Apr 15, 2022

Water and Wastewater Pros Deserve Great Tech

How can software be developed with water professionals in mind

Water and Wastewater Pros Deserve Great Tech

Elaine Kelly, co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Klir
Elaine Kelly

For those in the water or wastewater profession, chances are they have often had to make do with software that was never built for their needs. Perhaps, it was a budget decision made in a city hall conference room. Maybe, they simply have not found the right software answer for their administration, process and customer engagement prayers. 

One thing is certain, there are plenty of vendors out there promising to provide the A-to-Z solutions for water or wastewater management. What they are really offering is software built for industries as wide-ranging as environmental health and safety, oil and gas, energy, construction and engineering. In reality, most of these tech solutions only solve for one business process and focus on one department in a water utility or wastewater plant. The fundamental problem: water and wastewater management is a cross-functional operation where all of the processes need to be knotted together — and rightfully so because water itself is interconnected. It is a square peg/round hole situation. 

Software that is created exclusively to serve the cross-functional needs of water and wastewater will deliver value across teams and job functions, from simplifying in-house operations to connecting with community members. And the opportunity extends beyond individual plants. In fact, water utilities have been known to combine forces at the municipal-level because they’re dealing with higher-than-ever stakeholder expectations and having to do more with less. 

In essence, utilities are being pushed to transition from traditional public sector organizations with decades-long established processes to more strategic, agile businesses — with IT leaders consistently on the lookout for a centralized software option. At the same time, people outside of the water and wastewater circles are catching on to the distinct value and inherent risk of water quantity and quality. 

From conversations with global water and wastewater utilities, Klir has learned that there is a void where software built with industrial knowledge should be. Fortunately, there’s an emerging market working hard to fill the space.

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3 Pillars for Water & Wastewater Software Success

1. Software Must be Developed With Water Professionals in Mind Every Step of the Way 

Everyday, Klir speaks with utilities that have invested in software to support their operations. Popular refrain: it is common for the software to come pre-configured with pre-made templates designed by people who do not understand the work that goes on in the plant or the lab. The platform was undoubtedly developed by programmers who have no experience in water or wastewater and sold by a vendor who thinks they know what software users need. That recipe does not quite work. 

Software built with an understanding of water management or wastewater work from day one can help utilities retire redundant or extraneous processes. It can help them phase out outdated solutions and legacy systems that limit, rather than accelerate, productivity. IT leaders will typically ask vendors for their level of familiarity with water management or wastewater in the course of deciding which software to use. Going one step further, they should demand software be placed into water management or wastewater context before a vendor sets the pitch meeting.

2. Utility IT Teams Deserve & Need Software, Apps & Platforms That Work Together 

Utilities on the market for new and useful solutions should be able to find one that helps both water managers and water operators do their jobs, while also connecting disparate systems or assets to supports employees rather than adds tasks — such as double-checking each cell for accuracy — to their to-do lists. 

But, according to water IT experts, this is easier said than done.

Two common challenges arise for utilities:

  1. Keeping track of who within a utility’s IT department is taking the lead on new technology; and
  2. Understanding who owns various collections of data moving through integrations between multiple platforms at any given time.

These are real and persistent issues across water and wastewater management in the U.S.

For example, within a drinking water operation, one team might be tasked with managing operational sampling requirements (perhaps, there is brown water reported near a main break), while a separate team manages compliance requirements. And yet another team takes samples for research purposes. In instances like these, the silos are too often mimicked through software with each team maintaining independent logs populated with different numbers.

That may not seem so bad, but when it comes time for reporting, the utility risks delivering inaccurate info to the regulators, and it means teams have to take extra steps to confirm numbers.

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3. Water Utilities Deserve Software Built for Water

Water systems are integrated by nature. What happens upstream can affect an entire catchment. Yet, historically, water and wastewater managers have had to look at their treatment plants and distribution systems through a fragmented patchwork of tools that do not sync up.

That is why there is a pressing demand for software, apps and other tech built to provide clarity by linking contextual data together across the catchment and across utility teams. 

Software built to work for any industry might be technically sound. It may even be easy to use with other solutions, like SAP, Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox and/or Salesforce, supporting the work of an individual water utility or wastewater pro.

But there is a simple truth that the platform (and the company that sells it) will never be able to shake: it was built for general use. This can prevent customer success, limit employee productivity and prove cost-ineffective, especially for cash-strapped water utilities or wastewater plants. IT managers, for their part, are in a particularly powerful position to demand more industry knowledge in exchange for software that improves conditions across the board. And now is a good time to start.

About the author

Elaine Kelly is the co-founder and chief revenue officer of Klir, headquartered in Reno, Nevada. She has over 15 years  hands-on, global experience architecting IT systems for water utilities in Europe, US, Canada and Australia.

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