Benefits of a managed solution approach for water utilities
By Kristie Anderson
While there have been many changes in water metering products and technologies over the years, the primary objective of water utilities has remained the same: delivering high-quality water to their customers. Other important objectives include efficiently operating the water delivery system and providing accurate, responsive customer service.
To help achieve these objectives, many water utilities are deploying “smart” water systems that include smart meters, data and analytics, and meter data management systems. These new technologies provide valuable benefits including improved efficiency, faster leak detection, better revenue management and easier reporting. However, they can also present utilities with a new set of operational challenges, particularly in the areas of communications infrastructure management and the IT resources needed for software and hardware support.
With a managed solution approach, the metering vendor assumes responsibility for managing the communications network and hosting the secure software. Utilities can benefit from enhanced analytics-based reporting and decision-making capabilities, while focusing on what they do best: operating their utility and serving their customers.
Features of a Managed Solution
The key components of a managed solution include:
- Complete infrastructure management services
- Ability to keep current with rapid changes in technology
- Hosted cloud-based software service suites
- Built-in customer service tools
In a provider-managed, cloud-based system, the solutions provider assumes the responsibility for operation and maintenance of the system beyond the meters and meter communications endpoints. The managed solution model is a flexible approach that reduces the number of resources required to operate and maintain the meter reading system, freeing personnel to support other areas of the utility’s operations. The utility can also optimize staff time and save money by setting alerts that help to monitor potential problems and determine when to roll a truck and when not to.
For many utilities, web-based software services as part of a managed solution model have become a viable alternative to investing in server-based meter data management systems. The benefits of cloud-based platforms include:
- Quick to deploy
- No hardware to purchase
- Experts maintain the system so utilities can focus on their core competency
- Automatically implemented software updates
- Rapid elasticity or expansion capability as the utility’s needs change
- Subscription pricing provides a pay-as-you-go option
Cloud-based software services make it easier and less costly for utilities to build and manage their IT resources. The software applications are hosted by the solutions vendor in secure data centers, eliminating the need to install and maintain computer hardware and software at the utility. All that is needed to access the software is a personal computer with a web browser. Software improvements are automatically updated by the solutions provider, with the cost included in the base subscription.
Newer cellular-based communications products can eliminate the need for the utility to own any communications infrastructure at all. Cellular endpoints rely on existing cellular networks, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for traditional network infrastructure, such as gateways. Because of their flexibility, cellular endpoints can be deployed rapidly and meet virtually every application need, from targeted implementations to full-scale rollouts.
In summary, the managed solution approach enables water utilities to “future proof” their water metering infrastructure and data management systems, while at the same time enabling utility managers to better understand, monitor and manage their water delivery system.