How To Upgrade A Sensor Network For Advanced Analytics

Sensors can furnish utilities with more ways to benefit their customers when companies make smart investments in their data network infrastructure.

Thames Water, one of the largest water providers in the world, provides an example of how this can be done. With over 2 million sensors installed, the company “had to rethink its entire approach to networking, ranging from protocols to how collected data would be stored and analyzed,” Network World recently reported.

Thames Water found an array of partners for this task, including Accenture, Deloitte, and IBM. A key step in the process: “Upgrading Thames Water's existing monitoring network to exploit advanced analytics.”

Simon Coombs, an Accenture managing director who is working on the Thames Water project, described the effort.

"What I’ve inherited is a set of infrastructure that’s been implemented over many years," he said, per the report. "You have a mix of high-density customers in the middle of the capital city and you have, of course, lower density through the countryside, a wide range of different issues to contend with as a company."

Thames Water is "gradually" swapping out old standards with new Internet of Things (IoT) protocols, effectively enhancing its sensor network, according to the report.

"The IoT is providing the opportunity to bring [a wider range of] devices in," Coombs said, per the report. "Of course utilities want to reduce cost, but they also have a portfolio of predominantly old kit that they’re having to still manage, and maintain and deal with.”

The effort has helped Thames Water increase water quality while reducing energy costs and pollution incidents, the report said.

Relying on cloud services is another way Thames Water is making the most of its sensor network. The company turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure for those services. Using cloud services has cut costs for Thames because the company no longer needs to rely on costly data centers.

"New cloud techniques are allowing us to connect, directly down into particular devices to intercept them at the lower protocols," Coombs said, per the report. "We’ve got much more flexibility now in the cloud, and that flexibility is allowing us to drive down costs."

"In the olden days when you had to build your own infrastructure it could take months, years to build solutions," he continued. "Now we can very quickly, within a matter of days or weeks, run up new approaches on the cloud, and new analytics streams, and we can test and deploy them very quickly."

Industry experts say Thames Water is a leading example of how a utility can effectively use its sensor network.

“The ability to use sensors to monitor water quality [and other functions] may not appear groundbreaking in the water industry, but what makes this network truly ‘smart’ is a combination of compatible sensors and software that communicate, analyze data and fix problems automatically, all within a centralized platform,” ComputerWorldUK reported.

Image credit: "Water Faucet," Rose Mary © 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

Posted: 22 March 2017 by Jennifer Nunez

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