(In part 2 of this post we review additional benefits and challenges of an MDM and what ideal technology solution best suits water industry needs):
Benefit and Challenge 2: Interoperability
Electric utilities have a large number of data systems (as many as 12+) that require metering information. Getting access to all this data is no small feat (see diagram below).
The National Rural Electric Coop Association (catering to utilities under 300k endpoints) has developed a standard for meter data system interoperability known as MultiSpeak. From the MultiSpeak About page:
The MultiSpeak Specification is a key industry-wide standard for realizing the potential of enterprise application interoperability. The MultiSpeak Specification is the most widely applied de facto standard in North America pertaining to distribution utilities and all portions of vertically-integrated utilities except generation and power marketing.
Unfortunately, the water utility industry has no equivalent initiative to MultiSpeak. Without a standard, system … see more
(In part 1 of this two part post, we look at the history of meter data management systems and how they apply to the water industry):
Water Meter Data Management: To sink or SWIM?
The role of a Meter Data Management System (MDMS) is not well defined within the water industry. Many products on the market claim to provide MDM functionality, but few people understand the value of what these systems offer. To understand how this confusion has come about and what can be done to address data management needs in the water industry, we need to first examine the evolution of the MDM.
A Brief History of the MDMS
In the late 1990’s, the electric industry pioneered the concept of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), recognizing a need for more frequent and accurate meter data. However, this emerging meter information occasionally delivered anomalistic or missing data, and an MDMS was … see more
Total Customer Engagement is an amorphous concept that is difficult to define or quantify. Depending on the nature of a given business, engagement may be described using language such as touches, opens, responses, clicks, registrations, reach, shares, influence, views, or other nebulous terms. This language leaves organizations ill-equipped to define and measure the impact and benefits of communicating with customers in a wide-range of situations.
For the water industry in particular, a century of silent service has created an aversion to engaging with customers. Complaints from customers on high bills, boil notices, and service outages created the impression that less engagement with customers was preferable. Now that customers are always connected with digital devices and real-time notifications from nearly every common service provider (electric, mobile phone, internet, cable, etc.), the bar for more interactive and flexible tools has risen dramatically. Given the history of the water industry, it … see more
Cotati, California is a bedroom community of 7,500 residents located in Sonoma County about 45 miles north of San Francisco. As a progressive, forward thinking municipality, the city has a long standing ethic of water efficiency and in 2011 contracted with WaterSmart Software to deploy a water report program to better educate residence on their water spend and ways to become increasingly efficient to save money. Along with this engagement program WaterSmart provided Cotati with a customer portal where end-users could view their consumption and better understand their water use. While this was a great benefit to customers, the city was still manually reading water meters every other month. This meant that information that was presented in the water reports and portal was only updated every 60 days, which limited the level of engagement with end-use customers.
The city remained interested in increasing customer engagement and further improving water efficiency … see more
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