Early 2014 reports revealed that mobile device Internet usage exceeded PC/desktop usage for the first time in history.
While on the consumer level mobile use is linked to accessing various information online, such as checking e-mail or listening to music, this trend is gaining ground in the water industry as more utilities are turning to mobile apps, handheld devices and enhanced data collection solutions.
Because almost any task that used to be done on a desktop computer now can be performed on a mobile device, the trend is transforming field service operations.
It was not that long ago—and it unfortunately still is the case in some areas—that onsite meter readers frequently faced dog attacks and had to attend annual training on how to handle vicious pooches on residential property. Thanks to mobile devices, tools such as dog sprays and umbrellas are being replaced as meter readers are able to retrieve data remotely, without leaving the safety of their utility trucks.
Safety is not the only beneficial factor. The water industry is ripe for technology advancements offering automation in remote or field capacity where data retrieval and manipulation, calculations, systems communication and recording previously were done on paper. This improves data collection capabilities and accuracy.
These solutions quickly are becoming mainstream not only due to their ease of use and affordability, but because the technology streamlines utilities’ daily operations in the field by maximizing their field service representatives.
Smartphone apps also are gaining ground. Being environmentally conscious while saving time and money is getting easier these days as a growing number of utilities are opting to provide their customers with apps for electronic billing and payment solutions. In addition to billing, the apps allow customers to use their smartphones to check service alerts, report problems, e-mail questions and access other important utility information, anytime, anywhere.
But perhaps the most important benefit of these technology advancements is data.
The cost of maintaining key utility assets—distribution or collection systems—represents a significant portion of annual operating budgets. Whether it is keeping track of maintenance records, mapping or managing critical infrastructure such as water main, sewers, storage reservoirs, pumps, pipeline, valves and meters, most utilities allocate considerable resources to keep their records current and accurate. Keeping data organized and easily accessible helps engineers, planners, designers, dispatchers, accountants and crews do a better job of utilizing and managing their facilities.
As we continue to track these technology advancements, I expect to see some integration of mobile-friendly devices in all mission-critical utility assets.