Plugging Up Holes: What Water Can Teach Us About Communication Flow

The potential of smart city technology is so vast that it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why Ken Thompson and his Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) action cluster are focused on city utility water losses. Thompson hopes channeling the conversation can provide more insight about the specific application of smart city technology and cross-departmental communications within two different US cities: Bellevue, Washington and Winnet County, Georgia. Through the GCTC, Thompson and his action cluster hope to work on solutions that other cities can deploy, in the future.

As current Chair of the Water Taskforce for the Water Smart Cities Council and a member of the Smart Water Network, Thompson and his team are working to create an overall architecture or “dashboard” through which all departments can share information and improve efficiencies.

“This is something most cities haven’t done,” Thompson said. “They typically look at one sector, like lighting, and it’s very siloed. The overall approach is to create an architecture that allows for inter-departmental sharing. That’s the foundational piece.”

The first module of the dashboard will be focused on water: how effectively the water system operates and how informed departments are when something happens. Information will be generated in real time and shared immediately with all relevant departments. By doing that, you lessen the impact on the customers in a city by being able to clean up the problem more quickly.

The project is currently in development phase. In the near future they will host a visioning workshop in which they will define three or four high impact water issues that would cross over multiple departments. Layered on top of the Microsoft architecture is an algorithm to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), provide spacial visualizations, and make the large amount of data consumable by the end user.

“Cities really only process about 10% of the data they collect, mostly because they don’t have the tools or staff to deal with it. This new platform saves them time and gives them more room to do something with the data,” Thompson said.

At the same time, across the US in Winnet County, Georgia, Thompson’s GCTC action cluster is working on a pilot program co-funded by AT&T and Qualcomm that will use sensors and advanced metering to manage city utility water losses. By understanding the root cause – whether leaks, breaks, or theft – cities can respond more quickly, reduce city costs, reduce costs to the customer, and conserve water resources.

Areas like Atlanta and the Winnet County area go through periods of long drought, a problem seen worldwide where losses can be upwards of 50-75%. This solution will take a section of the affected community, install advanced meter technology with all customers and pipeline pressure systems. It will bring in real-time information and overlay temperature data to see how changes influence usage.

“The idea is to look at holistically how water is being managed and what kind of anomalies are occurring,” Thompson said. “You can’t really talk about quality until you have a system that delivers water every day.”

Utilities worldwide are interested in the work being done in Winnet County, so the group hopes to exit pilot stage soon and begin working with the utility on a full-scale system.

Thompson and the teams in Bellevue and Winnet County see smart city advancement not only as an opportunity to plug literal holes but also to improve the flow of communication for city governments. In both pilots, they hope to begin working full-scale soon and to deploy their solutions to other interested cities in the US and internationally.