What are information silos and why do they affect water/wastewater so much? Tim Harrison of SolutionsPT investigates.

An information silo occurs when you have two (or more) different systems running side by side that relate to the same overall process or piece of equipment/asset.

Each system is providing information relating to that process/asset independently but lacks the ability to contextualise information from the other system(s) in a meaningful way.

 A simple example could be a CCTV system trained at a pumping station asset at a water/wastewater site, while an asset management software platform provides a digital view of the same pumping station asset.

Add in SCADA software that is used to control that pumping station remotely, and an analytics package that is carrying out predictive failure analysis for that pump, and you have siloes number 3 and 4 respectively.

Many siloes of information exist within a typical industrial setting. This makes it difficult to contextualise information across the enterprise to improve decision-making on efficiency, productivity or maintenance.

Information silos are not unique to the water/wastewater industry but can be especially problematic when coupled with sector-specific challenges such as the geographical dispersal of high-cost assets and high-value people, extensive legacy plant and strict environmental regulations.

Thus the need for water/wastewater companies to streamline operations and reach new sustainability goals has never been more pressing.

Achieving end-to-end operational visibility

A common issue in water/wastewater is too many systems, provided by a multitude of vendors and service providers, assembled over an extended period of time.

Each system works independently of the others, making integration impossible and denying managers a view of operations that represents a single version of the truth.

 Any business owner will tell you, without access to an accurate understanding of assets and their utilisation, it is impossible to make company-wide improvements. That is without mentioning the added stresses on operators of multiple complex systems that require them to master multiple operating protocols and work with several different user interfaces to complete some of the most basic tasks within their role.

So, why don’t water/wastewater companies solve this issue? Simply put, it’s a costly one. Ripping and replacing existing technologies, such as SCADA systems or telemetry systems, would require a large cost and time investment. And, while this approach would likely be effective if undertaken strategically, it’s not usually necessary while existing systems are operational and have life left in them. This is because in most instances the existing systems are doing what they should do, and the problem concerns extracting and contextualising the data already available in a timely and cost-effective way that allows for better decision making.

The Unified Operations Centre for water/wastewater

Bringing end-to-end operational visibility across water/wastewater enterprises without a rip-and-replace approach to legacy technologies is made possible through The Unified Operations Centre (UOC) from AVEVA. Based on a system of systems approach, the UOC addresses the converging worlds of IT and OT by bringing all the technology under each discipline into a single manageable location. With an overall perspective now possible, operators can visualise all data and turn it into actionable real-time intelligence. The workforce is now empowered with the ability to make faster and more informed decisions on all process and non-process functions.

This includes all the sub-systems that can affect operations such as power, potable and non-potable water, treatment, metering and environmental systems.

Improving efficiency across geographically dispersed assets requires a digital connection, something the UOC can provide with added functionality for the control room. Starting with a map-based perspective, operators have a global asset overview with the ability to drill down into station-level overlays before examining specific equipment. This means that no matter how spread the high-value people of the organisation are, they can securely access a 360-degree view of operations, whether they are in the office or on the road.

Another pressure felt by all process industries, but one that particularly impacts water/wastewater is energy usage. Whilst Energy Consumption can be monitored and predicted using software solutions, the inability to contextualise this with Asset Health, Asset Maintenance Records, Site SCADA, and other OT systems means energy consumption is not being optimised as much as it could be.

Digital Transformation empowering the workforce

Many important and powerful new digital tools are being adopted across industry. Some sectors are further ahead than others, and many widely adopted technologies have proven themselves. For any business, establishing a single version of the truth is a surefire way to improving efficiency. For the water/wastewater sector, it is integral to meeting unique challenges and future-proofing operations.

Working with experienced digital transformation partners allows enterprises to adopt a software and hardware agnostic approach, meaning a UOC can be brought to bear alongside current and legacy assets while offering seamless future integration with any new equipment that is added to the network.

Leveraging the data that is already available will empower the most important element of any operation – the human workforce – with digital tools that offer improved, contextualised information to enable a step-change in efficiency, maintenance, and profitability while reducing waste.