Due perhaps to the vital nature of their work or the longstanding procedures through which they do it, digital disruption can be slow to reach water treatment operators.
Though notoriously loathe to adopt trendy tech solutions, one decidedly low-tech aspect of the treatment industry may be overdue for an upgrade. In Illinois, a new browser-based application is looking to help operators improve the way they report treatment data to regulators.
“The problem we are trying to solve is that currently, despite the technology in the water industry, approximately 80 to 90 percent of all Illinois water operators we’ve spoken to still use some combination of pencil and clipboard and manually typing data into a spreadsheet,” said Chris Sosnowksi, the CEO of Waterly.
The “elevator pitch” behind Waterly is that it provides a digital system for data collection and reporting tools. Operators can spend up to 10 hours a month just transcribing data recorded on a clipboard into a spreadsheet to be sent to regulators. Not only does this take up their time, but it can lead to transcription errors. Because the tool can be accessed on mobile devices, operators can carry it around as easily as they do a piece of paper and pencil.
“Waterly will even tell operators if the data they entered makes sense for their system by flagging abnormal entries while they are typing them in, helping both new and experienced staff ensure their systems run well,” Sosnowski said. “We also found that most communities, at best, have dozens to hundreds of spreadsheets that represent the history of their water system. Waterly allows that valuable data to be memorialized for future generations, the state, partners, and maybe even the public someday.”
Waterly has targeted Illinois as a testing ground to build adoption and thinks the tool will be particularly helpful to the small-town operators there who are asked to record fairly straightforward information across multiple treatment actions, a practice that is easily replicated and improved online.
“Small towns usually have pretty simple monthly reporting requirements,” Sosnowski said. “Utilities of any size have to submit monthly operating reports to the Illinois EPA that typically include the amount pumped, chemicals used, equipment usage data, and chlorine residuals for each day of the month. For a small town, it’s usually about 10 to 20 pieces of information and typically fits on one or two pages.”
The Waterly dashboard gives operators a straightforward place to record meter read times, the amount of water treated, and more, which can be organized by date and site. A button on the right hand of the dashboard allows them to mark whether a piece of data has been recorded or still needs to be. A separate reporting page allows the operator to download that compiled information as a spreadsheet.
“We’ve found that most operators are enthusiastic about improving the way they work and they are hungry for solutions made just for the water industry, and not for some random manufacturing system and applied to water,” said Sosnowski. “Waterly currently has a variety of beta customers that have agreed to use the software starting in the fall of 2017. After working through some early bugs with us, they’ve successfully submitted reports to the Illinois EPA, which did not have any issues with any of Waterly’s format or data.”
While a web search did pull up some app solutions to make meter reading and customer notification easier, it appears that Waterly stands alone as a digital tool for recording and reporting water quality data. As such, its stiffest competition may be the potential adopters themselves.
“Our biggest sales struggle is frankly getting water operators to want to do something different,” Sosnowski said. “The water industry values safety and reliability above all else and so improvements in efficiency are typically only considered if they feel the change will still be safe and reliable. It’s hard to trust that something new is going to be reliable, and we get that.”
As Waterly works to prove it can be both a safe and innovative solution for smaller systems in Illinois, it may generate the confidence it needs to expand nationwide.