Words On Water #91: Jim Cooper on Demystifying Intelligent Water
Got word. This episode is brought to you by Arkadiusz the leading global design and consultancy firm for natural and built assets. Visit WWW dot Arkadiusz dot com. Hi, welcome to words on water. A podcast from the water environment federation, this is the host Travis loop tons of talk in the water sector about intelligent water systems about our digital age, just what this all means for water. So I'm very excited to be joined by Jim Cooper. He's the intelligent water systems lead at our Kadish Jim. How're you doing great? Great. How are you Travis? I'm doing well as we prepared for this conversation. I ended up writing down a lot of questions for you 'cause there's, there's just so much going on in this area. So I look forward to, to going over all this with you. Let's start someplace. I guess somewhat simple. What does this phrase intelligent water mean to you? Sure. That, that's a great question. Right. We live in this very unique time of change within the water sector. You know, we're seeing rapid growth of smart devices. Converging IT, and OT and really practical application of some previously, untapped capabilities such as machine learning and computer vision, and in broader terms. Right, artificial intelligence. So within this environment of change. Right. Intelligent, water's, really the how that we go from the condition that most utilities are in today to a future state. And when we're operating more sustainably, that's very interesting. I like that. It's, it's the means to this to this end here, I'm really interested in, and we talked about this in preparing a little bit, the idea that the water sector is just in this phase of massive data collection. But needing figure out like what are the next steps to then using this data, and I wanted to get your thoughts on that. It's an and is that where the water sector is? And is the next step really figuring out? Out what to do with all this data? That's now being collected. Sure. And I think we're definitely in what I'll call a transition period. Right. We were passed the period of data collection just because we can. Right. Because the sensor technology and communication technologies out there, and we're not quite at that period. Will we are fully utilizing the data and really getting not only the greatest business value out of specific data point? But also having that data best empower the workforce to make the best decisions possible. We live in this connected world. There's supposed to be over five hundred billion connected devices by twenty thirty. Right. So, so this is all here in happening, and we're in that that transition period right now while I mean, a lot of good stuff there. But that fact about five hundred billion he said correct connected devices, I mean, that's exponential outnumbers the people on the planet. So that's amazing. Is the water sector searching for direction when it comes to some of those things, you mentioned artificial intelligence machine learning or is it that they don't believe that that's really a near term reality are is the water sector scared to make the leap to, to those platforms. What's your, what's your Cessna? Yeah. I love to talk about a with specifically within the water sector. I've heard even recently from for multiple utilities throughout the US that there are a number of startups knocking on their door ready to apply technologies and improve the utility in many different ways. I mean going back to twenty fifteen there's twenty eight product launches alone for digital technologies within the water sector. So it's here in it's happening today, often a lot of the conversations around these really advanced technologies are in the context of. I being this black box, right? And you know, breaking news is NADA blackbox in most cases. So my hope is that through our research utilities can better understand what is how it can be used. And what's the value of beginning to use it today, rather than twenty years from, now into Tanzer, the second part of that question, right? Is, is it really near term reality? So there's an industry expert from Google that believes the AI will transform the water industry over the next twenty years, and the same way that the internet has transformed our sector in the past twenty years. So if you and I were having this discussion twenty years ago, I think would probably say that the internet may may not have an impact on the water sector, right? We're in the business of treating water yet today. Everyone has a smartphone. And on average, we use every few minutes throughout the day, and can even get notifications when processes, don't go as intended, or, you know, if there's anything that we need to. Attend to directly to our smartphones. Yeah. That's very interesting. Wow. I that is cool to look back twenty some years. And, and what did we think about the internet then and what it was gonna mean? Well, you might have to have a web page for your for your till it or something. But it certainly has ton much more than that a little side question about artificial intelligence people hear this phrase, and probably have a whole range of definitions, they put on it or in envision it in different ways like all the way to, you know, robots and all this kind of stuff, maybe that's why it's a black box. But what is, what is artificial intelligence really in one of the more common questions that, that surround the advanced in the lyrics topic within the water sector. Right. I often hear people use the term machine learning interchangeably with artificial intelligence. When really machine learning is an example of one aspect of artificial intelligence. Right. But that true meaning of artificial intelligence is not only the learning aspect, but also the sensing reasoning and engaging aspects pointing those all together provides an artificial intelligence environment, and where even today, we're kind of in this narrow AI where it's very specific to address one problem and in the future, as we become more human Centric, and really brought in that definition. We can leverage in really expand, how I can be used what's in the water sector. Okay. That's that's helpful for me to my understanding of it as well. You know, you mentioned how are Kadish is really looking at these issues and really done some research and, and put together a report on demystifying intelligent water. Why is that then a focus for you? I mean the. Trends within the water sector. And then when I referred to the water sector, I refer to, you know, water utilities, wastewater utilities, stormwater, the these really are, are things that we need to pay attention to right. If you look at the Awa state of the water industry report from last year, you know, water and sewer rates are increasing faster than flation. The state of the water sector is declining water demand is declining as well. So you have rates increasing and demand declining with great driven models. And we, we really have this, this broad front of these acute, and chronic stressors that are really requiring improve resilient. So it really comes down to affordability and resilience, but at the end of the day, it's really all about the people. Right. It's about our workforce, and more importantly, the customers for the water utilities. We're at this critical juncture it sounds like we've got some big challenges, you mentioned a few. But we've also got you know, the impacts of climate. Change. And we've got, you know, workforce needs in terms of numbers and skill set. And so intelligent water is a really important area for the water sector to leverage right now as we're facing all these challenges. Right. Right. You know there's, there's another statistic only twenty one percent of utilities feel they're able to fully cover the cost of providing water today. That's a pretty scary number in our experience. Right application of intelligent water and actually having projects in getting meaningful results really provides that a ha moment for utilities, right where they can reality funds in orders of magnitude greater than they once thought they could wait. Let's, let's talk about that a little more about Kennedy affordability that you mentioned and what role can intelligent water play in making. Water more affordable for for people. Sure. So, so let's just kind of contextualized that affordability topic. Right. The US municipal utilities, manage one point two five trillion dollars of assets for water wastewater, and stormwater. Many of those assets are at or near than of their useful life. So we've heard the topic of asset management being a very popular one recently. And when you can apply those intelligent water technologies are research has shown that utilities throughout the US can save over seventeen billion dollars on there s s just within the next decade by applying those technologies. So it's really about making what you have is utility not only more affordable to your customers, but really just understanding from the customer point of view what we need to do in understanding that we have to change. Order to be sustainable financially a decade from now. Can you give an example of how intelligent water could be applied to realize some kind of cost savings or something? And I think asset management is one area where that's really big. Right. You know, we could talk for for days on specific examples, but one that I like to really talk about is thinking about a, an operator a frontline operator at a treatment facility, right? We today we, we live in this world where we're going beyond the Dida driven and really looking at dashboards and trying to extract some insight in real time from our processes. So we have many titties out there that are developing dashboards based on their processes to look at performance. And look at ways they can improve optimize. Right. But I haven't heard a single utility that's willing to allow a cloud-based AAI to actually make changes. To the process. Right. So we have this, you know, how can we actually use this technology? How can we apply? How can we make a financial change or improvement when we have issues like cyber security, which can't be ignored and really? That's when you take the perspective of applying a an operator, or human Centric, focused on a I right? Then you have this all of a sudden, you have this operator, or human within the loop so that the operator can, then see. Oh, hey. I can save you know, so many dollars by changing this specific operation for the next four hours while on here. Right. And those little things. Oh, small steps over time can make us substantial difference in the financial impacts for that you till the AI side of things and predictive analytics, you know, we talked about a little affordability. How do you play that to, to resilience to utilities resilience? How how can they I and Anna? Politics play into that side of things when we talk about resilience right? There's absolutely two primary areas. Right. We have those acute shocks, which are often what come to mind when people think about utility resilience, and then we have the, the chronic stressors which are things like workforce, right? So if you apply predictive analytics to a utility, it's pretty easy to see how that can really positively impact your rebound from acute, shocks, right from when a large hurricane hit, Houston over the past year. Right. They, they said that they physically could not access some of their facilities, right? But being able to be connected from there and adapt to the, you know, the changing conditions and bounce back from them, they were able to do that. Because they had technology in place to do, so that's that's amazing. At I member. I actually had the chance to go down to Houston, and talked to some of those operators, and they talked. Very much about that, about not being able to get an oscilloscope inhabited to work on things remotely amazing which kind of leads me to one of the big questions, not just in the water workforce, but in the broad overall workforce, and that's, you know, technology artificial intelligence all this digitisation going on how much is that going to replace actual workers. That's a big question. I know. But yeah, absolutely. In one that as you start to get into more mature discussions about a I it's absolutely at the center of, of the discussions right in. It's forget reason, it's really easy to think about machines, taking over jobs, being replaced by technology. And, you know, of course, the some degree technology is going to impact the roles we have. But it's not going to replace many of our roles. Right. Actually a workforce, that's enabled by today's technology will be immensely more valuable to an organization in the future than workforce without that technology. So when we talk about machines, replacing humans, I think it's much more of a human's becoming more valuable to an organization based on that technology. Interesting, one of the things that I've phrases, I've heard and heard from you is collective intelligence. What does that mean? Sure. So the topic of in general measuring intelligence in groups of things as well researched. We know that the measure of intelligence of any specific group, it could. Could be a group of subject matter experts in a conference room or could be a group of supercomputers in the server facility. Right. Any of the intelligence of any one of those groups alone doesn't come close to the measure of intelligence when you have those people, plus machines and technology, collectively working together. Right. So that's, that's what collective intelligence is. I'm sure you've heard of the, the analytics maturity model where you go from descriptive. Analytics to diagnostic predictive, and prescriptive, right, yet, we often, we think of AI is the highest level of analytics today, but I really believe in the water sector the power of collective intelligence or see. I is that step beyond were that people plus technology, collectively can make the best decisions and really are necessary to make those decisions as we move forward for the next decade. You know that leads me to this idea that, you know, the possibility that a tech focused future, where we're obviously. Very much headed can still be human Centric. And I think that's something that, that you all at our Kadish have kinda really explored in this in this report of your so 'cause you talk about that idea of tech, focus future, being human Centric. Sure. So there's a number of Zambales, how a tech focused future can really be human Centric, you know, the on the very basic level rate, giving people opportunities to develop right to attract and retain the workforce of the future. Right. That's an unnecessary operating principle of utility. Right. So really having a, a human focused approach to that to adopting, those technologies can can help build your workforce, but it goes much deeper than that, right? There's customer relationships and having that, you know instead of having a negative call of a customer calling utility to complain. They have a very high water Bill because they had a break, right? The, the utility can then be, you know, foot that over and call the customer saying, hey, you, you have unusual usage. Right. You might have a break. Let's try to solve this before you have a large Bill, but, you know, often hear the term of data driven decisions. Right. And you know, we're gonna move data driven decisions, and I really think we're beyond that, right? And I talked about dashboards earlier and maybe going from data driven to dashboard driven decisions or incite driven decisions, but it's really it's really much deeper than that, right? The, the water sector is really people driven no matter how you look at it. And what's changing is the way that people are empowered by technology. So that's the future, and it's absolutely a human Centric future, when it's understanding really people that drive our sector in the technology that empowers them is changing in advancing. So collectively you have that greater ability in intelligence to make decisions where would you say, we are in this transition to intelligent water, given the technology will all L is changes in will probably always change. I guess, never ending transition. But where are we in that process? And do you think that we're gonna see some real quick leap, or quick shift or is it going to be more of like a gradual long-term volition to incorporating all this? What, what's your thoughts? Sure. So I believe we were right at the tipping point for intelligent water, where the early adopters are reaping. The benefits everyone starting to see that in the majority of utilities are now beginning their journey to adopting intelligent water technology right in a lot of the data within our research supports that both from the research provided by Bluefield and by American waterworks and others. Some really excited to dive into that. And provide some of those details in our research. Yeah. Interesting. Well, so it's like that it's that curve that bell curve right where you have the early adopters and then after that comes of much bigger Shung of the curve that gets on board with, with that behavior change. Yeah. Exactly. That's the, the Rogers curve in typically when amassed on that question I try to draw that and kinda show where we're right at the tipping point of, of the, you know, the concepts been proven. And now everyone's ready to go. Adoptive say you think over the next like three to five years. They'll be a big surge. Yeah. It's it's hard to put a timeframe to it and into the second part of your question. Right. It's, it's definitely a long-term journey. Right. So every utility, their timeframe is different. But the critical aspect of that today is self awareness and mapping where you are. Are on that curve. Right. And looking at, you know, where do we need to be in three to five years, or maybe ten to twenty years? And what's the technology that's going to get us there? And what's our plan, right? What's our digital strategic plan to get their share a couple other things that jumped out at me. And the report that I really would like to get your take on as is this idea of a fit for future utility. I I'd like the sound of that. But I wonder if you could explain it a little bit more. You know, we talk about just an organizational health and asset fitness bringing altogether. That's really the how we define fit for future. Right. It's applying in concepts for work for million with our health right to the organization in fitness to our assets and bring that all together. And you know, it's really preparing the workforce, and the operations for empowering digital innovation, and preparing the organization to remain human Centric, and really. Focus on the customer experience. More than we have in the past. Okay. Okay. And you, you also talk about the idea that, you know, water utilities, don't just exist in Soleil, Shen. They're very much a part of the community. And as we see cities kind of going under this the same transformation trying to become smart cities, that what are you tilles have a role to play there? And I wonder if you could could talk about that, if we looked into the past, you know, rarely is water disgusting smart cities, but that's definitely changing. It's I think it's changing for two reasons as utilities implement digital technology such as am. I earn advanced metering, right? It really provides that foundation of abroad, sensor network abroad, indication that work throughout the city, and that can be leveraged by many other initiatives in the censoring commute. Location that works are very core to developing a smart city, second is cities really understand in value. The one water concept, right? That measurement and capture of water throughout the urban water cycles, really embedded with an intelligent water system. So, I think as both these initiatives, smart city and intelligent water mature. It's going to very clearly align, and be merged with many different in many different ways. I mean I see lots of articles and social media churn on on smart city. So there's definitely a lot of momentum on that front. I guess last question for you. There's, there's a lot going on and intelligent water. All these different aspects. We talked about. I think it can be daunting dizzying to utility figuring out kinda where to go. And I'm wondering if you had what your advice would be to utility. Who's kinda looking to guess take the take the first step or the or the, the big step into intelligent water? What, what would you recommend that they do as a starting point? The starting point is the self-awareness right in. I've heard basically two opinions viewpoints from utilities, one is, we want to adopt technology that solves our problems. So we should start with identifying what our greatest challenges are today and then figure out how technology can improve those right? And then the, the opposing viewpoint is we don't fully understand what our problems are, so what's implement advanced technology like a I right? And it can help identify then solve what our problems are. So it really comes down to moving forward. Right. And that's the first step that you need to take knowing that, that first step may be different. For very Tila, these, right? You if we sit here and think, oh, this is great. Absolutely. See the value, but artillery is going to implement this after we all retire. There's a significant loss value there. But that's a common discussion that happens. Sure. Sure. Absolutely. Jim tons of good information here. And I think the report from our Kadish lays out, these issues in a very thoughtful way that people can benefit from taking a look at we could go on and on into any of these angles for awhile, but I appreciate the time and, and the perspective, absolutely. Thanks for your time Travis. Word. Water.