Thoughts

A place for education, information, and insights about the water industry.

Jeff Lipton

Topics: utility customers

Lessons Learned from 100 Water Suppliers

October 25, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton
 
 
WaterSmart just reached a major milestone. We signed our 100th utility partner . It's only a number, and given that there are about 50,000 community water systems in the United States, this accomplishment is, pardon the pun, just a drop in the bucket. What is important is that the WaterSmart team has had the opportunity to learn an amazing amount from these hundred partnerships. We've worked with scores of utility staff and surveyed hundreds of thousands of end-use customers. What has come from all that experience and data are some pretty interesting insights.
Given this milestone, we thought it would be a good time to pause and reflect on our journey over the past nine years. We went back and aggregated a large set of survey data and partner feedback to summarize what we've learned on our journey from 1 to 100. We hope these compelling insights form the basis for best practices throughout the industry moving forward. 
 
First
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Topics: capitalizing software

Accounting for Utility Software Services

July 17, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton
The software vendor business model has evolved rather dramatically in the past decade or so. Traditionally, utility software providers (including SCAD A, customer information systems, work order management, rebate tracking, and other common solutions used by water utilities) would sell a pe rpetual license to their water utility customers who would then install the software on a local computer or server.  Customers would have the option of purchasing annual maintenance and support packages and could upgrade the installed software every few years as new versions with additional functionality became available. This business model allowed customers to 'own' the software which also meant they could budget for the technology expense in a single fiscal period and then decide whether or not to update to a newer version in the future.
 
Unfortunately this model has some inherent disadvantages for the water utility customer: 
  • The utility
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Topics: high bill surprise

Noticing Water Leaks

March 20, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton

Water leaks happen. In fact, they happen a lot. Data that WaterSmart has collected from over 4 million households indicates that as many as 50% of households will experience some type of water leak within a given year. And more than 10% of households have leaks that waste at least 90 gallons per day. In addition to the frequency that leaks occur, they can be quite expensive. The U.S. insurance industry pays out about $2.5 billion each year in homeowner insurance claims due to water damage from leaks. That’s nearly $7,000 per household which is the number two home insurance claim annually.

Water damage happens for a variety of reasons and some of these causes are unavoidable. Catastrophic weather events that lead to floods or broken pipes and leaky roofs can result in damage that is often expensive to repair. However, most leaks are more mundane and, if not entirely avoidable, easily addressed if caught quickly before extensive
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Topics: behavioral water efficiency

Water Meter Data Management - To Sink or SWIM (Part 2)

January 16, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton

(In part 2 of this post we review additional benefits and challenges of an MDM and what ideal technology solution best suits water industry needs):

Benefit and Challenge 2: Interoperability Electric utilities have a large number of data systems (as many as 12+) that require metering information. Getting access to all this data is no small feat (see diagram below).

The National Rural Electric Coop Association (catering to utilities under 300k endpoints) has developed a standard for meter data system interoperability known as MultiSpeak. From the MultiSpeak About page:

The MultiSpeak Specification is a key industry-wide standard for realizing the potential of enterprise application interoperability. The MultiSpeak Specification is the most widely applied de facto standard in North America pertaining to distribution utilities and all portions of vertically-integrated utilities except generation and power marketing.

Unfortunately,

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Topics: behavioral water efficiency

Water Meter Data Management - To Sink or SWIM (Part 1)

January 9, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton

(In part 1 of this two part post, we look at the history of meter data management systems and how they apply to the water industry):

Water Meter Data Management: To sink or SWIM? The role of a Meter Data Management System (MDMS) is not well defined within the water industry. Many products on the market claim to provide MDM functionality, but few people understand the value of what these systems offer. To understand how this confusion has come about and what can be done to address data management needs in the water industry, we need to first examine the evolution of the MDM.

A Brief History of the MDMS In the late 1990’s, the electric industry pioneered the concept of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), recognizing a need for more frequent and accurate meter data. However, this emerging meter information occasionally delivered anomalistic or missing data, and an MDMS was designed to manage and clean the incoming flood of data.

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Topics: always-on customer

Defining Total Customer Engagement

November 14, 2017
| By Jeff Lipton

Elusive Definitions Total Customer Engagement is an amorphous concept that is difficult to define or quantify. Depending on the nature of a given business, engagement may be described using language such as touches, opens, responses, clicks, registrations, reach, shares, influence, views, or other nebulous terms. This language leaves organizations ill-equipped to define and measure the impact and benefits of communicating with customers in a wide-range of situations.

For the water industry in particular, a century of silent service has created an aversion to engaging with customers. Complaints from customers on high bills, boil notices, and service outages created the impression that less engagement with customers was preferable. Now that customers are always connected with digital devices and real-time notifications from nearly every common service provider (electric, mobile phone, internet, cable, etc.), the bar for more

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