Water Management and Big Data

water-big-dataWe recently came across an announcement[3] that Tetra Tech, a global $2.7 billion engineering and consulting company with headquarters in Pasadena, has acquired Indus ¾ a Virginia-based company with core capabilities in data mining and management, cloud and mobility. Founded 22 years ago, Indus has extensive expertise in the water and environment sectors. For example, working in cooperation with the EPA, Indus has developed a hydrology database that pulls in information from the U.S. Geological Survey and EPA into a geospatial framework. “It is the only data set that defines all the bodies of water in the United States,” said Shiv Krishnan, Indus founder and, until the acquisition, its CEO and chairman.

Leslie Shoemaker, president of Tetra Tech’s water, environment and infrastructure business group, explained that Tetra needed more of the IT and analytics work that Indus brings because the use of data for water management has increased as has the ability to analyze larger and larger data sets. According to Krishnan and Shoemaker, data and information will play an increasingly large role in how water is managed both nationally and globally.

The clear consensus among key opinion leaders is that data analytics is an efficient, inexpensive way to improve water management strategies. After all, the sensors are already in place and streams of data are available. As one columnist writes: “…finding new efficiencies simply requires bringing together disparate data sources and looking at the integrated data from a new perspective”.[1] (our emphasis)

Life experience generally teaches us that nothing is “simple”. From the report of the 2015 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum[3] we can get some fascinating insights into the promise and challenges of 21st century water management:

  • The democratization of water data: Much has been written about the streams of water data being generated by always-connected IoT devices, such as smart water meters. Apparently, however, a relatively new and rich source of valuable water data is crowdsourcing. Over the past decade, the growth of GIS-enabled web applications, online data entry systems and smart phones have made it possible for citizens to generate quality data on an unprecedented scale and in a cost-effecive manner. When data collected by the public is effectively integrated into water management systems, local and regional water utilities are better equipped to face the current challenges in public and private sector water management.
  • The emergence of water data specialists: Due to their general lack of capital, undeveloped IT systems, and slow uptake of technologies, water utilities are not the ideal entities to manage water data or to convert them into actionable information. Hence the emergence of third-party data collection and analytics service providers who integrate and visualize the data to help the water utilities reduce NRW losses, pro-actively maintain infrastructures and achieve economies of scale.
  • The need for standardization: Key to making big data actionable is integrating data that is being generated by a wide range of diverse sources: individuals; local, regional and national water authorities; research institutes; meteorological stations; etc. A lot of data that are already available are only just beginning to be aggregated and organized, and such aggregation requires common data standards, which are lacking in the water sector.

It is not surprising, therefore, that engineering and consulting firms active in the water sector, such as Tetrus Tech, are seeking out the data collection and analytic capabilities of companies like Indus. We believe that there will be more announcements like this over the coming years, as the water management sector embraces the brave new world of big data.

References

[1] Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, Using Data Analytics to Improve Water Management, December 2014
[2] Data Intelligence For 21st Century Water Management A Report From The 2015 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum
[3] Nick Wakeman, Tetra Tech buys Indus in move to bolster smart water strategy, March 14, 2016


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