Making Sense of Customer Feedback
As customers demand greater transparency and data immediacy from their services providers, the ability for water utilities to collect unstructured text data is growing. With modern, digital customer engagement interfaces such as web portals, mobile applications, and social networks, utilities now have a window into more nuanced interests, demands, concerns, and satisfactions expressed by their customers. But with the evolution of systems designed to capture and convey textual information comes a significant challenge: making sense of large volumes of unstructured data.
Unstructured data includes strings of text supplied by customers through open ended self-service forms and other interfaces. Spelling, punctuation, idioms, and grammatical syntax is inconsistent and thus very difficult for computers to parse and interpret. And as the volume of such potentially insightful information grows, it quickly becomes impractical for humans to review each request, note, post, tweet, and text to identify trends as… see more
Water utilities might not often think of it, but water leaks contribute to a significant portion of home repair costs each year. There are many causes of water damage including things like household flooding, faulty plumbing, appliance failures, leaky fixtures, and irrigation system problems. While many people underestimate the risk of water damage to their homes, statistics from the insurance industry cast a light on the reality of how water can impact what is, for most people, the largest financial investment they will make in their lifetime.
To begin with, residential water damage is probably a lot more common than most people think. In fact, approximately 14,000 people experience some type of water damage at home or at work each day. That’s nearly two-thirds of a sell out crowd in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Also, 98% of residential basements in the United States will experience some … see more
The Size of the Challenge
Water remains relatively inexpensive. So if a handful of end-users can’t, won’t, or forget to pay their water bill, you wouldn’t think it would have much impact on utility finances. It turns out that payment performance is actually a really big deal that costs the industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year. As of 2010 U.S. water utilities generated over $42 billion in annual revenue and given the pace of rate hikes over the past few years that number is now likely closer to $50B. Perhaps unsurprisingly, water utilities report being unable to collect between 0.5% and 1.5% of billed revenues each year. To make the math simple, let’s assume that 1% of $50B in annual revenue is uncollectible which equals losses of $500 million each year.
Water utilities are increasingly evaluating new metering technologies to reduce non-revenue water, drive down operational costs of data collection, and gain greater visibility into meter asset health. From the utility’s perspective these are all sound business reasons for making what is often a substantial investment in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
But how do these investments help the residential customer? Are water prices reduced as a result of these utility cost reductions? Unfortunately not. Utilities have to recover the cost of these hardware investments and many districts are not generating sufficient revenue to cover their basic operational expenses, let alone enough to make long-term investments in new capital projects.
One of the other key benefits of AMI investments that utilities and meter vendors tout are improved levels of customer engagement. Real-time interval data from water meters provides greater visibility into water consumption patterns. This data stream allows utilities to identify … see more
United States Water Systems
The United States has a very unusual and fragmented network of water systems. There are over 150,000 water systems in the United States serving nearly 320 million Americans. That’s an average of roughly 2,000 individuals per utility. Clearly water fragmentation is a reality in this country.
The UK, by comparison, has only 32 regulated water utilities that serve a population of around 64 million which equates to approximately 2 million users per utility. Australia looks similarly consolidated with nearly 19 million people (out of a population of 23 million) served by just 82 water suppliers. This equals about 230,000 people per utility.
Over 286 million Americans get their tap water from a community water system. 8 percent of the community water systems—large municipal water systems—provide water to 82 percent of the US population.
There are several different types of water systems in the United … see more
As the dawn of 2016 emerges and we look forward to the year ahead, it’s instructive to engage in a little prognostication. While none of us claim the clairvoyance of Nostradamus, there are some clear trends that began to take hold in 2015 to inform our outlook on the top 5 water trends in the coming year. With that inelegant preamble behind us, let’s begin the soothsaying!How are the top forecast water trends of 2016 shaping up? Click To Tweet
- Up, Up, Up:
What’s going up? Well, nearly everything. As the globe continues to recover from the economic chaos beginning in late 2007, interest rates are slowly rising, increasing borrowing costs for needed infrastructure investments. Labor markets are tightening, making it harder to find qualified workers at affordable rates in the face of a spate of utility retirements. Water costs across the country are rising in many
So it appears that El Nino is nearly upon us. Or at least that’s what many pundits are predicting. Pacific ocean temperature levels have been rising and appear to be equivalent to those in the 1997-1998 period when we experienced the largest El Nino event on record which led to record precipitation throughout the Western United States.
While this will potentially bring much needed rain to drought stricken regions of the country, there are a number of factors that indicate both short and long-term challenges that our water delivery and treatment systems will continue to face.
In the short term, excessive precipitation will likely lead to mudslides and floods, particularly given the parched conditions that have persisted over the past four years. Extensive periods of drought and record wildfires have left charred, dry, and barren areas that make mudslides more likely. In addition, storm water overflows will impact … see more
Measuring changes in water consumption can be a tricky business. Most homes in the United States have only a single water meter that is read bi-monthly. This makes it challenging to determine changes in consumption patterns from period to period, or to identify what approaches to encouraging water-use efficiency are actually most effective.
As a water utility manager, this makes it hard to decide how to invest limited resources to improve operational efficiency, extend asset lifetimes, or better engage with customers. This is where the scientific method, and more specifically, scientific control, comes into play. The idea behind scientific control is to run an experiment that identifies the effect of a single (or independent) variable on a treatment group in comparison to a group that does not receive treatment (the control group). If the only difference between the treatment group and the control group is the independent variable, then … see more
The Value of Water Coalition is launching a national advocacy campaign today, Tuesday October 6th, called Imagine A Day Without Water. The goal of the campaign is to not only educate people about the value of water, but to drive changes in water use behavior to create more resilient and sustainable water systems for our collective future.
Here at WaterSmart, we thought for a long-time about what a day without water might look like, and how WaterSmart could contribute to the dialog in a unique manner that is consistent with our mission. What we ended up with is a slightly different take than what might be expected from the campaign topic.
For us, one of the most critical activities that we can embark on is to educate all classes of consumers on the value of water. Historically the cost, price, and value of water have not been … see more
Nearly every modern convenience is powered by electricity. We expect lights to immediately come on when we flick the switch and we always want our computers and mobile phones to boot up when we turn them on. If we don’t have access to power, our lives creep to a virtual halt. We can’t work. We can’t cook. We can’t do any of the things that we consider part of normal, modern day life. Energy powers our economy and is correlated with trillions of dollars in global economic activity. No wonder media organizations devote so many resources to covering the energy industry. It’s incredibly important. People need to know what is happening with energy production, consumption, and the impacts that energy has on our environment and our daily lives. It makes sense.
Well, what about water? It’s everywhere. It’s in streams, lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. It flows endlessly from our … see more