IBM Puts Smart Water Systems on Tap

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-01-13

IBM Puts Smart Water Systems on Tap

In a recent speech in London, IBM Chairman, President and CEO Sam Palmisano laid out IBM's vision of the next decade as the decade of the smarter systems. Among the many areas IBM is focusing on to enable a smarter planet is smart water management.

In his Jan. 12 speech at the Chatham House in London, Palmisano said:

"By a smarter planet, we mean that intelligence is being infused into the systems and processes that enable services to be delivered; physical goods to be developed, manufactured, bought and sold; everything from people and money to oil, water and electrons to move; and billions of people to work and live."

Yet, despite water being viewed as cheap and abundant, due to existing water management systems, one in five people on the planet do not have adequate access to safe, clean drinking water, IBM said.

However, the total amount of water on this planet has not changed, but the nature of that water is constantly changing. Everything from where rain falls to the chemical makeup of the oceans is in flux, IBM said. Thus, IBM's efforts are aimed at preserving and protecting clean water for drinking, bathing, electric power, industrial manufacturing, food and the irrigation of crops.

Particularly, during the winter season and holidays, the combination of cold weather and more home cooking makes this time of the year a high-risk season for sewage overflows and leaky pipes. Many water and sewage infrastructures date back to the 1800s and early 1900s, and are overwhelmed by the fats, oils and grease poured in kitchen sinks or other drains, which can cause blockages in city sewer lines, resulting in overflows that pollute the environment. Smarter systems of the type Palmisano describes can help to prevent such problems.

According to Lux Research, better information about water usage will save utilities money, make water management more efficient and provide one of the simplest solutions to the problem of water scarcity.  In fact, Lux estimates that the market for water IT will reach $16.3 billion by 2020.

Analytics, Asset Management

Indeed, to be truly efficient, water utilities and treatment plants need real-time management and analytics systems to track the condition of each critical component, or "asset," including water pumps, valves, collection pipes and electrical equipment, so that potential problems such as a burst water main or a sewage overflow can be quickly identified and resolved.

IBM analytical software gives maintenance and operations staff a view of all assets across the utility to help prevent potential water emergencies. And IBM systems tap geospatial data to show exactly where that asset is on a map while describing its condition, cost and maintenance history.

Software lies at the heart of these systems. IBM's acquisition of MRO Software in 2006 enhanced Big Blue's decades-long work in the rail, water and other vertical industries by adding asset management capabilities. IBM attained MRO's Maximo asset management software in that acquisition, and Maximo is a key component of IBM's Smarter Planet initiatives because it helps organizations track each and every asset across their enterprises-spanning both physical and IT assets, IBM officials said.

Smart Water System: DC


Smart Water System: DC

As part of its Smart Water initiative, IBM in November 2009 announced that it and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC WASA) have been working together to modernize the management of the aging water and sewer infrastructure beneath the nation's capital. The sprawling infrastructure includes hundreds of thousands of assets such as water distribution pipes, valves, public fire hydrants, collection pipes, man holes and water meters, IBM said.

IBM's Global Business Services and Research units started the collaboration with DC WASA to integrate advanced analytics with asset management software from IBM and a mapping application from ESRI, an IBM business partner. IBM said the availability of real-time, map-based information and geo-analytics will help DC WASA engineers identify potential problems before they occur. This can be done by analyzing an enormous amount of data and uncovering patterns related to weather conditions, water use and hundreds of other variables, the company said.

"The work of water relies heavily on our ability to monitor our infrastructure," said George Hawkins, general manager of DC WASA. "We can now manage almost every component from central, computer-based systems. Our collaboration with IBM will help us streamline our workload and serve our customers better."

IBM said the new preventative measures, including converting to automated meter readers, have substantially reduced billing-related customer calls. And a future benefit of the project is that it will enable dispatchers to deploy crews based on where they are working and what areas need service. The system will also enable DC WASA to share and exchange data both internally for planning purposes and externally to assist other agencies, such as sharing real-time status of the more than 9,000 public hydrants in DC with the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Based on data from the IBM Maximo software, the hydrant status and water flow capacity of each hydrant can be mapped and seen by the fire department via Google Earth. And as firefighters rush to the scene of a fire, they will know in advance the level of water flow to expect out of the hydrants in the vicinity.

"Our work with IBM has allowed our assets to communicate with us-and we're doing more than just listening, we're taking action," said Mujib Lodhi, CIO of DC WASA, in a statement. "Using IBM software, we're able to deploy our crews faster, which is key when there's water on the road or customers are without service. For day-to-day maintenance, the IBM software helps us to coordinate and plan our crews weeks ahead so we can work much more efficiently."

IBM said its project with DC WASA is part of the company's first-of-a-kind (FOAK) program, which pairs IBM's scientists with clients to explore how emerging technologies can solve real-world business problems.

DC WASA uses IBM's asset management software to manage all the wastewater treatment equipment, the water and sewer infrastructure at the Departments of Water and Sewer Services, the water quality issues maintained by the Water Quality Division, and permit plan reviews and developer permitting, IBM said. In addition, IBM officials said DC WASA's overall Enterprise Asset Management System is a combination of IBM Tivoli Maximo Enterprise Asset Management software and ESRI ArcGIS enterprise GIS (Geographic Information System) software.

DC WASA provides drinking water, wastewater collection and treatment to more than 500,000 residential, commercial and governmental customers in the District of Columbia, and also collects and treats wastewater for Montgomery and Prince Georges counties in Maryland and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.

Smart Water Systems Worldwide


Smart Water Systems Worldwide

Also last November, IBM announced that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is using IBM software to reduce the complexity and costs of managing the utility's resources and services, which span across more than 36,800 square miles and 58 counties in Central and South Texas, serving more than 2.2 million residents.

Using IBM Maximo Asset Management software along with IBM business partner Syclo's SMART Mobile Suite for Maximo, LCRA was able to consolidate asset information into one repository and integrate it with inventory, accounting and labor information to help staff identify issues before outages occur, accurately predict future resource needs and generate up-to-the-minute reports, IBM said.

LCRA used the IBM Maximo Mobile suite of software-including IBM Maximo Mobile Work Manager SE, IBM Maximo Mobile Inventory Manager SE and IBM Maximo Auditor SE-to mobilize its employees in the field and automate manual processes.

In another example of IBM technology at work in water management systems in the United States, Big Blue announced last summer that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is using IBM software to help reduce pollution in the water that surrounds the city on three sides-the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

The SFPUC, which treats an average of 80 million to 90 million gallons of wastewater per day during dry weather and up to 370 million gallons of combined wastewater and storm runoff per day during the rainy season, is using the IBM software to develop smarter management of the city's 1,000 miles of sewer systems and three treatment facilities, IBM said.

"Using the IBM Maximo Asset Management software, problems are often solved within 24 hours," said Tommy Moala, assistant general manager of the SFPUC Wastewater Enterprise, in a statement. "But the real value of the IBM software is the information it gathers so that we can help further reduce water pollution. For example, with some work order histories generated from the IBM software, we can see that we've rebuilt a pump, say, 10 times-maybe it's time to replace it. The software also helps us to reduce the cost of managing the system down to the component level."

Examples of IBM Smart Water initiatives overseas include a recent $14.5 million agreement with Power and Water Corporation of Sydney, Australia, to help design and implement an asset management system aimed at delivering electricity, water and sewerage services to its customers more efficiently.

IBM also announced that Japan's Fukuoka District Waterworks Agency is using IBM software for a new system designed to increase the availability of usable water supply and improve water quality across eight cities, eight towns and Kasuga-Nakagawa Waterworks Agency in Japan. The software will help the agency in its efforts to treat and purify water at some locations and to desalinate water at others.

Oracle Seizes the Moment


Oracle Seizes the Moment

Not to be outdone in what could become a big market for IT vendors supplying technology for smart systems, Oracle has released a report on smart water management and the need for smart metering technologies.

On Jan. 11, Oracle announced the results of its report titled "Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities," which surveyed more than 1,200 water consumers and 300 water utility managers in the United States and Canada to examine water utility managers' perception of, and future plans for, smart meter technology, including benefits and potential obstacles, and water consumers' perception of their water use, motivations for conservation and what they feel they need from their water utilities.

"Smart grid and smart metering has received a lot of buzz in recent months-with electric utilities receiving most of the spotlight," said Stephan Scholl, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Utilities. "However, water utilities also face aging infrastructures, sustainability challenges and customer demand for better service. Oracle's -Testing the Water' report indicates that while water utilities realize that smart meter technologies can have a big impact on their business, there is a greater need to focus on consumer education and communication. Smart meter technologies can produce the actionable data required to provide consumers with information they can use to make smarter decisions about water consumption."

According to the Oracle report, 76 percent of consumers said they are concerned about the need to conserve water in their community, 69 percent of consumers said they believe they could reduce their personal water use, and 71 percent of consumers said they believe having access to detailed usage data would encourage them to take steps to lower water use.

As for water utility managers, 73 percent said their utility actively promotes water conservation. And 68 percent said they believe it is critical that water utilities adopt smart meter technologies, but only one-third said they are currently considering or implementing smart meter technologies.

Moreover, when asked to select the top two most significant benefits of smart meter technology deployment, water utility managers cited enabling early leak detection as the biggest benefit, followed by supplying customers with tools to monitor or reduce water use. The managers said the top two roadblocks to greater implementation of smart metering systems are lack of cost recovery or measurable return on investment, and upfront utility expenses.

"At Las Vegas Valley Water District, we have learned that providing consumers with useful information about conservation really does drive behavior change," said Alisa Mann, customer services manager for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, in a statement. "The -Testing the Water' report provides important data on the challenges and benefits associated with implementing smart meter technologies. Cost is an enormous factor, but many water utilities fail to see the huge impact smart meter technologies can have on their bottom line. It's not just about reducing truck rolls-it's about helping customers make better choices and improving efficiency throughout the business." 

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