data collected isn’t available to share between those collecting it. Here, again, technology can come to the rescue. Water data utility management software facilitates seamless data sharing across teams, platforms, and sources. It empowers field teams with data on the ground, and informs decision-makers, enhancing collaboration and efficiency. And finally, as water sustainability and conservation efforts cannot exist in a bubble of individual water utilities, this data and insight can fuel meaningful system-wide organizational change.

Dripping tap showing network lines as visualization of Water Utility Data Management Software Operational challenges overcome by water utility data management software

In addition to environmental burdens, water data utility management software can mitigate operational challenges as well. A short list of examples follows.

Data reliability

Making decisions with inaccurate data is like trying to navigate a ship without a compass – you’re going to get somewhere, but no promises on whether it’s where you want to go. Leading data collection software ensures accuracy and comprehensiveness by providing structure to collection efforts in the form of mandatory fields, conditional questions, required proof such as photographs, and guidance through in-app SOPs. Real-time sharing of data between field teams and leadership means that there’s no unnecessary delay between data collection and next steps, leading to faster remediation efforts in the event of problems.

Legacy systems

Many utilities use a hodgepodge of technologies to perform vital functions, including in-house or homegrown systems, that can make integration efforts difficult. However, transitioning to new water data utility management software lets you leverage existing information, while also integrating with legacy systems to enhance their capabilities.  Bringing together these varied technological components, water utilities can unlock previously untapped efficiencies and insights simply out of reach with disconnected platforms.

Operational efficiency

Travel time to and from job sites remains one of the biggest time sinks of field teams – and often the drive to the inspection location takes far longer than the inspection itself. And if mistakes are made,  then you’re looking at another trip out to the site to collect the data you missed the first time. 

Data collection software remains the best remedy to repeat trips to job inspection sites. In-app functions, in particular the mandatory fields and evidence portions, ensure that field inspectors don’t leave the job site without the necessary inspection data. 

In addition, in-app prompts inform inspectors of data requirements to combine trips. For example, a crew smoke testing of a portion of a sewer line can also be prompted to collect data on manhole covers in the area for a different data collection process. Even if the item inspected falls outside the team’s area of expertise, in-app guidance with the mandatory fields, conditional fields, and process SOPs ensures the collection of the same accurate, comprehensive data.

Water utility data management software as a comprehensive solution

In conclusion, water utility data management software presents a comprehensive solution to many of the challenges faced by the water industry. Beyond its capacity to address environmental and operational issues, it offers a cohesive platform for accurate data collection and seamless integration with GIS and other technologies, enabling enhanced decision-making. By harnessing technology’s potential, utilities can ensure the sustainability of water resources, streamline operations, and ultimately pave the way for a more efficient and resilient future. 

Ready to experience the power of digital transformation firsthand and unlock a new era of productivity, accuracy, and sustainability in water management? Connect with our dedicated experts today!