I recently spent two days among colleagues from a broad range of water utilities at an amazing peer-to-peer conference of the California Water Efficiency Partnership (CalWEP). The assembled group discussed water innovation and exhibited many classic traits of high performing teams:
- Commitment to a common mission
- Dedication to their jobs and to the group over long periods (10-30 years)
- Welcoming of new participants
- Diversity across ages, backgrounds and cultures
- Collaborative spirit fostered by natural, non-competitive monopolies
CalWEP’s mission is to drive water innovation and adoption of new technologies. These market transformations will make our state more sustainable in the face of rapidly rising populations and increasing variable water supply. For the past 40 years, CalWEP (and its predecessor organization, the California Urban Water Conservation Council) has enabled California to largely meet its drinking water supply needs through successful adoption of new technologies, practices, and behaviors. The result has been… see more
Only a quarter of consumers today feel that their utility is connecting the dots for them—that the utility is properly informing them about how much energy and water they use, and then correlating that use to both its environmental and economic impact on the consumer.Only 25% of consumers feel that their water utility informs them about their resource usage. Click To Tweet
On the other side of the coin, less than half of utility executives feel that their organization is equipped to deal with the massive amounts of data* collected by today’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and smart metering systems.
So, what is a water provider to do in the age of IoT, armed with an abundance of smart metering and sensor data but facing less-than-satisfied customer sentiment about how that information is used? How can we connect consumers with the information they crave?
Over the next 20 years, the U.S. water utility industry needs to make trillion dollar infrastructure investments to maintain the service reliability and quality that citizens have come to expect. These investments will ultimately be financed and paid for by ratepayers, which presents a new challenge for water utilities trying to increase customer satisfaction and build support for these massive investments. The most successful water utilities recognize that asking customers to pay for large-scale investments is much easier when ratepayers understand and value the services they receive. Fortunately, there are proven, cost-effective solutions that water utilities can deploy to begin to build support immediately.77% of Americans own a smartphone and 86% of Americans are on social media Click To Tweet
- Embrace multi-channel customer engagement
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
How to Maintain Infrastructure Without Compromising Affordability
There’s a lot we don’t agree on; however, there’s one thing we can all say is true—everyone deserves access to clean water. Drinking water and wastewater utilities have taken on the responsibility of providing clean drinking water and to uphold public health standards in neighborhoods and communities. Unfortunately, there’s always a trade off: utilities have to invest in a variety of innovative technologies and infrastructure to ensure they are up to date with current drinking water standards. In order to pay for these investments, utilities typically rely on customer revenues, which can raise another problem—affordability.
Why Are Water Rates Rising?
According to Circle of Blue’s annual water pricing survey, the average monthly water utility bill for a household using 50-100 gallons per person per day rose nearly six percent in 30 major U.S. cities in 2015 and continues to increase in 2016. … see more
Choosing a cloud service provider that offers true information security can be a daunting task. In addition to building new external partnerships, you may find yourself evangelizing different ways of working within your organization, new ways of contracting, or find yourself managing unfamiliar projects that emerge from data provided from your service provider. Additionally, you will inevitably change the way your organization considers risk through the sharing of data with a third party.
Minimizing risk means choosing a partner that takes information security very seriously. Many cloud providers are quite good at security—after all, the success of their business may depend on it. Other providers are not as diligent with their security management and thus may not be a great match for your company, depending on your appetite for risk.
Information Security covers a broad range of topics including physical security, network security, application security, access security, transit security, and … 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.
An Unexpected Surprise
I recently picked up an out-of-town guest at the airport after a long day at work, and we arrived at my apartment late in the evening, around 9pm. My guest happened to see a big piece of paper attached to the mailbox with blue painters tape. I expected that it was an election flyer, so I pulled it off and found the light switch for the porch. Stepping inside, I looked at the notice. It said that my water had been shut off.
I rent an apartment, and I have never seen a water bill. I tried to recall the lease terms – I was pretty sure that the building owner paid for water service. I read the fine print on the notice that indicated water service would be restored if I paid in person at the main office during business hours the next day. However, … see more