Modernizing Network Management


Bridging Physical and Digital Operations at Water, Wastewater & Stormwater Utilities

By Seth Johnstone

The water industry is contending with three primary challenges: aging infrastructure, water stress from drought or flooding and critical water quality issues. These challenges, along with an aging utility workforce and rate affordability issues, are motivating utility executives to find technological solutions that will improve the physical assets and infrastructure supporting our water, wastewater and stormwater systems.

For utilities, modernizing network management is the process of integrating digital technology and innovative practices to support efficiency, reliability and sustainability of the physical utility network and overall system. This process involves transitioning from manual processes to digital solutions that will improve observation, maintenance and enhancements of the network. Utility executives who enable digital modernization for management of a real-world network will benefit from a more proactive and interactive approach to real-world asset management and operations. These digital networks can represent both the physical networks found “outside of the fence” and the networks that are used inside facilities, such as production and treatment plants.

To effectively manage utility infrastructure, owners and operators of utilities are thinking comprehensively about all aspects of the utility network. In addition to knowing the locations of critical assets, owners and operators can benefit from understanding the interconnections and interdependencies among those assets. By enhancing the digital representation of the water, wastewater or stormwater network, owners and operators can expect improved collaboration between field, plant and office personnel. This is because the digital network map showing the current state of system assets, resources and key performance indicators are accessible from a smartphone, tablet or computer, creating opportunities for real-time updates and information sharing.

In addition to supporting immediate communication and collaboration, modernizing network management helps utilities retain institutional knowledge, understand the network’s current status and future performance, and analyze data in real time. Modernizing network management also facilitates the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.

Achieving Network Modernization

Modernizing network management for water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities includes eight distinct steps focusing on technological and operational enhancements that should result in improved efficiencies and reliable service delivery, while providing operators with a comprehensive and up-to-date digital representation of the water network. The eight steps required to modernize network management for water utilities:

  • Develop a road map for technology deployment and an aligned enterprise architecture. Identifying business needs and formulating a technology plan will help prioritize projects that align with key business initiatives. The road map should include a recommended execution strategy and enterprise architecture to identify existing system dependencies and areas for improvement.
  • Establish unified approach to data governance. This step involves identifying opportunities where data can be leveraged to enhance decision-making. Developing a comprehensive strategy to address data ownership and administration should result in a comprehensive approach to optimize the value of existing data and deliver immediate value from future data-focused projects. The strategy can also explain approaches to updating data and identifying data and system gaps.
  • Develop a GIS strategy and road map. Understanding the utility’s business needs is essential and facilitates the development of a technology plan focused on using geographic information systems (GIS) to drive key initiatives. The road map will prioritize projects based
    on their value to the business and the complexity involved in implementation.
  • Plan and perform migration to ArcGIS Utility Network. The ArcGIS Utility Network is Esri’s modern, web services-based framework for managing the digital representation of physical assets and network behaviors. During this step, the utility will plan and execute the migration from legacy GIS to the modern ArcGIS Utility Network. Additionally, utilities using GIS for the first time can start with the ArcGIS Utility Network.
  • Establish a standardized approach for mobile data collection. Developing a comprehensive strategy to leverage digital technologies — especially in the field or at the plant — can improve data capture and updates, while resolving tracking issues. Additionally, this strategy can prioritize inspections of all new asset installations using digital tools to gather relevant information before assets are put into service, delivering complete alignment between the asset register and operational history of newly installed assets. Creating automated processes can also help with integrating external documentation from contractors that demonstrates the final, built state of a project.
  • Create a deployment strategy for IoT devices. Formulate a strategy to integrate new IoT devices, while identifying potential use cases to leverage IoT data and maximize the utilities return on investment. It’s important to verify that existing data management systems are capable of handling the anticipated volume of data. During this step, identifying necessary modifications to the overall data governance approach and enterprise architecture can support a unified data management approach.
  • Prepare data, integrate IoT feeds and calibrate the hydraulic model. Reviewing and refining GIS data can streamline the integration of that data into a hydraulic modeling software package. Establishing connections between GIS data and available IoT data can enable real-time calibration.
  • Model facilities and vertical assets. Developing 2D or 3D models can help water utilities effectively manage facilities such as pump stations or treatment plants. During this step, utilities can establish relationships between corresponding assets while integrating with relevant asset management systems to facilitate data synchronization and streamlined operations.

While water utilities across the United States contend with aging infrastructure, stressors from flooding and drought, and water quality issues, the modernization process will incorporate digital technologies to help utility staff understand the current state of water, wastewater and stormwater networks, and areas of concern. Through these state-of-the-art technology solutions, utility staff can quickly identify problem areas and take action to avoid costly repairs and service interruptions.

Seth Johnstone is client engagement director for water utilities at 1898 & Co., a global business, technology and security consultancy within Burns & McDonnell. Johnstone has almost 20 years of experience applying technology to utility industry challenges and is focused on digital water solutions.

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