Using the power of Big Data


Everywhere you look, you find data. There is data from invoices, storage records and delivery records. There is data from millions of machines: sensors, meters, smartphones, CC TV cameras, industrial machines and endless gizmos. Then there is social data coming from Facebook likes, tweets, youtube views and more. There is data about data. As the world gets “smarter” with more collection of data, it is also getting more cluttered.

However, it is also becoming evident that Big Data (as large and complex datasets are called) has tremendous potential to boost sales, increase efficiency, and improve operations, customer service and risk management. Early adopters of Big Data analytics are already reaching new standards with amazing ease.

Traditionally, the water sector has been slow in both gathering and analysing data, when compared to the power sector. However, the better-run water utilities have been monitoring and evaluating all kinds of data regarding the operations and performance of physical and mechanical systems. SCADA systems are being used for continuous reporting on processes. Many utilities have invested in asset management systems that store large amounts of data to assist with the maintenance, repair and replacement of system components and equipment. On the customer-side of operations, advanced metering systems have contributed to improved billing.

Over and above all this, in the past few years, remarkable breakthroughs are enabling the combination of data streams from myriad sources and their analysis in ingenious ways to produce useful insights and actionable outcomes. Whether it is prevention of bursts in pipelines or pollution in rivers or even just saving costs by improving the reliability of urban water distribution, Big Data technologies are offering an entirely new framework for managing water infrastructure.

Smart sensors, smart meters, wireless communication networks coupled with Big Data technologies have given utilities a way to reduce leaks, to conduct accurate billing, to improve customer satisfaction and to reduce O&M costs in the long run. Reducing water losses is helping not just to conserve water but also energy, another critical resource. Ever since the reduction of non-revenue water in distribution networks became a talking point, the interest in smart water networks is growing, especially in North America and Australia. Meanwhile, Singapore is busy completing the installation of a smart monitoring system across its entire drinking water supply network by 2015.

The possibilities are endless. One of New Zealand’s largest water producers has created such a reliable data system that it transparently shares information with the public via a live map. It has rolled out a solution to track system-wide chemical and power usage, resulting in an optimised control system so business managers can leverage information and maximise budget value.

The Netherlands has launched the Digital Delta last year, which provides water experts with a real-time dashboard to harness information so it can be shared immediately across organisations. This intelligent, cloud-based system will enable different agencies in the Netherlands to determine the best course of action for say storing water, or diverting it from low-lying areas, avoiding saltwater intrusion into drinking water, or sewage overflows and water contamination. Even as citizens go about their daily activities, this super-smart application of Big Data analytics is silently saving them from disasters.

The Asian water sector needs to ride this new wave. In the decades ahead, more institutions are likely to work in integrated ways thanks to the benefits offered by Big Data analytics. We can look forward to a time when the speed of feedback, the reliability of predictions and range of operational flexibility will make urban infrastructure truly smart.

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