Water utilities around the world are counting on advanced technology to provide enhanced data collection in order to serve customers better. In a recent interview with Badger Meter’s Director of Utility Marketing John Fillinger, we discuss technology’s impact today. Portions of this interview were used for an article that will appear in the December 2014 issue of Water Technology entitled, “Trends impacting municipalities and customers into 2015.”
WT: Over the past five years, in your opinion, what has been the most significant product development in the industrial/municipal markets?
John Fillinger: For the municipal markets, this is more of a general statement, technology [overall] is being more widely accepted by utility markets. [For instance,] the introduction of what we will call electronic meters, [which are] meters that have no moving parts, maintain their accuracy over the life of the meter and are better at capturing low flows and leaks. [Another example is] the introduction of what we would call cellular endpoints that utilize the existing infrastructure — the cellular infrastructure that’s already in place allowing utilities to do what they do best, which is being a water utility versus having to manage the infrastructure and the software that comes with the system to provide all the data and information both back to the utility and to the end customer.
WT: Looking ahead to the next five to 10 years, what technologies do you think and/or hope will be developed or improved upon to render substantial impacts in this industry and why?
JF: I am going to continue to go down the path of software being an important piece [to] manage solutions for utilities. Everybody is looking to do more with less; and as utilities continue to evolve, having a managed solution will allow them to concentrate on what they do best, which is being a water utility. Taking advantage of the power that software provides will allow them to provide better customer service, data back to their end water consumers and build that partnership that they currently don’t have with the end water consumer, to provide timely information and notification that they have a potential leak or a problem in an account.
Today, when you look at a system, if they are reading it by a mobile technology they may be reaching out and reading data once every 30, 60 or 90 days; well now having information available to them on a daily basis in hourly increments allows the utility to understand exactly what is going on at that person’s premise. [Now they are notified] when something does occur that is out of the ordinary on a timely basis so they — the customer — can take the appropriate steps to fix the leaky toilet or to fix a problem that may be occurring within their system; so they are not getting a large bill and being upset by it after the fact.
WT: In your opinion, what factors and/or challenges have pushed for the need of new development or improvements in products and technologies within the water industry overall?
JF: First and foremost when you look at water utilities, [they] don’t have a lot of what we will call, “high infrastructure points,” to be able to deploy a fixed network system. In a lot of cases, utilities have to pay for the expense to run electricity to put up the traditional gateways that go up with an AMI system. All those things lead utilities into areas where they’re not comfortable or they don’t have work competencies.
With that said, an infrastructure free or managed solution allows the utility to go ahead and get started and not have to manage these pieces. Overall when you look at it, the AMI systems have become more complex overtime. And utilities, typically when they have a system installed, tend to gravitate towards the things that we will say are the “lowest hanging fruit.” In a lot of cases the software becomes so complex that they are unable to use it.
So our approach has been to develop a rich, user-environment, software package that is easy to use but has all the power built behind it. Then, by us managing it, we can help a utility run and optimize a system’s performance through online education and through things that we can do to help prod a utility into becoming more efficient.
WT: What are some of the top environmental or cost-related messages dealers should be stressing in 2015 to sell new, more effective and efficient water treatment technologies?
JF: Well, again going back to our approach to markets, we are looking at a managed solution approach for utilities. So what that allows the utility to do is to deploy a system, not have to deploy the hardware that is needed for supporting the software, so the servers are no longer having to be purchased by the utility or maintained. The infrastructure goes away.
[Therefore,] the utilities no longer have to put up the gateways and locations to be able to bring back the readings. So their upfront cost is much less than it would be if they were putting in a traditional system. So what does that mean for the utility?
Well if they are looking at two competing projects, an AMI system and let’s say a treatment plant, do they have the resources to do both? If they are looking at a traditional AMI system, that upfront expense is significantly more; and they might not have the resources to do both projects. But by deploying a managed solution allowing that cost to be spread out over the life of the system, the utility now has the funds that they can do multiple projects. And again, not have to hire that dedicated staff or that dedicated person to manage the system that they would have, if they had put in a proprietary system where they were responsible for managing the gateways and the software itself. So, in essence, allowing the utilities to get more from their system with less upfront expense and complication would be the best way to answer that.
John Fillinger is the director of Utility Marketing at Badger Meter and has nearly 20 years of experience in the water industry. Throughout his career with Badger Meter, Fillinger has assumed roles in technical support, training and marketing.