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Opinion Piece: Harnessing the power of big data, SaaS and analytics to reduce water loss

07 October 2016

By Eckart Zollner, Head of Business Development at Jasco

 

Water is a scarce resource, and conserving this resource is proving a challenge on a global scale. In South Africa, we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in over a century and water restrictions are being imposed in many areas in an attempt to ease the strain. How much water we use and when we can use it is something that municipalities are trying to monitor. However, almost 40% of municipal water supplied in South Africa is lost before it even reaches our taps, due to causes such as loss, theft, leakages and unmetered usage in homes and businesses. In a time when water needs to be carefully metered and controlled in order to stretch what we have, this is a very concerning figure. So how can technology help?

 

The current drought is creating more interest and investment in technology for water management than ever before, but progress is still only happening in small increments. South African municipalities are starting to take note of the more cutting edge technologies available to assist them, and are using some of them to measure how much water the dams are supplying versus how much of it is actually being billed for. Yet there are many more tools and technologies available such as big data, analytics and Software as a Service (SaaS) that can further assist to monitor and manage the use of water and potentially pinpoint where it is being lost or siphoned off, saving money as well as water.

 

There are cloud based SaaS solutions available which use proprietary algorithms and big data analytics to measure water flow and usage. Sensors are planted to track hydraulic flow and the rate of dam drainage. The software, which is programmed with up-to-date geographical information, measures trends based on location and typical use, then uses its capabilities to compare current and historic data. An alarm is triggered by any anomalies found, enabling municipalities to act proactively and with immediacy, to track, source and deal with whatever is causing the problem.

 

This solution can also be used for effective town planning and infrastructure upgrading. It can predict how much water an area will need, based on historical trends. Such a tool can assist with area growth and budget planning, reducing the waste of resources spent on water distribution, dams and sewage where they are not needed, and direct them to where they will be most beneficial. Where infrastructure needs to be upgraded, municipalities can plan more accurately, taking into account the area’s common water issues and predicted population growth as well.

 

An effective SaaS water management tool must be comprehensive. It will oversee and monitor the entire function of water management, from the actual water supply and tracking, to the teams who are in charge of maintaining proper water function. It should track response times, fix times, common issues, and more, enabling effective management of KPIs and assisting with managing customer expectations. It makes the best use of the available data coming from sensors and telemetry (which it also monitors) to provide an overall water management service.

 

Such solutions have been successfully implemented across the globe, in countries like Israel, Spain and Brazil, reducing water losses to as little as 10%. Where these solutions have been deployed, not only has water loss been minimised, but customer satisfaction is noticeably higher, thanks to better service delivery, a reduced number of service calls and markedly better efficiencies. The next step is to apply a similar solution across all utilities, reducing loss, theft and repetitive errors across the board, saving potentially millions in lost revenue and wastage.

 

It also doesn’t rely on a huge infrastructure investment or a need for space for servers and equipment. Being a cloud based service, there is no initial capital outlay as all equipment and infrastructure sits with the service provider. In order to maximise existing infrastructure, sensors, telemetry and data, municipalities and utility providers simply must ensure they use obtain their SaaS solution from a reputable partner who can take it into account. A service partner who understands the dynamics of delivering to a utility and the challenges of theft and illegal tapping.

 

With water sources being in danger of drying out and being completely depleted, it is essential that municipalities and utility providers utilise technologies that make use of all available data to reduce all unnecessary depletion. SaaS, through effective data analytics, and from the right service partner, can ensure this happens.