The Need for a Total View of Water Networks


Courtesy of Innovyze

The water industry is not short of software offerings, and so the arguments in favour of yet another software program had better be very good indeed. In this article we examine how one very significant community of users – operations managers, engineers and planners - have largely had their specific needs overlooked; we identify the type of system needed to fulfil their requirements and the operational and commercial benefits that might flow from its use.

There are currently four types of software in widespread use throughout the industry:

  • CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System
  • GIS (Geographical Information System
  • Modeling Software
  • CMMS

The USA has taken an ordered approach to asset maintenance, and this has spawned an array of CMMSs that are widely used. Many of these systems are excellent for the management of asset maintenance. Some CMMSs are better suited to closely located, on-site assets, such as treatment works, whereas others will cope with widespread assets, such as sewer and water networks. These systems can even be used to keep records of the moving assets – including the maintenance crews and their vehicles. They also keep track of the fixed assets – pumps, valves and pipes. While we would expect pipes to stay where they are, pumps and valves are not, strictly speaking, fixed. During their lifetime they may be removed for refurbishment and relocated. Monitoring equipment is moved more frequently. Nevertheless, whether fixed or mobile, the CMMS keeps records on the status and condition of assets over their lifetime. This points to the core strengths of CMMS software – asset maintenance – and its primary audience – maintenance engineers. However, CMMSs have their limits in managing operational network data. For operational network data management, other tools must be employed.


CMMS is characterized as being strong on maintaining inventories of equipment and assets, whereas GIS has a different strength – location, location, location (as Realtors would say). It is excellent for giving the user the exact location of an asset, whether it is above or below ground. It also shows the location in relation to other objects that have impact on management of the assets, such as roads, public buildings and other underground pipe-work.

GIS doesn’t just show – it allows a wide range of geographical analysis to be carried out on the geo-referenced data. GIS has become firmly established worldwide, and many valuable data sets are now available, including aerial photography. As far as asset management is concerned, these photographs are not gimmicks. For example, they allow very fast assessment of the characteristics of the land through which the underground networks are routed.

However, GIS has limitations when water companies try to use it as the central repository for all network data, many of which stem from the fact that GIS is a general purpose tool, rather than a purpose built system for water networks. It is not based on a connected network data model. It is not designed for cleaning data. It cannot easily store performance data such as CCTV images, or model results giving max/min pressures or sewer surcharge hotspots. Data is not displayed and edited in a manner purpose-designed for network engineers, with consequent issues of the user interface and efficiency. It’s strength - that it is applicable over a very wide range of applications - becomes a weakness when it is asked to do too much as a water industry data management system.

SCADA and Telemetry

SCADA or telemetry systems tell operations staff what is happening right now in the network. However, SCADA has some limitations that have prevented it from becoming a management information system. Originally, its primary role was to produce and display alarms about problem events, such as intruder alerts, gas escapes or overflows. It has since developed to include recording of time-varying data such as levels and flows at key points in the network.

However, SCADA can only be installed at a few key points across the network. It would not be economic for it to reach everywhere. Moreover, while it gives information about what is happening now, it has no predictive capability - it cannot inform the manager how the network might perform under the variety of conditions to be found in the future. SCADA cannot do ‘what-if’ analysis.

Modeling Software

Modeling Software (such as Wallingford Software’s InfoWorks suite), can undertake “what-if” analysis, and is widely used throughout the industry to simulate the behaviour of a network system under a variety of conditions.

For instance, in water supply and distribution modeling, the model should represent the dynamic operation of the pumping stations, valves, control valves and reservoirs to simulate the variations in flow and pressure in the potable water supply pressurized pipe network. Similarly, for water collection systems, the model should represent the network as closely as possibly, and feature all the closed pipes, open channels, and ancillary structures such as weirs, orifices and pump (lift) stations. Typically, the network would link all the relevant above ground catchment areas and pass the flow to the terminal pumping station or sewerage treatment works.

Computer simulation of a water system provides an effective means to design new systems, and investigate and optimize existing systems without disturbing the real system and causing problems for existing users. To be effective the model must be based on sound data and be field verified in order to have confidence that the simulation reflects the real system behaviour. By modeling your water/waste water or river system, a full understanding of its hydraulic behaviour can be gained. The model can then be used as a tool to plan new infrastructure improvements, develop operational maintenance strategies and proactively manage the system.

Some modeling software, including InfoWorks, is integrated with other data systems, such as GIS and CMMS, in order to speed the model build process and minimize data entry effort, leaving more time to analyse the performance of the network.

Good, but not good enough

CMMS, GIS, SCADA and modeling software each play a very important role in water management, but each is designed to meet specific needs through a partial view of the network: namely, asset maintenance, asset location, system operation and system simulation. None deals with the central issue of the totality of network management, in all its facets.

During the past five years, business management IT has witnessed the emergence of ‘customer relationship management’ software that gathers data from multiple sources to present a single view of the customer. In a similar way, the water industry is witnessing the emergence of ‘network information management systems’ (NIMS), to gather data from the multiple sources that exist within a water authority. NIMS is specifically intended to aid management of water and wastewater network assets to produce and present the required information. One such system is InfoNet from Wallingford Software. Unlike CMMS, GIS or modeling software, NIMS provides a total view of the network that is specifically designed for water managers, and not maintenance engineers, modelers, or any other specialist department.


For both long term planning and everyday operations, water managers need accurate, up-to-date information on their networks and how the networks are performing. NIMS reports that information in an easy-to-use way, so helping managers to make informed decisions in a cost effective way. Example applications include:

  • Managing surveys and survey data
  • Capital investment planning
  • Operational reporting
  • Configuring network data for capacity and flow analysis
  • Rehabilitation planning

What characterises NIMS? NIMS has the appearance of a GIS but is, in fact, a database. NIMS concentrates on the ‘fixed’ assets and leaves the management of maintenance crews to the CMMS. Where GIS deals with the geography of assets using points, lines and polygons, NIMS deals with the engineering status of assets such as pumps, valves, structures, pipes and sewers”. But most of all, NIMS is based upon a connected model – not just where each asset is located, but what is joined to what in the network.

Data Clean-up

NIMS collates network data from a variety of sources, including other databases, GIS and from field surveys. The more one sees of water asset data, the more one realizes how imperfect it can be. Often it has missing or wrong values. Data derived from CAD (Computer Aided Design) and GIS often suffers from missing or damaged connectivity. This means that water pipes are disconnected at junctions, or sewers are not attached to manholes (according to the data set, at least!). This may not matter for drawing a map, but it plays havoc with advanced uses of network data, such as hydraulic modeling. So the NIMS should verify the network data, repair any missing or erroneous values, and create or repair the connectivity of the data set.

Field Data Surveys

One way in which IT has aided field data surveys is the development, and rapidly reducing cost, of GPS (Global Positioning System) surveying. This allows field crews to accurately map manholes and junctions far faster and cheaper than in the past. However, field data surveys are not just about locating assets, it is vital to assess and record condition. In the past this was all done by manual inspection, with comments recorded on what is OK and what has failed (missing manhole rungs, for example). Increasingly, IT supports condition assessment with the use of CCTV (closed circuit television) and digital cameras, used for remote monitoring.

Manual inspection of sewers and pipes is expensive to do safely (and not possible for smaller diameters!) But remote viewing allows cheaper, faster collection of condition data. However, vast amounts of condition data are now being generated. In the past, the value of the survey was quickly negated because nobody could find the evidence shortly afterwards. It is not easy to find what you want in a room full of videotape. Converting to digital has not solved the problems – a large database is nearly as difficult to search. Therefore, the NIMS now performs the job of managing condition data, and just as importantly, connecting it to the appropriate pipe and manhole locators so the condition assessments can always be found whenever needed.

From data to knowledge

The NIMS is tasked to turn data into meaningful and useful information in the form of reports. As with software, the water industry is dominated by reports, from daily reports (yesterday’s total flows from all the treatment works and total flows into each distribution zone, etc.) to annual reports (total length of sewer, average age, summary of condition, total replacement value, etc.). NIMS analyses network data sourced from multiple location to generate useful, useable reports, using GIS-type and tabular formats. Good reports do help asset managers to make better decisions.

Two US programmes that characterise a more rigorous approach to asset management and are of interest elsewhere, are GASB 34 and CMOM. GASB 34 specifies the way in which organizations now need to report on the value of their assets. Two different methods of valuation are allowed (depreciated cost and maintained cost), but both depend on an inventory of assets. NIMS is proving enormously useful in preparing GASB 34 reports.

CMOM applies to sanitary sewers and gives recommendations for Capacity, Management and Maintenance programmes. Managers look to CMMS and GIS for help, and to hydraulic, network modeling systems for capacity analysis. Increasingly, they want to pull it all together using NIMS to collect, clean up, and report network information.

The final piece of the jigsaw?

In an industry awash with data and data sources (whether GIS, databases, CMMS, field data systems, SCADA, modeling software or other corporate applications), there is a need for a separate management system capable of pulling together, integrating, cleaning and validating all the data resident within an organization’s diverse systems. The purpose of NIMS, such as Wallingford’s InfoNet software, is to complement the wealth of different systems already in use in order to make sense of the whole and give managers a clear single picture of their networks. Part network data management system, part report generator, products like InfoNet are capable of vastly increasing the usability of the data that a water company holds, so unlocking and increasing the data´s combined value. In a very real way, NIMS helps makes sense of the other systems in place and enables a water authority to stop ‘making do’ with partial solutions using existing products that, however excellent in themselves, were never designed to manage the water network infrastructure.

However, the value of NIMS extends beyond this too. By increasing the total quality of information available, NIMS increases the quality of the decisions based upon it, throughout all the systems employed by the organization. In other words, NIMS adds value to the original raw data that was not there before. As well as leading to tangible commercial benefits, this impacts positively on the perception of the water engineering profession as a whole. The ramifications of this could be very widespread indeed.

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