Last week TaKaDu was included in a European press tour, with journalists coming from Southern, Central and Eastern Europe.
We were beginning to settle down in the TaKaDu “Living Room”. It is a central area with IKEA sofas, a large screen and a couple of coffee tables, with company employee childhood pictures on the wall (can you guess who’s who?). I was wondering what kind of questions we should expect. The journalists we met were mostly generalists – not the technology/cleantech coverage people we typically meet, nor people that have worked for many years in the water utility trade press.
Explaining advanced technology concepts to non-technical people is always a challenge, especially for a software-based technology company. It only gets more complex when a company creates a new category – in our case, Water Infrastructure Monitoring, and when the company sets its vision on solving a problem most people aren’t aware of – managing the water distribution network. After all, few people spend their lives in the operations of a water utility. In such meetings, the Frequently Asked Questions often pinpoint novel ways of looking at the problem and highlight questions that were not deeply considered before.
I was wondering whether Haggai‘s descriptions of the underlying statistical algorithms will make sense to them, especially when he gets to explaining how we help utilities narrow down the location of a water loss event. But what captured their attention was something else: the aging water infrastructure. The whole room nodded when Guy spoke about old pipes and pipe replacement challenges. You can read his post about the same subject.
A German journalist put his hand up. He had a question. If local governments orcities were smart enough, he said, they wouldn’t fall into the trap of investing just in schools or parks. They would replace pipes ahead of time. They wouldn’t need water infrastructure monitoring, because they could just invest their funds in pulling the old pipes out of the ground and replacing them with new pipes that won’t be leak and burst prone. We thought it was a great thought-provoking question, and since the answer drives at the core of what water infrastructure monitoring is about, we’ve decided to blog about the answer.
First of all, old pipes aren’t neccesarily bad pipes. Yes, a victorian pipe may act more like a sieve that a pipe for water transportation, but conceivably, a younger part of the water infrastructure can be leaky due to other reasons. Efficient replacement doesn’t mean replacing pipes in the FIFO (First In, First Out method), not neccesarily.
More importantly, water infrastructure monitoring isn’t about dealing with aged water distrbution assets. It’s about the overall state of the network — for instance, since water distribution, transportation and production are energy intensive, detecting a malfunctioning reservoir, pump or PRV can make a huge difference. When water infrastructure monitoring is applied, maintenance and repair operations are radically affected. Pipes are no longer replaced in the FIFO method; repair results can be measured and tracked. In many cases, we’ve heard utilities telling us about assuming they fixed the an issue with a pipe, and then getting another call from a customer pointing out that they had fixed a problem, but not the one they originally got a report about.
The bottom line is that smart water isn’t about a software work-around a thorny asset age issue (a multi billion dollar issue). Smart water is about applying the same smarts we use to manage new networks, such as electricity, IT or telecommunication networks. It is about applying the same logic of detecting and alerting upon anomalies to the management of a network that has been with us since antiquity.