How to Transform Your Utility Through Technology, Part 2: Harnessing the Data

How to Transform Your Utility Through Technology, Part 2: Harnessing the Data

The power of business intelligence can provide immediate wins to utilities that invest time to plan what data they want and the form they want it to take. By deploying automated dashboards in just one or two areas, utility staff can eliminate repetitive manual data collections and justify the implementation costs of business intelligence applications while making staff more efficient in the process. The following data sources, when adopted effectively, allow utilities to harness this data with immediate returns.

USEFUL DATA SOURCES

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are one of the most common data sources utilities can implement. They monitor and control the collection, distribution, and treatment processes. Dozens of process instruments, meters, switches, pumps, valves, and other devices send and receive information from the SCADA system to maintain the process in a safe and steady operating state. The SCADA system provides real-time process data that can be used to analyze overall efficiency and effectiveness of the system, while graphical trend screens highlight positive or negative process outcomes that cannot be discerned with individual data points.

Another common data source available to utilities is the geographic information system (GIS), an application that associates assets with their physical location on maps and stores valuable data about those assets in its database, such as condition, event information, design documents, and operations and maintenance (O&M) manuals. GIS can be used both in the office and on the go, facilitating more effective data collection, management and reporting. The uses of GIS and the data captured is nearly limitless.

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) provides great benefits to a utility by making the administration of a considered and well-planned asset maintenance strategy far less labor intensive. Taking advantage of the many features available in modern CMMS applications, maintenance departments can automatically generate preventative maintenance work orders, track and quantify emergency service requests, and log maintenance records throughout the lifetime of the utility’s critical assets.

Many other systems can be mined for data, and then referenced and compared against other data to generate valuable insights for a public works director. A customer information system, automated meter reading system, and the utility’s financial system are some examples. By leveraging the data contained in such systems and applying it to process data, asset information, and maintenance records, utility operators can generate a much clearer picture of what it really costs to operate and maintain a water or wastewater system.

Keeping YOUR data secure

One of the greatest concerns in deploying business intelligence, especially when connecting to a data source rather than uploading static data files exported from a given system, is cybersecurity. The connections that allow near-real-time access to the data collected and stored in multiple disparate critical systems could be exploited if not planned and protected properly. As with all solutions in our rapidly expanding, ever-connected and “always on” environment, security must be a consideration but does not need to be a deterrent; thus, it’s important to include data security as a primary consideration when designing a business intelligence solution. 

In the final entry in the series, we’ll feature actual business intelligence dashboards to provide you with concrete examples of data visualization and how to leverage information more effectively.

Author

Technical Manager
Instrumentation and Controls

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