Evoqua Water Technologies is a 100-plus-year-old company that has reinvented itself for the digital age. A provider of water purification solutions to 90 percent of the Fortune 500, Evoqua is using Microsoft Azure advanced analytics to transform field-equipment data into valuable insights for customers. This is helping Evoqua evolve from a supplier of water purification gear to a premium provider of water intelligence. Evoqua utilizes this same data intelligence throughout its organization; in particular, its field service team uses data-driven insights in combination with Microsoft Dynamics 365 to recommend new services while onsite with customers. In short, these new cloud tools are helping Evoqua do a better job than ever of taking the worry out of water.
Evoqua Water Technologies indirectly affects the water used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. It provides water purification and management solutions—filtrations, separation, disinfection, technologies, and service—used by 70 percent of US municipalities, 90 percent of the largest US chemical companies, 85 percent of pharmaceutical companies, the world’s largest food and beverage companies, and 60 percent of US Navy vessels.
Although Evoqua is a 100-plus-year-old company, in 2014 it suddenly felt like a newborn. The company had been acquired by Siemens years before but was divested in 2014. With the divestiture, Evoqua lost many of the corporate IT services that Siemens had provided and needed to stand on its own two feet, so to speak. “We were a billion-dollar startup,” says David Szweda, Vice President of Service Operations at Evoqua Water Technologies.
The good news is that Evoqua wasn’t saddled by “legacy baggage,” as Szweda calls it—old applications and infrastructure that bound it to slow, traditional ways of doing things. Instead, Evoqua management decided to use the opportunity to leapfrog into the digital age—jump into the cloud, use commercial software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions wherever possible, and get out of the business of owning and running datacenters.
The goal was to use modern technology—especially data analytics—as a competitive differentiator in an increasingly commoditized business. “Instead of being a commodity provider of water purification gear, we want to provide a premium service that provides more value to customers,” Szweda says.
For example, instead of taking readings on customer water flow once a day, Evoqua wanted to take them continuously and surface that data to customers in a real-time dashboard. Instead of sending a service technician to a customer site to replace a failed part, it wanted to monitor the part and detect signs of potential failure so that a service tech could replace the part before it failed.
“Our vision is to be the world’s first choice for water solutions, and we want to use data to do a better job of this,” Szweda says. “We also want to use operational data to improve customer focus and reduce costs across the organization. Being our customers’ trusted water partner required a new emphasis on data intelligence.”
To expand its data intelligence, Evoqua turned to Microsoft. “We felt that Microsoft had the only business cloud platform that we could be confident would still be here in 50 years,” says Szweda. “Microsoft had Azure infrastructure and analytics services, Power BI for data visualization, Dynamics 365 for managing customer and field data, and Office 365 for productivity. It had everything we needed in one cloud.”
Evoqua had a Microsoft Exchange Server email system and an older Microsoft Dynamics customer relationship management (CRM) system. By going with Microsoft, Evoqua could continue to use these applications as it transitioned gradually into the cloud. “Microsoft has the best hybrid cloud story out there,” Szweda says. “We kept our email on-premises for awhile as we rolled out Office 365, and we realized licensing efficiencies as we moved into Dynamics 365 and spun up Azure Virtual Machines. We like where Microsoft is going with the cloud and how committed it is to its customers being successful.”
Evoqua worked with CEI and Microsoft Services consultants to first build a technology foundation for gathering real-time data from Evoqua equipment installed at customer sites. The company will rely on existing sensors on some installed gear, will retrofit other equipment with additional sensors, and is adding next-generation sensors to all its new equipment. The result will be thousands of data points pouring into Evoqua every minute from equipment all over the globe.
In brief, field device data comes into Azure, where it’s added to a central data repository and analyzed in real time by Azure HDInsight. From there the data is placed in Azure SQL Data Warehouse, where it’s available for business intelligence queries and graphical insight delivery using Power BI Embedded.
Evoqua estimates that its entire cloud journey will take a while, but even in a little over a year, it had made significant strides. By May of 2017, it already had all 5,000 employees using Office 365 for communications and collaboration, and it had a good start on its field data infrastructure. In addition, the company had set up key line-of-business applications in Azure and had created a customer portal in Azure. “It’s amazing that in just 16 months, a billion-dollar company moved all its key business systems into the cloud,” Manukonda says. “I attribute this to the great local support we had from Microsoft and to how easy the technology is to use.”
At the same time it’s setting up shop in the cloud, Evoqua is adopting a DevOps, microservices-based development paradigm to speed software development and promote code portability and resuse. It is also using the Xamarin framework to create an Azure-hosted mobile app for field service people and, later, customers.
By pulling data from its entire water landscape, Evoqua will be able to gain insights on the performance of all its equipment, compare each customer’s equipment performance to the larger group’s, and pass insights and recommendations onto customers. For example, it will be able to see if a filter is purifying water at the correct rate, if there’s a leak, or if a part is performing below par. Evoqua can provide customers with reports on how much water they cleaned before and after installing Evoqua equipment or suggest changes to the purification process to maximize output.
“Our Azure-based data intelligence helps us differentiate ourselves from the competition,” Szweda says. “We are transforming into a premium water solutions company that helps customers solve problems before they happen and head and shoulders beyond what any competitors can provide.”
Data-driven intelligence helps customers understand their water usage and challenges better, but it also helps Evoqua direct customers to the right equipment for their challenges. “There are obvious benefits to Evoqua in going down this path, but the real benefit is offering our customers a service that provides true value to them,” Szweda says. “Our focus is on providing better service to customers, minimizing disruption to their water flow, and building a long-term future with them.”
The customer portal mentioned earlier (built using Azure Web Apps and Power BI) will provide customers with a wider view of their relationship with Evoqua. There, they’ll be able to view real-time dashboards on the health, flow rate, and other metrics related to their Evoqua systems; see field service records; place an order; view order history; and much more.
Previously, Evoqua field service technicians had Android-based tablets that they used to access documentation and make notes after service calls. But those calls were for the most part reactive and transactional: something broke, Evoqua dispatched a tech, the tech drove to the customer site, made the repair, and drove away. Also, different Evoqua divisions supported the same customer and used different systems, so customer data was scattered among them, and service techs couldn’t present a unified face to the customer.
Evoqua worked with eLogic, a Microsoft Dynamics Partner of the Year, to deploy Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales and Dynamics 365 for Field Service as its single, central CRM and field service solution. It replaced the older Android tablets with ruggedized Panasonic Toughbooks running the Windows 10 operating system. With a full computer, rather than a tablet, at hand, techs can enter service data directly into Dynamics 365 from customer sites, walk through the service call with the customer in show-and-tell fashion, and email the report to the customer—giving the customer greater visibility into what Evoqua is doing for them during service calls.
The service tech may recommend ordering an upgraded part and even create a sales lead in Dynamics 365 for the local account representative. “We want to invest in relationships with our customers and propel our service techs into a premium space,” Szweda says. “Our service techs often know more about a customer’s water than anyone at Evoqua or even the customer themselves. We want them to have the data they need to add real value and deepen the relationship.” Evoqua spent a great deal of time training its techs for this higher-value, relationship-building work and compensates them for sales leads they generate on selling new equipment.
Encouraging techs to record customer data in Dynamics 365 also helps Evoqua capture information that used to reside on stray pieces of paper and in people’s heads. Now, when people retire or leave the company, Evoqua retains their knowledge and has it in one place where everyone can access it.
Evoqua is also reducing service costs with automated dispatching enabled by Dynamics 365. Instead of making service call assignments based on a supervisor picking the technician, the system will allow Evoqua to make assignments based on tech location, expertise, training, and other factors, because everything the tech needs to know is recorded in Dynamics 365. Of course, Dynamics 365 is smart enough to know if only five techs have the expertise needed to service a particular piece of equipment and will find the one closest to the need. “Automated dispatching will reduce service costs and allow us to respond to our customer in a more efficient manner,” Szweda says.
Evoqua is getting industry recognition for its data-driven field service innovations. Business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan recently recognized Evoqua for having the best field service organization in the water industry as judged by rapid decision-making in the field, strong customer interactions, high levels of responsiveness, and employees that are empowered to solve problems through frictionless collaboration. The company’s new data-driven approach will take that leadership position to even higher levels.
Evoqua will drive the same data intelligence it provides customers into all operational departments, from sales to product development, finance, and R&D. “With Azure data intelligence, we can know more about our customers’ water and become their trusted water advisor, helping them increase operational reliability and reduce operating cost, not just an equipment supplier,” Szweda says.
The sales team will have the data needed to identify customers that have not purchased from Evoqua in awhile and discover the nature of the last Evoqua contact. An operations team will be able to examine data on regenerated tanks and discover why some tanks show more wear than others. Is it the water in a particular region, or do we need to improve a manufacturing process? With better data, Evoqua can find answers to such questions.
Better data will also help Evoqua continuously refine and improve its product designs. It can discover flaws that cause failures or features that aren’t used and can be eliminated to reduce manufacturing costs. “We currently don’t have the data to make those kinds of decisions, and because we have such a wide range of products, it’s impossible to create standard rules for improvement,” Szweda says. “We need data to make product and market-specific differentiations and improvements, and our Azure infrastructure gives us that data.”
Automated service tech dispatching, improved product designs, and lower manufacturing costs will yield savings across the board. In addition, running applications in Azure and taking advantage of Microsoft licensing efficiencies has netted Evoqua a cool $2.5 million in annual savings—a 10 percent budget reduction.
Last but not least, having its IT infrastructure in the cloud helps Evoqua integrate acquisitions faster and thus grow faster. “We are growing by acquisition and struggle to get new employees online and productive quickly,” Szweda says. “By giving them Office 365 accounts and migrating their business workloads into Azure Virtual Machines, we’re able to get acquisitions onto our office systems within 30 days after signing the deal, which is ridiculously fast.”