The Data Core: How Utilities Can Optimize Operations by Concentrating Data

data core

By Gary Wong

Water and wastewater utilities have often been viewed as lagging other sectors when it comes to maximizing the use of data within their organizations. That is not to say that the sector lacks data: SCADA systems collect and store data at intervals of fractions of a second; billing systems have decades of historic data on consumption, population change and demographic shifts; GIS and CMMS systems chronicle the condition of assets in time and space. The problem is there is often no unified way of accessing all this data for analysis and as a result only a fraction of data collected by utilities is analyzed and turned into actionable information.

Effective utility management is a knowledge-based activity. Unfortunately, most data systems in utilities operate in departmental silos, designed, built and operated for their specific objective, with very little cross functional use of the data. Even in advanced utilities, customer information systems (CIS), supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), billing platforms, asset management systems (CMMS), geo-spatial information systems (GIS), enterprise management systems (ERP) are often separately deployed and managed by different departments, employed for department specific reasons, and incapable of easily sharing data.

This is because data collection and use in utilities has historically grown organically, with specific platforms developed or deployed to meet the needs of individual departments or users. This results in many disparate and isolated data platforms, architectures, topologies and lexicons which impede the ability to combine, intersect, use and re-use data.

This is more frustrating because much of the value of data exists at the intersection: using SCADA + GIS + Hydraulic Model data for real-time leak detection; employing CIS + ERP + AMI data to secure utility revenue; combining CMMS + CCTV Sewer Video + Flushing Records data to establish a pipeline replacement program. In order to enjoy the potential of these value propositions, utilities need to view various data sets in relation to others with the right context.

This is the potential that a Data Core can provide.

PI System's integrated product portfolios

The Data Core

A Data Core is a platform that simplifies the collection, curation and analysis of data. Specifically, it includes data infrastructure that:

  • Provides a means to canonicalize various data, making it instantly useful;
  • Provides real-time access to data;
  • Provides context for that data in space and time;
  • Provides a means of correlating disparate data sets: relationally, spatially or in time;
  • Provides a scalable foundation for sharing data between systems, people, and companies, thus forging the way for autonomous decision making; and
  • Provides the means to analyze and present that data to provide meaningful, relevant operational and business input.

The development of a Data Core is the foundational element of any smart water initiative and can generate significant returns on investment, deliver operational efficiency improvements, and improve reliability. A Data Core provides the benefits of consolidated data management, maximizes the efficiency and efficacy of data and smooths the integration of data silos. Along the way, access to a Data Core transforms the business of water – making changes to existing business practices simpler and liberating the workforce to focus on critical issues.


To date, LADWP has developed over 120 use cases related to goals designed to improve infrastructure management, disaster preparedness, water reliability and safety.

Winning with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

The dedicated staff of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) exploits the value of the Data Core to bring real-time access and context to all their data, specifically to help them solve complex problems related to diversification of their water portfolio, improve their understanding and management of critical infrastructure and preserve public health and safety by optimizing the quality of their water.

LADWP’s Water Information Network (WIN) maximizes the concept of the Data Core by integrating:

  • Time Series Data (SCADA – GE Proficy; Data Historian – OSIsoft PI)
  • Relational Data (CMMS – Maximo; CIS – Oracle CC&B; LIMS)
  • Spatial Data (GIS)
  • File Data (Microsoft Office)

Through this platform – developed with the PI System as it’s foundational element – LADWP has created a single point of access to data that has effectively democratized data and data analytics tools. By combining and offering integrated data, LADWP can now unify business operations that historically have intersected multiple data silos. For example, response to infrastructure failure can be tracked from inception (SCADA), to identification (analytics), to dispatch (work force management and CMMS), to repair (access to as-builts, GIS system information), and finally to close out (financial and hours reporting) – all through a “single pane of glass” user experience.

To date, LADWP has developed over 120 use cases related to goals designed to improve infrastructure management, disaster preparedness, water reliability and safety. In one example, LADWP is using the PI Systems data core capabilities to collect data about the ground water level underneath two dams at the Bouquet Reservoir. In the past, this data was only available to field personnel at the site requiring a multi-step, multi-person process whenever managers in the home office wanted to understand current conditions. Now with the PI System, all authorized LADWP personnel have direct access to this information 24/7, from anywhere that they can connect to the internet.

This democratization of data and analytics has not only increased the use of data across the utility estate, but it has increased LADWP’s situational awareness. Through real-time analysis and notifications, LADWP has been able to use the Data Core to address compliance response and reporting, reaction to natural disasters, asset condition monitoring and management, and sustainability and efficiency of water supply.


We do not need to look very deep into utilities to see how this data inefficiency impacts operations and results in significant frustration for utility managers, and contribute to significant losses in efficiency and safety. We can all relate to the tale of exporting data from one system, coaxing it through an intermediary platform (such as Excel or Access) and importing into another system for presentment. The time spent getting the data, cleaning the data, processing the data and re-formatting it for use in another system is simply a resource sink.

Maximizing the usefulness of utility data through a Data Core strategy is launching a variety of new and exciting data collaborations – and liberating efficiencies in our resource constrained utilities. The availability of a readily accessible Data Core is transforming the industry and is truly the foundation of the smart grid for water.

More on the Power of the Data Core…

HRSDHampton Roads Sanitary District (HRSD)

HRSD is using the power of the Data Core concept to integrate sewer lift station levels, rainfall, wind speed and direction, tidal information and pump performance data to proactively assess flooding risk and sewer overflow potential, protecting property and public health. By exploiting the power of data integration and interoperability, HRSD has transformed what was a reactive response to a cutting-edge advanced warning, situational awareness program which ensures that potential failures are identified and rectified quickly to ensure continuity of service especially during the hurricane season.

Riverside Public Utilities (RPU)

Riverside Public Utilities

RPU is managing electric and water outages, lab data, asset management, radio communications, SCADA and reporting in a unified ecosystem that allows access to data and reports at real-time speeds across 30 systems. The introduction of integrated data access has allowed RPU to eliminate the consumption of four manhours every day that was used in generating water operations reports. The operational efficiencies in direct manpower savings alone have exceeded $820,000 annually – that’s excluding the benefits of ensuring timely and correct compliance reporting (avoiding fines and violations) and the ability to implement condition-based maintenance programs that identifies incipient failures or operational anomalies before an emergency call out is required. As an added benefit, rather than being employed as manual data miners, people can now be used for tasks that require uniquely human traits: critically evaluating and interpreting conditions.

White House Utility District (WHUD)

WHUD has used the power of combining and analyzing disparate data sets from numerous systems to drill down into non-revenue water. Using data from district metered areas (DMAs), SCADA and GIS, WHUD was able to identify, locate and repair a significant unknown leak in their transmission system. Not only were they able to stop the unintentional loss of water – but that was immediately parlayed into $15 – $20 million CAPEX savings as new production, treatment and distribution infrastructure was deferred by this “found capacity.”

OSIsoft’s PI Edge to Plant Data Core

PI System's edge to plant to cloud architecture

The PI suite of system optimizes the collation, curation and analysis of all utility data. PI is a data platform, capable of combining data generated by multiple technology sources, at any frequency from SCADA to CMMS to GIS to ERP. As a true technology agnostic platform, PI integrates data consumption, data storage and data analytics from any device, service or platform. The result is a unique data repository able to generate additional efficiencies and unlock the full potential of data in the utility.

In addition to device data, the PI suite can incorporate data such as demographic data, tax parcel data, weather and precipitation data and so much more. With PI, the data silos are rendered invisible allowing a utility to unlock the potential of data.

Gary Wong is principal, global water industry at OSIsoft. He has more than 20 years of extensive international experience providing sustainable, strategic and cost-effective business solutions in the water industry. He is also chairman of the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) Americas Alliance.

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