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Future Forward: Utilize Data to Create Performance Intelligence

Todd Danielson on September 30, 2021 - in Articles, Profile

These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.

Gary Wong is AVEVA industry principal for Infrastructure and Water.

Gary Wong sometimes hears customers and engineering firms in the water industry complain that they have too much data. He feels, however, that you can never have too much data; it’s really about being able to manage data to start making sense and use of it.

“It’s really important to be able to manage data and provide context around it so we can drive smarter decisions based on data and information,” he notes. “I think we can do a lot more with the data, not only by managing it better, but by sharing data amongst other stakeholders.”

This is no easy task, but in an era of climate change and continuous difficulties in supplying and managing water assets, it’s the best way to be truly successful.

Too Wet or Too Dry

With water customers all over the world, AVEVA has seen all sides of a changing climate. Wong points to two examples that have seen the opposite effects of flooding and drought.

The Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) faces major issues with hurricanes and storms, so it uses technology and data in its emergency operations center to create real-time situational awareness during hurricane events to predict how that hurricane is going to impact and affect it.

“It’s really about mitigating risk,” says Wong. “They can move around backup generators, and they know the fuel levels so they know how long they can operate. This allows JEA to get people where they need to be without guesswork, and they can see exactly what’s happening in real time.”

On the flip side of weather patterns is Sabesp, Brazil’s state-run sanitation utility, which provides water and wastewater services to about 28 million people. A few years ago, explains Wong, they had severe drought issues and had to figure out where and when to deliver water given the lack of resources.

“They leveraged our technologies to monitor things in real-time or near-real-time to figure out exactly where and when to deliver the water available in the various regions, and they posted this information online,” he notes. “They needed to turn off water at times, but they let people know in advance. At the same time, they were able to improve their energy efficiency.”

Such technological transparency allowed the utility to reduce energy consumption as well as increase customer satisfaction rates by more than 20 percent during a very difficult situation.

Fighting Toxic Algal Blooms

Another consequence of warming water is toxic algal blooms. For example, in 2018 the city of Salem, Ore., experienced a toxic algal bloom and had to issue a boil-water advisory for its drinking water. Never wanting to experience such troubles again, the city leveraged technology to be able to forecast two weeks into the future to determine the probabilities of an algal bloom developing and if it will contain harmful cyanotoxins.

“They take a lot of data from different sources, including the weather data,” explains Wong. “They measure things like dissolved oxygen, temperature of the water, turbidity. This pontoon sits out in their lake and measures about eight different parameters. They bring that data into the cloud, and they’re working with a local university to use artificial intelligence to then go through that data to make these predictions.”

Advice for Engineers

“Engineering firms and engineers really need to look for a strong digital partner, organizations that understand the industry and also how digital transformation works and the value that can be obtained from that,” adds Wong.

He also believes the industry needs to have more sensors in more locations, some of which can be fairly remote. It’s also important to have software that can manage the data and provide analytics and visualizations to make smarter decisions.

“I think we can do a lot more with the data, not only by managing it better, but by sharing that data amongst other stakeholders,” says Wong. “If you look at smart cities—our infrastructure and data centers and all these buildings—there’s a lot of stakeholders involved.”


This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview by visiting bit.ly/3nK4gGq

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About Todd Danielson

Todd Danielson has been in trade technology media for more than 20 years, now the editorial director for V1 Media and all of its publications: Informed Infrastructure, Earth Imaging Journal, Sensors & Systems, Asian Surveying & Mapping, and the video news portal GeoSpatial Stream.

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