Water Online Radio: Sensus Goes ‘Beyond The Meter'
Doug McCall and Linda Palmer join Water Online Radio to discuss the wealth of information utilities can gather from a smart water network, as well as the company’s move from bronze to composites.
Todd Schnick: We're coming to you live from Dallas, Texas. This is day three of AWWA ACE 2012 and Water Online Radio. I'm your host Todd Schnick, joined by my colleague Todd Youngblood. Todd, we're up for a long battle with this dynamic duo. I'm looking forward to it.
Todd Youngblood: Duo's are always more fun, don't you think?
Todd Schnick: Oh, absolutely.
Todd Youngblood: I mean, you get the going back and forth. Let's see if we can get them to argue with one another. Maybe we could have that happen. That would be a lot more fun. I want to welcome these guys. I want to say hello to Linda Palmer, who's a Corporate Communications Manager with Sensus, and Doug McCall, who is the Marketing Director of Sensus. Welcome to the show, guys.
Doug: You guys are welcome.
Linda: Thank you very much. Good to be here.
Todd Youngblood: It's our pleasure. Let me start with you. Tell us a little about you and your background.
Linda: Well, I'm really a professional storyteller. Some people, when they ask me, "What is it that you do"? I'll say, "Well, I work in the gift-wrapping department." I take company stories, their attributes, their differentiators, their customers' stories, and I gift wrap them.
Todd Schnick: I'll be darned.
Todd Youngblood: Doug, tell us about your background.
Doug: Displaced engineer through a few lost bets, I’ve been in sales, and now in marketing. So I guess the next step is the door. In all seriousness, I look after water; I've been in the water/electricity/gas utility business for the past 15 years or so.
Todd Schnick: Outstanding. Linda, tell us about Sensus. What do you guys do in helping to serve your market?
Linda: I think if you look at the 50,000-foot level, Sensus is a utility infrastructure company. They have products and solutions that help electric, water, and gas utilities. Those solutions include metrology, communications systems, software, and services.
Todd Youngblood: Doug, when I hear the term “smart water networks,” that makes me scratch my head a little bit. Give us the reformed engineer’s definition of a smart water network.
Doug: Sure. It’s a great question. If you just take a step back – I'm not going to bore you guys with the facts and figures because you've probably been doing this all day and are tired of hearing them – bottom line is that, either through water stress, regulation, or general availability of water worldwide in the spinning infrastructure that's coming, utilities are no longer asking themselves "if" these changes are coming, but now they're starting to ask themselves "how" these changes are going to come and how they are going to affect the way they operate their water utility.
To that end, Sensus is providing our customers today with smart water networks to help them understand exactly what's going on throughout their water utility infrastructure, so when those changes do come they're prepared to take advantage of technology to solve the problems.
Todd Youngblood: What kind of data is getting collected? I mean, what are they looking at and what do they do with it?
Doug: For starters, it's all about the service connection where the water utility’s product that they're selling actually is delivered to the consumer. That's the first place that we begin looking at, through billing customer service aspects, consumption, leak notification for consumers.
From there we start working backwards up the water utility infrastructure, start looking at things way beyond that service connection in terms of pressure, system water quality, things of that nature and so on.
Todd Schnick: Linda, why is the collection and the "making sense of this data" so important to utilities?
Linda: Utilities are collecting this information about their system, about their customers, and how they're using water. What they need to do is analyze the data and have the data presented to them in kind of bite-sized pieces. It can be a little bit overwhelming. They need a tool that's going to be able to help them select custom reports for looking at their system, and also reports that are going to help the customer know what their usage is, know – when it's applicable – what their rates are.
Some utilities are looking at tiered rates, so it's going to cost more at a different time than another time or whatever. It helps the customer know things like when they can water their lawn or when they can't, if there are difficulties with water availability, that sort of thing.
The other thing that utilities sometimes need to know is what's going on in a particular district or component of their system. All this sort of information is going to come in. And that's in addition to just how much water are people using for the building purposes. This goes beyond the meter. We talk a lot about what's important about beyond the meter.
Todd Schnick: I like that. Beyond the meter.
Todd Youngblood: Sounds like a movie.
Linda: It might still be. Anyway, this information, again, comes in and it can be overwhelming for utilities. They need something that can help organize it, where they have a visual interface that makes sense, and where they can use some of the data to make intelligent decisions on planning, on their infrastructure planning, and on where they want to help their customers and how they want with the engagement with the customer.
Not only is the communication system – the technology – two-way, but what this allows to happen is that the conversation becomes two-way between the customer and the utility, and that's different. It's not just sticking something in your bill, a bill stuffer that says, "Hope you have great day…and P.S., only water on Tuesdays." It's taking it way beyond that.
Todd Youngblood: I've got another question for our recovering engineer. Talk a little bit about metrology, why that's important and some of the trends.
Doug: So we've seen tremendous changes through technology here in just the past three or four years on the metrology side of the equation.
They're touching endpoints, hardware, the physical layer out in the field, business processes that haven't really been changed in 100/150 years, so it's quite radical the way these water utilities are now looking at everything from their infrastructure to the amount of lead that's contained in that infrastructure, particularly at the metering in-points, pipes, valves, etc.
And with the new regulations coming along, obviously the lead content is going down and continues to go down. At Sensus what we've done, is along with the technology portfolio that we're offering to the market, we've also made a strategic business decision to go in the direction of composite materials in all of our meters.
So we're end-of-lifing legacy meters that have been around for 50 years and really putting a stake in the ground and telling our customers that we now have composites that are stronger than the traditional bronze meters and more accurate than the meters.
Todd Schnick: Doug, let's go back up to your 50,000 feet, look down on the water industry, and what do you see as big, important trends coming down the pike the next three to five years?
Doug: I would say it's all about information. As I said before, water utilities have operated in a set pattern for 150 years, and all of a sudden they're starting to realize that there is technology out there that can make them so much smarter about the decisions that they make on a daily basis
You're seeing these water utilities that invest in a smart network, and maybe they’re doing something real simple on Day One like just getting the metering data, just getting consumption, using it for billing, improving customer service, but then when you sit down and start talking to them you see their minds start to turn a little bit.
"You know, could I use the network to maybe start monitoring this aspect? What can I do for my leak situation that I've got going on? Hey, let's start looking at pressure zones and seeing how we can do some mass balancing of the entire network."
So it's really exciting when you see these customers, particularly the ones that have gone with Sensus, get into the technology and all of a sudden start to realize, “I can do this so much better than I did it before. I can do it so much smarter. I can do it so much cheaper.” So on and so forth.
Todd Schnick: Guys, I hate to say it but we're out of time. Before I let you go, I need to know how to get in touch with you guys. Doug, let’s start with you; how do people get in touch with you?
Doug: Well, of course everyone can go to www.Sensus.com and find all the information there on Sensus, what we do, our solutions and services that we offer. Myself, I'm doug.mccall@Sensus.com.
Todd Schnick: Linda, how can people find you?
Linda: They can find me on the website as well. If you go to the news section, I'm listed there as a media contact. Or if you want to just go ahead and type in an e-mail, its linda.palmer@Sensus.com.
Todd Schnick: All right, Linda Palmer, master storyteller and Corporate Communications Manager with Sensus, Doug McCall, Marketing Director with Sensus, it was great to have you guys. Thank you so much for making time to join us.
Doug: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Linda: Thank you. It was very good.
Todd Schnick: That wraps our segment. On behalf of our guests Linda Palmer and Doug McCall, my co-host Todd Youngblood, all of us at Water Online, I'm Todd Schnick. We'll be right back with our next guests.