TECH PERSPECTIVES: Driven by Big Data

pit crew and race car
By Jonathan Blackwell

I have been a fan of Formula 1 dating back to my childhood, when the teams utilized 700+ hp V-10 engines that would produce the most beautiful sound as they revved to an astonishing 13,000 rpms on the straightaways. The times, and technology, have changed.

Today, F1 cars are powered by a much smaller 1.6L twin turbocharged V-6 engine, producing between 850-1000 hp at redlining at a more astonishing 15,000 rpms. However, the greatest difference in these contrasting eras of F1 is not in the engine size, horsepower gains, or aerodynamics, but rather in the technology that provides real-time data that allows each team collect, review, and act on, in preparation for the race weekend. Anyone who has watched the Netflix series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, has seen how F1 teams utilize data in every aspect of their decision-making process, and that is no different than a city that utilizes an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system and smart metering technologies to make sound, and occasionally critical decisions pertaining to their water utility system.
Powered by Data

An F1 car today has approximately 300 sensors installed that constantly analyzes the health of the engine, track speeds, cornering performance, G-forces, tire wear, GPS and driver biometrics, and these are merely a few of the KPI’s that are being meticulously reviewed by a team of engineers and data scientists daily. These actionable-analytics, that can add up to 400 GB of data per-car, per-weekend, empowers every F1 team to be proactive in their decision-making processes. In other words, F1 teams make decisions that are purely based upon data, not assumptions.

A city that has deployed an advanced metering infrastructure system (AMI) and smart metering technologies throughout their utility, will have the same data-driven decision-making capabilities as a world-class F1 team. They can monitor water consumption, remotely address customer concerns, detect leaks at a customer location or within their distribution system, reduce non-revenue-water (NRW), monitor and manage pressures, reduce billing discrepancies and reduce truck-rolls as they will now know when and where to deploy personnel into the field. The list of benefits keeps getting larger as technologies mature and cities become more and more connected.

Customer Engagement

The data that Formula 1 harnesses during each race weekend allows their fan base to get remarkably close to the action through on online subscription service called F1 TV. This is an exceptionally cool tool that provides real-time access to view the race from each driver’s onboard camera, compare lap times, and even listen to unedited, real-time radio chatter. Talk about empowering your fan base!

Similar engagement-technology exists for water utilities in the form of a customer-portal, which is merely a scaled down version of the utility’s MDMS (Meter Data Management System) that is utilized by the city to interpret and analyze all the data that their advanced metering infrastructure system is collecting. These customer engagement tools empower water utility customers convenient 24/7 access to their accounts to review their usage, review alarms for consumption or leaks, and contingent upon the application being used, they can even pay their bills. Some may say that customer portals for water utilities will just be for the early adopters, but I can recall many who said the same thing about mobile banking and as of 2019 mobile banking has surpassed Branch, ATM and Online banking as the primary method of access.

Data = Proactive Capabilities

Earlier this year, a winter storm took Texas by surprise that ultimately showed how vulnerable the states infrastructure was to severe shifts in the climate. After the storm, stories began to emerge how cities and water utilities were able to utilize the data from their AMI systems to make data-driven decisions to reduce, and even prevent, damage from occurring. One of those cities was the City of Jacksonville, Texas, that utilized its AMI network to remotely disconnect its customers’ water meters, ultimately preventing devastating damage to homes, businesses and the city’s water distribution system. This October, the City of Jacksonville, Texas, will be on a stage in Washington, D.C. at the Smart Cities Connect 2021 Smart 50 Awards, where they will be recognized as one the 50 most innovative cities globally, ultimately for their use of data.

F1 is a data-driven sport, and thankfully that is the direction that water utilities are heading throughout the world. We have water supply issues, and one needs to look no further than the water levels at Lake Mead to understand this. As we continue to face challenges with our water supply and management, it will be data that empowers us to make the best decisions possible.


Jonathan Blackwell

Jonathan Blackwell is the National Director of Water & AMI Solutions at Performance Services, Inc. (PSI), where he spearheads efforts to identify and implement turnkey smart-utility solutions throughout the country.

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