Why outage management systems are good for water utilities

Wed, 2015-07-08 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

Many electric utility and water utility operations are very similar. However, the outage management systems (OMS) electric utilities use to manage information and speed outage restoration are almost unheard of in the water utility industry. Council Associate Partner West Monroe Partners offers several compelling reasons why water utilities should at least consider adoption.

As West Monroe points out, an OMS has a lot to offer. A company blog notes "These have increased in sophistication and are often integrated into the utility's Customer Information System (CIS), Interactive Voice Response system (IVR), Geographic Information System (GIS), and, most recently, Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) systems.

Here are some of the things an OMS can do:

  • Let customers know how widespread an outage is and how long it will last
  • Predict the location of the device or issue triggering the outage
  • Prioritize restoration efforts
  • Estimate resources and materials requested for specific parts of a restoration effort
  • Provide information internally on outage extent, number of customers affected and to customers, news media and regulators

So why aren't water utilities using them?
Water utilities are in a tough spot. They need to contend with aging infrastructure underground and increasingly frequent failures of water delivery pipes. And customer expectations are growing too. They want and expect uninterrupted water service.

Water and electric utilities both run a risk of a backhoe cutting into a line, for example. But water utility infrastructure isn't exposed as much as above-ground utility power lines, which are subject to storm and ice damage and problems caused by other sources.

Specific OMS benefits for water utilities
Some of their major concerns are different, certainly. But several of the specific capabilities of OMS can help water utilities with issues completely unlike those faced by electric utilities. West Monroe Partners suggests water utilities can use OMS to notify customers about water quality issues (such as boil water notices). They could also be used to alert customers to water supply interruptions, which could be extended to local fire departments so they would have time to prepare if they received a call in the area where an interruption had been reported. Also, OMS could notify customers and others of scheduled maintenance like planned outages as well as the need to reduce water usage during drought conditions or other times when supplies are restricted.

Another advantage that applies to all of the above examples is that notices could be sent to only those customers affected.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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