Turning your data into decisions by creating a data culture inside your water utility

Patrick Bonk Patrick Bonk February 7, 2024

4 min read

Aging infrastructure, climate change, and the need to balance growth and conservation present challenges for water utilities. Technology promises to remake operations and deliver industry-changing improvements, and indeed many utilities already use updated remote sensing and monitoring tools to measure consumption, flow, and pressure.

For some water utilities, however, the resulting tsunami of data turns into still another challenge: how to better use the data storehouse when hindered by technological or organizational obstacles.

How can utilities benefit from this burden and seize opportunities within data to remake systems, meet the challenges of sustainability and customer service, and improve their stewardship of a precious resource? An established data culture, supported by effective change management, helps employees understand that all business decisions should be backed by data that’s easily sourced, managed, accessed, and communicated.

Changing your organizational culture

The solution starts with technical and organizational change. Along with legacy physical assets such as pipes and drainage, water utilities also have legacy structures and processes. These include siloed teams and data, as well as modeling and analysis tools that are incompatible with the types and amounts of data being collected today. Utilities also face strict compliance rules for collecting data more effectively and efficiently. As a result, they lack the agility of private enterprise when it comes to digital transformation.

The primary organizational change to be made is more cultural – that is, instituting a “data culture” among a workforce that embraces the idea that data and analysis should be part of every decision organization-wide, and that access to data and tools should be universal. Once you commit to making these cultural changes, your data learnings can help define new KPIs for all aspects of operations, from leakage to customer satisfaction.

Utility operators may see hiring the right people to be the solution to the data challenge. But as a legacy industry not typically associated with innovation, water utilities may struggle to compete for the talent needed to bring a data culture to fruition. A better strategy is to build the data culture from within using training, outreach, incentives, and leadership – and to supplement this support with input from outside consultants temporarily embedded within teams.

Another effective approach is to elevate certain employees as digital champions within the organization and take advantage of their experience, perspectives, and established relationships.

The right processes and technology for a data-centered organization

From a technical standpoint, a data culture must first unify data and the means to access that data. This requires a centralized platform that unifies the many data streams the water utilities currently collect and that provides a universal interface for access. All the information any team needs should be securely sharable, ideally in the cloud and accessible from anywhere – for example, via a web browser.

With a data platform, employees of any role or skill set can create extensions and applications to fit specific needs. They can use this platform to visualize, calculate, and derive insights, for example, by plotting data streams or cross-referencing data against various locations or other parameters, all in the context of their roles. Since the platform is universal and cloud-based, it should also facilitate collaboration with anyone anywhere in the organization.

Once you’ve embraced data, it opens up possibilities for using AI and machine learning (ML) to make decisions based on your vast amounts of collected data. Utilities could use AI and ML, for example, to detect network anomalies, suggest energy savings, or predict system vulnerabilities. However, taking advantage of AI and ML isn’t possible without a data platform, and it certainly isn’t possible without a culture that prizes data insights.

What a data culture looks like

Data cultures help employees save time and effort thanks to automations for data formatting, calculations, and system alerts. With data access in place and useful new KPIs, metrics about leakage, water pressure and loss, pipe breaks, and storage that were previously calculated annually or quarterly can now be calculated on a sub-daily basis.

Frequent calculations boost opportunities for network analysis, event detection, and system performance analysis to detect problems faster and improve system maintenance. Water utility employees can see and act on near-real-time trends within key metrics, a capability that previously required a great deal of time and labor.

Help inspire a data culture in your organization

We believe that with Info360 Insight, the cloud-based software for data access and analysis, you can more easily empower employees to embrace a data culture.

In our Autodesk e-book, “Building a water data culture: How utilities can use operational analytics to turn data into decisions“, you’ll find plenty of evidence for the value of a data culture, along with case studies that show how Stantec helps Wellington Water use data to optimize their pumps to save significant dollars on electricity costs and how Bristol Water uses data to keep their water quality high.

You’ll also find six best practices for sharing these values with your team so that unified data management, operational analytics, AI, and ML algorithms can now be a part of every water utility’s digital journey.

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