By Rhonda Landis
Advancements in security and technology help bring confidence — and a multitude of benefits — to remote, cloud-based utility monitoring.
The water industry has been restricted in its ability to modernize. But as we’ve seen in so many other mission-critical industries, new technologies can and are changing this for the better when they’re incorporated on a wide scale into everyday operations. The creation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), through cloud-based technologies, has given remote access and real-time insights into an industry where a number of tight regulations and premiums have made utilities question whether significant modernization can be made while achieving compliance.
This process is complex, and there is no single solution that can fix that, but the addition of cloud-based platforms that offer remote visibility and real-time manual data entry can simplify and streamline a portion of the process that has been time-consuming and prone to errors. While many utilities question the risk of incorporating cloud-based monitoring and manual data entry platforms, the results have shown that not using them could actually put you at greater risk for quality and operational issues.
Enhanced Visibility With Remote Monitoring
Part of the mission-critical nature of water utilities is ensuring water quality, mitigating issues as soon as possible, and proving due diligence to show that that the utility has taken the necessary action to preserve quality for the consumer. A portion of the monitoring process, limited solely to the control room in a water treatment plant, can be automated, but just because it’s automated doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.
Take, for example, the use of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). SCADA is the lifeblood of all automated water operations, acting as an information gateway with all data being sent through and pulled down from these systems. Millions of data points are sent through these systems daily, pulling from sensors that monitor water temperature, turbidity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and more. SCADA is great in a control room within a treatment plant where you have direct and constant access to the system, but to maintain constant visibility outside of these areas, a person must be logged into the control network via a virtual private network (VPN).
Issues can occur at any time, so having constant access is a must to stay in compliance. This is why remote visibility is so valuable and why more cloud-based monitoring technologies are now offering ways to gain visibility to select information without going through SCADA systems.
Cloud-based monitoring platforms now offer what historically only a VPN could provide — secure access to critical data. Without it, the team won’t know what or where issues are coming from. Because it works around the SCADA system, cloud-based monitoring platforms can be customized to monitor, analyze, and organize the data so that it gives clear directives to team members on what issues may exist and what they need to take care of. Quick identification and preventative action can be prioritized and taken before issues escalate to a point where they need to be reported.
Areas Of Transformation
This remote access to the data extends its benefits beyond the water treatment plant into efforts for manual data entry and intelligent alarming. Manual chemical testing and reporting remain a part of the compliance process, and the process of testing multiple remote sites — with limited or no internet connectivity — and reporting this data manually are inefficient but necessary evils.
Cloud technology is transforming the manual data entry process, eliminating unnecessary steps that can delay access to data. The first area of transformation is in the devices and tools that can be used. In place of paper reports, phones and tablets can now be used to record all chemical level tests. Even without internet connectivity, data can be stored until there is a connection to send information through to the system. This is useful for many reasons, the first being minimized human error when copying reports, the second being the amount of time saved not duplicating data, and the third being the ability to immediately receive alert notifications when issues occur without waiting for further analysis.
The second area of transformation is the ability to provide intelligent alerts that flag complex conditions and compliance issues. In some cases, these are typos that can be easily resolved, but for others it could indicate that certain chemicals are too high or low. These alerts can now be sent immediately and directly to the people or team that needs to resolve it, helping them prioritize and focus on what the issue is and where it exists.
Remote visibility through these platforms comes with a bonus benefit — easy and fast visibility for government agencies. Allowing government agencies direct access to the necessary information, without any additional effort, provides critical information to everyone who requires it — on water quality, drought conditions, and environmental concerns.
The water industry has started to make use of these IoT cloud-based approaches without compromising security or changing its standard operating procedures. Transforming these procedures to advanced remote visibility, integrated data entry, and intelligent notifications to meet compliance and regulatory requirements is driving higher levels of both operational performance and quality assurance. The adoption of IoT is now transforming your work with the tools you use every day. The impact is higher quality, operational efficiency, and, most importantly, the health and safety of everyone.
About The Author
As VP of operations, Rhonda Landis is responsible for all operations and customer success at FacilityConneX www.facilityconnex.com. Previously, she led AutomaTech’s services organization and held several senior engineering roles at GE Intelligent Platforms (formerly GE Fanuc).