Cloud-based applications are providing water utilities with more resilient and flexible network management options, enabling them to make better use of existing data, writes Josh Britton, global product manager at technology specialist Ovarro.
The water sector is under continued pressure to make operations more efficient but in many cases, ageing IT systems are holding back progress. With budget constraints meaning the replacement of all legacy systems is not an option, advancements in cloud-based analytics tools are providing cost-effective operational enhancements in areas such leak detection and alarm system management.
Technology provider Ovarro is working in partnership with several UK water utilities to develop software tools that enables them to gain clearer insights into what is happening on their water and wastewater networks. In many cases the new tools are utilising data that has already been captured, but which previously had not been streamlined or managed effectively.
My Ovarro colleague Alan Cunningham, a subject matter expert, explains: “A lot of our water company clients talk about being data rich, information poor. They’re collecting vast amounts of data out in the field from various devices, such as remote terminal units, leak detection loggers and sewer level monitors, but they don’t have the tools to allow them to see the wood for the trees.
“If they can better use what is already being collected, they will be able to manage their operations far more efficiently without the expenditure of replacing legacy assets.
“A supplier could launch a fantastic piece of technology but if a customer needs to invest heavily in capex products to see the benefits it might not be a big seller. If they can take information that already exists and see historical patterns, that becomes more powerful.”
One example of this is AlarmVision, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application that presents real-time dashboards, which analyse the stream of alarms coming into a water company control room from its telemetry system. SaaS applications are cloud-based and can be accessed via any device with an internet connection, as opposed to a software product that is entirely installed on a device or network.
AlarmVision dashboards give a measure of control over alarms, based on internationally-recognised key performance indicators and allow action to be taken to help operators maintain or gain control. The ability to gain real-time or backwards-looking analysis of how the control room is operating against the standards gives insight into whether there is a risk of critical alarms being missed.
Operators can also identify the root cause of the largest proportion of alarms being generated on their system – for example, a faulty pump at a site could be causing 10% of total alarms on a given day. This gives water companies and municipalities insight that they can action to prioritise resources.
One example would be during a weather event, when sewer levels are high everywhere, and a high number of alarms are coming into the control room – in essence, an alarm flood. One of those alarms could be flagging up a critical problem.
A pump may have stopped, a serious pollution could be occurring, there might be a water supply issue. Missing any of those alarms because they are swamped by the nuisance alarms could be catastrophic for customers, the environment and the company, leading to penalties or prosecutions.
If the insights provided by AlarmVision have enabled a control room to already take action on the network to reduce the noise – the nuisance alarms – they far less likely to miss the most important alerts. When all the noise goes quiet, there is a chance to see what is real versus what is nuisance.
Looking ahead, Ovarro’s next-generation analytics tools are also being designed as SaaS programmes to reduce customer costs in configuration, maintenance, support and upgrade. While are developing additional functionalities to add to AlarmVision, Ovarro’s end goal is to remove alarms from the equation.
We want to enable water companies to be fully predictive and are looking at how an alarm can be predicted before it becomes an alarm and move companies from a reactive model to a proactive model. That is where we want to take this alarm management system in the future and that is the direction the sector needs to be moving in.
More information about AlarmVision can be found at: Ovarro.com/AlarmVision