From black box to glass box: Meet the experts helping utilities make the invisible visible

From black box to glass box: Meet the experts helping utilities make the invisible visible

Digital solutions have transformed the way water utilities operate, empowering them to better understand the condition and performance of their assets – from pipes to pumping stations to combined sewer systems and beyond.

This level of understanding supports better, more informed decision making, allowing utilities to increase operational efficiencies, reduce costs and help their communities become more resilient and sustainable.

Water operators have long been leveraging data and analytical techniques to improve the day-to-day management of critical water systems and infrastructure. However, making sense of large pools of data and using this information to make the best decisions can be a long and complex process.

That’s where data science comes in. As a unique way of pulling traditional statistics together, data science is an extremely powerful tool in a utility’s solution set. The job of a data scientist is to find the value in data, looking beyond surface level figures to identify the information that can yield the biggest results.

Turning data into insights

Under Xylem Vue – Xylem’s digital solutions platform that combines smart and connected technologies, intelligent systems and services – our team of data scientists combine civil engineering and data tools like machine learning to maximize solutions, helping clients pinpoint their problems and desired outcomes. By turning data into insight, our experts apply these learnings to design and deliver real world innovation – advancing the digital transformation of water, one utility at a time.

In a two-part spotlight series, Making Waves caught up with some of Xylem’s resident data science experts to find out more about what they do, why data analysis is so critical to helping utilities improve outcomes for their communities, and how Xylem is partnering with utility clients to shape the future of water.

First up is Craig Daly, Director of Analytics at Xylem. As an innovative systems thinker, Craig is passionate about data and how it connects to insights through system design and implementation.

With a background in civil engineering and more than twenty years of experience working within the water sector, Craig discusses how data science helps utilities move from analysis to action, from black box to glass box – delivering transformative benefits for the communities they serve.

INTERVIEWEE: Craig Daly, Director of Analytics

What role does data science play in the design and delivery of utility solutions?

The beauty of data science is that it essentially helps our clients open a locked door – and see what’s behind it. They can see the inner workings of a particular asset and understand how to strengthen its performance  so that it works harder and more efficiently. In turn, this improves outcomes for the community, such as creating water, energy and cost savings.

It’s not just about the science though, it’s also about the data itself. Data from connected digital assets generate all kinds of patterns that reveal so many interesting insights, and today’s utilities have no shortage of it. But without proper analysis, utilities can struggle to unlock its true value. That’s where we come in. Our job is to find those powerful nuggets within the data, and help our customers use those insights to their advantage.

Can you tell us about your team and the work that they do?

At Xylem, we’re fortunate to have a deep bench of experts with backgrounds in mathematical modeling, system dynamics and civil engineering who can utilize data tools, like machine learning, to develop solutions from data. Drawing on this creative and passionate multi-disciplinary team, we work with our utility customers to turn their data into insights and action – helping them solve their biggest challenges.

One area of focus for us is conducting comprehensive risk assessments on buried infrastructure. This involves reviewing historical data to identify network weaknesses. By taking an analytical approach, we can identify patterns and potential weaknesses in underground pipes and infrastructure and pinpoint exactly where a problem area is. We can then help utilities repair – and even predict – leaks and prevent system failures at much lower cost, with less hassle to the people living and working in the community.

How are you and your team working with water utilities to solve challenges?

Our team recently worked with the City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department to conduct a probability of failure analysis of its drinking water distribution system. We based the study on historical data in the utility’s geographic information system. In mining the data, we were able to develop a solution to identify clusters of pipes that have high probabilities of failure.

This allowed the utility to prioritize pipe replacement and rehabilitation projects, reduce repeated disruptions and reduce capital planning time by 75%.

We delivered a similar project in California, working with the City of Long Beach Water Department. After developing a risk model of each of the client’s pipelines, we designed a five-year plan outlining how they could monitor and assess their assets going forward to address and reduce risk. As a result, the utility moved from a reactive approach to a proactive approach – mitigating risks quickly and safely while reducing service disruptions.

Why is data accessibility so important for clients?

Providing our clients with data accessibility, transparency and ongoing support to answer technical questions gives them a fuller picture of their systems and how our solutions can help them improve their performance. It also provides critical context for the insights and recommendations that we put forward and helps build trust in our team and in the incredible value of digital technologies.

For us, knowledge is power, and we’re passionate about shining a light on the solutions that can really help our customers reach their full potential.

Bringing our customers on the journey, from analysis to action, removes the fear of the unknown and helps utilities bring all stakeholders with them in their transformation. It’s an incredible time for the water sector, and I’m so proud to work for Xylem and our partners to help pioneer these bold new ways to solve water. Together, we can lean into the power of data and analytics to help create more resilient and sustainable communities for everyone.

Xylem Vue