“NOT another dashboard!” and “No more alarms either!” – The case for visualisation in utility companies

Visualisation is a catch-all term for displaying data, usually via web or mobile, in a graphical, conversational and an intuitive way.

David Hartwell, Business Development, Digital Transformation, Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

David Hartwell, Business Development, Digital Transformation, Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Nowhere have I seen a more urgent need for visualisation than in utilities. There are tens, or even hundreds of thousands of sensors in a typical water utility company’s network, and the increased need to understand their network better, with the ever-closer promise of practical smart metering, means there is going to be an explosion in the number of sensors connected to their systems and consequently, the amount of data they’ll have to deal with.

Information overload

Water utility control rooms in most large utilities are typically handling well over a million alarms a year and someone is supposed to look at, and make a decision on, every one of them. If we ever get smart water meters, which promise to allow flow, temperature and pressure measurement at every customer, then the problem gets much bigger than it is now.  If the water network looks like branches of a tree, then they’ll be measuring down to leaf level. Will all this data help understand the network better? I really don’t think it will until the way network data presentation changes. The benefit of such granular data is clear, as it will enable the water companies to manage their networks in a more pro-active and efficient manner, but it carries the considerable downside of being “Data rich but information poor” and overloading the operations teams.

Better network knowledge

The three main operating costs for water companies are: electrical energy, chemicals and labour. Taking the largest cost item, electrical energy as an example; water is heavy, therefore, water companies consume huge quantities of it to transfer this essential liquid to our homes and industry. If average and peak pipe pressures could be reduced in order to save energy; there’ll also be less leaks, which means a double benefit. Treatment of sewage also requires energy intensive processes to clean it to the high standards required before being discharged; this is an area where process improvements and optimisation can again reduce energy costs. If the behaviour of the network and treatment plants can be better understood and optimised in more detail, then the companies can reduce this major cost, and maybe bills will even go down. Everyone will be happy, especially customers and regulators. This is just one example of a concrete business case for visualisation.

Knowledge is not systemised

However, there is an easy trap to fall into: just measuring more doesn’t make you understand better; in fact it can be quite the opposite, as there can often be quite contradictory measurements in a complex system like a water network. An operations manager will have an innate understanding of the system and how it is behaving – they balance, optimise and cope with emergencies; the model of the network behaviour seems to be hard wired in their brains, but even they cannot do justice to all the information available from the network sensors and optimise the network as a whole, for the multitude of parameters required from temperature, pressure, flow, water quality and others.

Single system view

As yet more systems are brought in to monitor an ever-increasing range of parameters, more screens need to be reviewed, maybe with more alarms (certainly the case with IOT). A common cry from both IT and operations is – “Not another dashboard” or “Please, no more alarms”. What’s needed is an integrated, single graphical view that combines graphical information system views, system topography, disaster planning and many others into a single whole. This is not some massive systems integration project that will require huge investment and unable to show any benefit for years, but an over-the-top visualisation that draws data from current systems, but even more importantly, has the ability to learn rules from real people (e.g. operations and maintenance staff) and for itself (machine learning). Such an implementation would reduce the amount of alarms by a large factor. Couple this with predictive analytics, where, for example, weather predictions could be used to set the network up for maximum resilience to flooding, for instance pumping out all the wet wells (small reservoirs) in the affected area in advance of a major weather event, or to predict when garden sprinklers would be used and for how long.

More systems equal more silos

It’s a fact of life that information systems will be replaced and more of them will appear in the operations environment; each one of course adds value, but at the same time adds workload and another silo of information. However, the value of the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts if they could be seen as a single entity: “The network”. Visualisation of data is a good place to start; I have long held the belief that everyone in a water company should have access to a mobile app that would tell them the health of the network at least at summary level. I can think of a few operations directors who would shake my hand if I could give them an app for their Smartphone that informed them, in real time, what was happening in their part of the network; showing outfalls, water quality issues, burst mains, unplanned outages, and other key network parameters.

It’s not so hard to start if you think “Agile”

So, what to do? I recommend starting with the users who have to make the most complex operational decisions and discuss in a workshop environment, how they’d like their dashboard to look; then build a “wire frame” (non-working prototype), which should be completed in days, not weeks and constantly iterate the design and build with the users involved every step of the way. This is known as agile development and is the de facto standard for implementing quality visualisation projects. I’d make sure some machine decision making capability, however basic, was also included, as rules development is a key skill. An agile approach to IT implementations is novel in the utilities space, but where I have helped implement it, it has created users who embrace these new systems because they feel ownership, want to make it work and know how to get it improved quickly. With some help, most utilities have the internal resources to be able to do this themselves, they just need to be shown how.

 

David Hartwell started his career in the UK Ministry of Defence and spent 21 years in the nuclear industry primarily engineering control and safety systems for various production and experimental nuclear processes. Since leaving the MOD, he has lived and worked in various countries from China, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Netherlands and the USA implementing engineering software solutions. He joined Avnet just over a year ago to join the then new IOT division. Previously, he was UK sales leader at IBM for the MobileFirst mobile platform products. His career has spanned engineering, project & programme management, pre-sales, business development and sales disciplines.

Posted under Internet of Things (IoT)

This post was written by on November 11, 2016

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How is the channel following through on its vision for 2016?

At the beginning of this year, we laid out our top predictions for technology trends in the channel for 2016. As we reach the half way point of the calendar year, it’s time to recap and see how things are shaping up so far:

Marcus Adae, Vice President Strategic Suppliers, Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Marcus Adae, Vice President Strategic Suppliers,
Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

#1: Mobility for channel enablement

Mobility is moving more towards app-driven enablement, this much we know to be true. Mobile apps are becoming the norm for any kind of customer interaction, thanks to more personalised engagement through analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) data. However, what we’re seeing so far is that enterprise infrastructure is an even more important driver for the channel and partners in the mobility space. Read More…

Posted under Big data, BYOD; celebrating mobility, Cloud Computing, Converged infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT), Security

Riding the Information Wave: IoT and Big Data Analytics

Max Chan, Vice President, Global Information Solutions, Avnet Technology Solutions Asia Pacific

IoT and its uses in actionThere have been a number of exciting developments around the Internet of Things at Avnet lately.  First, we kicked off the calendar year 2016 announcing a newly created role of vice president, Internet of Things in the person of Eric Williams, who will steer the company’s global IoT strategy. The previous year, Tim FitzGerald who had led Avnet’s Cloud Solutions business, was appointed vice president of digital transformation. These key appointments underscore our steadfast commitment to investing in the right resources to capitalise on the opportunities in the rapidly growing IoT market.

Read More…

Posted under Big data, Internet of Things (IoT), IT infrastructure

Our vision for technology in 2016

Dieter Lott, Vice President, Business Development, EMEA, shares how we see 2016 shaping up in terms of technology trends.


Dieter Lott Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Dieter Lott, Vice President Business Development EMEA, Avnet Technology Solutions

#1: Mobility for channel enablement


Mobile interactions are continuing to evolve. There’s a massive shift in the mobile space with apps becoming the norm for any kind of customer interaction. Downloading apps is now a normal ask of customers. In 2016, this will open up new solution areas for channel partners as mobility moves more towards app-driven channel enablement where partners can communicate, receive and access information through easy-to-use apps.

Value-added distributors can help here by offering their expertise, such as mobile app development, to enhance the skills of their partners. In the vertical markets this is all the more essential as growth in those segments is driven by customer engagement which can be achieved through personalised experiences generated by the merging analytics, mobile apps and Internet of Things (IoT) data.

Read More…

Posted under Big data, BYOD; celebrating mobility, Internet of Things (IoT)

This post was written by on January 13, 2016

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The channel needs to wake up to converged infrastructure and emerging technologies in the data centre

Dieter Lott, Vice President Business Development, EMEA at Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Many organisations’ data centres today are made up of complicated legacy models. This has led to a drastic increase in IT complexity overall, creating big challenges when it comes to IT management, security, scalability and cost efficiency within data centres.

On top of this, today’s IT departments have a perplexing choice of technologies as they build and maintain their data centres to meet the demands of the digital economy. To address the needs of the new digitally savvy workforce too, larger organisations have built teams around the technology disciplines of server, storage and networking and the best-of-breed solutions in each area. The luxury of dedicated teams though isn’t available to all organisations.

One increasingly popular approach to this challenge is by implementing converged infrastructure and new emerging technologies in the data centre such as software defined networking (SDN), operational analytics and big data.

Converged infrastructure is now well and truly a growth market and the channel needs to address this now. This technology has the ability to bring together all fundamental hardware components in an intelligently engineered, purpose-built configuration. A key benefit of converged infrastructure is the fact that these systems are pre-configured, integrated, tested and installed as a single, cohesive unit, rather than ‘bolted together’ with a digital version of duct tape.

In a nutshell, by deploying converged infrastructure, organisations can reduce complexity, ease deployment and integration, lower expenses and improve their ability to deploy technology for truly transformative needs, rather than simply to ‘keep systems operating’.

But what else can it do and what should the channel be addressing?

  1. Accommodating new and emerging technologies – complex and rigid legacy systems make it difficult to integrate newer IT such as mobility and cloud computing.
  2. Bridging skills gaps – close integration points between the different technologies within the converged infrastructure stack and upper level management/orchestration software means IT management is greatly simplified and training requirements are often reduced. However, in order for customers to realise these benefits, the channel needs to address skills in delivering solutions and services in tools around management and orchestration.
  3. Businesses operate in silos – to realise the full potential of converged infrastructure, end customer businesses need to have a consolidated approach to managing their infrastructure, and channel organisations need the same joined up approach to delivering it.
  4. Limited resources – converged infrastructure can alleviate this challenge of limited resource by providing technology that is built to work together and can be managed in a simplified cohesive manner.
  5. Legacy infrastructure – standardisation of infrastructure is the key to simplifying infrastructure management. Converged infrastructure needs to be viewed not simply as a typical IT cost, but as a means to reducing complexity and operating costs over time.
  6. Complex regulatory environment – converged infrastructure creates a standardised model to ensure compliance is met as you can define the mould and repeat it, which is much simpler than maintaining compliance in a non-standardised, ad-hoc infrastructure.
  7. Ensuring continuity – the inability to respond to customer demands for even a moment can be massively detrimental to an organisation’s financial health –business continuity is key. This doesn’t mean simply saving data in the event of disaster but maintaining “business as usual” IT. Converged infrastructure simplifies disaster recovery planning as businesses can work with a standard model for infrastructure regardless of location.

On top of these challenges, the pace of change within data centres is spectacular and this is why converged infrastructure, and new emerging technologies like mobility, cloud and software defined networking (SDN), are already key discussion points in the IT industry due to the drive for more scalable IT architectures. The convergence of data centre tech and networking tech is causing this significant market shift.

Data centre infrastructure is becoming increasingly complex as end-users embrace a combination of on- and off-premise cloud solutions, as well as platform and software “as-a-service” models. At the same time, businesses are under pressure to align IT costs more effectively to performance, ensuring high demand times for IT are covered effectively without over-investing. This need is compelling IT organisations to place more emphasis on capacity forecasting and analytics – yet finding the different skill levels required for these new emerging technologies in the data centre is a real challenge. Gartner backed this when it found 80 percent of businesses “will find growth constrained from a lack of new data centre skills by 2016.” This means there’s a question over whether the channel has the IT skills to address market demands.

I believe we now have an opportunity in the channel; this is a chance for resellers to step in and fulfil the IT skills on behalf of their customers. The channel needs to help businesses in EMEA to understand how and why these technologies help to overcome business challenges and requirements for today – and tomorrow. What is more, it answers, to a certain extent, where the value proposition in the future reseller landscape lies. The role distributors play will be affected too. We will be trusted to provide both enablement and the skills and training that are required.

Posted under IT infrastructure