How IIoT is Revolutionizing Utilities

This post originally appeared in TechCrunch. 

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is creating huge opportunities in the water and wastewater industries, adding value to both the utility and the consumer. Connected machines are reshaping the way these utilities operate, allowing them to make smarter and more informed decisions.

By driving up innovation, water utilities are driving down cost. Here’s what they’re up to.

Treating water and wastewater requires chemical processes that can now be monitored more accurately using digital data collection.

These digital transformations are taking the guesswork out of chemical processing and allow utilities to optimize the amount of chlorine dollars spent to maintain safe levels — saving time, money and empowering operators to make fewer mistakes.

IIoT and Wastewater Clarification

Another IIoT development, a new SaaS application will calculate wastewater clarifier tank performance — providing quick analysis on a critical step in the wastewater process. The tool, called ClariFind, alerts utilities as they’re getting close to a failure before they experience it.

ClariFind will predict when sludge will overflow and be released. This kind of problem causes EPA issues and fines that can run in the millions of dollars. It will also be able to predict a thickening failure, which is when the effluent doesn’t settle correctly and creates a costly sludge blanket in the tank. ClariFind is just one part of a water operations suite of productivity enhancers — solutions as a service.

Predictive analytics are also solving monitoring problems that were not previously possible for utilities. For example, there are a large number of pumps that are commonly found within water facilities, and digitized data is making it possible for companies to accurately predict when these pumps might fail — ahead of time. It’s similar to the predictive analytic technology used in jet engine checks between airline flights.

This cloud-based application easily connects to pumps and helps companies avoid costly and inconvenient failures, allowing engineers to schedule controlled maintenance rather than reactive maintenance.

Concepts are in the works to apply this type of predictive technology to residential properties as well, in order to help home owners and property managers predict sump pump failures, for instance, before the basement floods. This technology will be a must-have asset for seasonal homes that don’t have inhabitants year-round. Utilities are leading the way in pilot stages for this type of residential technology.

Partnerships between technology companies and utility companies are facilitating innovation.

Safety procedures are also being monitored and enforced more closely by keeping track of them using digitized technology. In Florida, the water division of the Orlando Utilities Commission is using IIoT technology to remind employees of protocol procedures when dangerous chlorine leaks are detected. The safety procedure is sent to a worker’s device to be confirmed before access to the contaminated area is granted.

Both private companies and government agencies are utilizing IIoT technology to increase efficiency and profitability in water. GE has launched an industrial platform called Predix, a cloud-based platform as a service (PaaS) that enables asset performance management on an industrial scale. For water utilities, Predix will help utilities organize time-series data to monitor asset functionality.

The Environmental Protection Agency has technology that will be used to create a new way to digitally improve the monitoring of water age and water quality. This is a very important issue for consumers because when water ages and sits in a pipe for too long, water quality goes down — which was one part of the problem at play in the Flint water crisis. We expect an analogous approach to the way Google Maps handles traffic to represent the water age, enabling municipalities to monitor this more easily.

Running a water utility is becoming more like running a business.

Collaboration in Technology & Utilities

Utilities are no longer solely relying on customers for funding, they’re collaborating and looking at alternative revenue streams to supplement cost. While power utilities have been leading the way on alternative revenue streams, water utilities are now following suit.

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) has begun to commercialize their intellectual property, giving them a new revenue channel. For example, they are commercializing their water ammonia versus nitrate algorithm (which is something that keeps the right chemical balance needed for breaking down wastewater) and selling it to other treatment plants.

Partnerships between technology companies and utility companies are facilitating innovation and developing solutions to become cleaner and more efficient at a rapid pace. It truly is a transformative time in the industry, and the results couldn’t be more pure — better drinking water for everyone.

New technologies are giving people hope that they can achieve better standards of living and Gray Matter couldn’t be prouder to lead the way in the water evolution.

Download the white paper to read more on IoT in water, game-changing technology and real Gray Matter customer stories that increase efficiency and profitability in water.
Download the Water Innovations White Paper

Let’s Do This Together: Trends to Follow in 2017

Thanks to You

I want to take a minute to say thank you.

It was an amazing 2016 at Gray Matter and that’s because of you. When I look back on everything that’s happened in the past twelve months, I see a lot of faces. I see the faces of operations leaders becoming digital innovators. I see the faces of security chiefs, confronting growing cyber threats. I see the faces of our own Gray Matter employees excited about new innovations within our company.

Change is good. It pushes you forward. Makes you grow. Forces you to lean on different strengths and develop new ones. But when you’re in the middle of change it can feel disruptive, uncomfortable, exposing vulnerabilities you were hoping to keep out of view.

Right now our industry is in a period of major change. The power of the Industrial Internet is about using data to drive outcomes for customers. But sometimes that power can feel overwhelming. So I’d like to propose a new mission for 2017 – let’s do this together. As partners we can be strategic about how to confront the change in order to move forward.

Trend to Follow in 2017 – The Digital Twin

Industries like music, shopping and media have already experienced massive transformations in connectivity. Now it’s time for manufacturing, energy and water.

GE predicts that 20 billion machines will be connected by 2020. 20 billion machines.  Take that in for a second.

Everyday objects like your thermostat, lights and refrigerator all talk to each other through an internet connection. Now that connection is extending to factory machinery as operations are becoming digitized. It’s a revolutionary way to run more efficiently and save money.

You hear the term digital twin so often, but what does it really mean?

Simply put, creating a digital twin is the process of merging physical and digital worlds.

The process takes a physical machine and uses technology to get all the information about past states, present states and predictions.  That information creates a digital model that’s alive – taking in a stream of data – using that to adjust so the model is personalized to be a precise representation of the asset.

The software version is used for what used to be a physical inspection – requiring people to be right next to the machine. The virtual version can be done from anywhere and at any time, expanding the value of those inspections and allowing them to have more of a real-time impact. It creates a constant inspection that allows the operators to predict failures sooner.

The digital model of a machine, built and run in a virtual environment used to be available only to the biggest companies with the largest budgets. But the Industrial Internet and an explosion in sensor technology have lowered the cost and broadened the access beyond the elite.  People are not only connected to people, they’re connected to every kind of device at home and now work. Manufacturers stand to win big from this. Factory floors are outfitted with a tremendous amount of sensors to collect data, but because that data has been locked up it hasn’t provided value.

The digital twin allows us to unlock that data and not just for one asset at a time.  We can now model machines in groups – for example, a machine builder with thousands of machines installed across hundreds of customers – will now be able to operate best in class using digital twins.

There’s potential to unleash productivity and efficiencies like we’ve never seen before.

How Do We Get There

This is going to be the year where concepts like creating a digital twin become less of an idea and more of a reality.  So how do we get it done?

I believe one of the keys will be to link information technology and operational technology in a real way. The teams need to become one so there’s a full understanding on both sides. It can no longer be someone else’s problem – we’re all on the same team.

Our mission at Gray Matter is to transform operations and empower people.

Success in the Industrial Internet requires both parts equally. You create the digital twin and transform your operation by getting the information that allows you to be more productive and get the most out of your assets. But you also need the innovation and insight of people. Cultural and mentality changes will be just as important as the digital ones. Your people need to feel empowered by what they’re doing so they can make the best decisions and find new ways to take that increased productivity to new levels.

Let’s do this together and truly seek feedback from each other on how the next steps should look.

Happy New Year. Here’s to working together in 2017– I look forward to it.

Surprise: Your Control Network is Connected to the Internet

That Awkward Moment

It happens daily.

A company is investigating a cyber security breach. Word of the breach gets out and suddenly their brand, reputation and trade secrets are all at stake.

It’s a really awkward moment and a PR nightmare. I read the quotes and calming explanations from communications executives that despite the breach often say — don’t worry — our systems are not connected to the Internet or any external network. Are they sure? How sure?

When we test cyber vulnerabilities at some of the biggest manufacturing and energy companies and water utilities, it’s surprising how many internet and external connections exist that top security leaders didn’t know about. We start the assessment and within seconds the room is silent.

Surprise, your control network is connected to the Internet.

Getting on the Same Operational Page

Part of the solution is making sure all members of your team are on the same page.

In many cases all your cyber security planning has secured the information technology (IT) side, while at the same time your oper­ational technology (OT) is left wide open and it’s a dangerous gap.

According to the HIS technology report, “Industrial IoT 2014,” less than half of Internet-connected devices are above the firewall. More than half are actually below it– in the operation­al technology (OT) underbelly.

Imagine a house with a bolted front door and a state-of-the-art home security system out front. It may seem secure, but the back window is wide open.

Your cyber security plan is no different. Ignoring operational technology cyber security is like leaving the back window or door wide open.

Corporate IT is significant and needs to be protected. It’s your emails, financials, documents and passwords. Protecting this sensitive information is imperative.

OT is a whole different level.

Operational technology is the hardware and software used to control all your industrial processes. These are the critical systems that clean water, make food and produce energy. If they’re attacked, the results can be dangerous and lead to power outages, environmental damage and even loss of life.

While spending for IT protection has increased, OT spending is often secondary, creating huge vulnerabilities.control network connected internet

In the past, OT systems were separate from IT but as interconnectivity spreads they’re becoming increasingly integrated.

OT can now be reached through IT and it’s becoming more susceptible to network attacks.

Not long ago, hackers caused major damage at a steel mill in Germany. They came in through the IT side, but after stealing logins through email were able to access the mill’s control systems. Now that hackers were on the operational technology (OT) side, the IT protection in place was no longer helping.

This led to parts of the plant failing, causing a furnace blast and significant damage.

Specialized software created by the hackers was used to oversee and administer the plant.

In the aftermath, software developers and digital analysts said they “didn’t expect a nuclear power plant or steel plant to be connected to the Internet.”

Depending on who you’ve hired to run security, they may fall on the IT side, OT side or somewhere in between. It’s imperative they know the operational technology side as well.

Knowing the tools and systems on the operational side takes a very special skillset.

The nature of devices on the OT network are different than those commonly found on IT networks. We’re talking about PLCs, RTUs, SCADA servers, Historian servers, data concentrators, etc.

Some legacy PLCs are equipped with built-in webservers. As a result, it’s important for us to understand not just what is on your OT network, but also how it’s behaving. Using “active” monitoring devices on an OT network can not only disrupt communication timing, but can lock up OT devices like PLCs.

In some cases, you may want to organize the OT network so that only a select set of devices can communicate to other sets of devices.

A key takeaway from a recent Department of Homeland Security conference on cyber security for op­erational technology ICS-CERT (Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team) was to first take inventory of all your connected devices digitally (or manually) to trace every connection.control network connected internet

This directive is for public/government utilities, private manufacturing and energy companies. Home­land Security advises mapping all the devices to determine where you currently have undocumented connections and to understand your overall risk.

A digital inventory is recommended as long as it is passive and does not actively ping or ask the OT devices for information.

Big Things are at Stake

The rapid growth of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing the game on all of this. As billions of sensors are being shipped that incorporate IIoT technology, knowing what is on your OT network is critically important.

Given the high likelihood that your OT network will grow, you might want to ask your team:

Are you truly confident that you know everything that’s plugged in or connected wirelessly to everything else on the network? How often have you or someone on your team traced every run from switch to device either manually or digitally?

Big things are at stake, so it’s important to be honest as you answer those questions.

Take The Cyber Challenge

Nobody has all the answers, but you can gain valuable insight into your own operations and strategies.

The cyber challenge is designed to pose important, valuable questions to your cyber strategy. You’ll find out just how much you currently know and don’t know about your own system.

Take our new Industrial Internet Cyber Security quiz and share the results with your team. Who had the best scores?

Take the Challenge


Taming the Complexity of a Digital Era

There are now more computing devices in the world than there are people.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the world’s population is made up of 7.3 billion people, and growing steadily. In fact, their online population clock tracks each new addition like a live, ticking scoreboard. But the bureau isn’t the only organization counting new life.

The mobile analysis firm GSMA Intelligence has a similar, real-time dashboard that tracks new mobile connections.

With close to 7.8 billion SIM cards operating in the world right now, mobile devices are coming online faster than people are being born.

But what actually pushes this figure past the world population is the growing number of active machine-to-machine connections– M2M connections like cars, medical appliances and industrial infrastructure.

This is a staggering piece of information and it’s only a bite-sized example of the digital world we live in.

After all, data is now being measured in terabytes, petabytes, zettabytes, etc. These prefixes can leave one feeling dizzy.

We’re currently on the path to a complex, digital age. It may lead to many opportunities, or it may bring challenges. It’s up to us to make our choice. Can we harness that complexity to build a safer, more profitable, better world?

Mickey McManus, the keynote speaker for our annual user group conference PIB 2016, is trying to help answer that question. A pioneer in the field of pervasive computing and human-centered innovation, he’s passionate about taming the complexity of our digital world.


Mickey is the chairman and principal of MAYA Design and a co-author of the book, Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology. TrillionsBook

Trillions is a field guide to the future, taking the previous example of billions of computing devices to the next level. Mickey asserts that one day soon this number will be closer to trillions.

“We are about to be faced with – not a trillion isolated devices – but with a trillion-node network: a network whose scale and complexity will dwarf that of today’s Internet,” said authors of Trillions, McManus, Lucas and Ballay. “And, unlike the Internet, this will be a network not of computation that we use, but of a computation that we live in.

Mickey is a frequent speaker on innovation and pervasive computing, whether it’s at GE’s Minds + Machines last year, Techonomy, Aspen Ideas Festival or during his two TEDx talks.

Taming the Complexity

 According to Trillions, humans are inherently bad at dealing directly with all things complex. By sorting through and organizing complicated concepts though, we stand a chance at making sense of it.

“Invented systems like calculus and the periodic table help us describe abstract math and the nuanced properties of the natural world without too much trouble, and can be relied upon to work every time,” said Mickey.

To tame the complexity that exists when you’re dealing with a sea of operational data, it’s crucial to keep people at the intersection of technology and business.

Twenty years ago, there were industrial professionals that thought the idea of a PC on a plant floor was outlandish. Now we know that applying modern technology practices like HMI/SCADA, data analytics, and mobile solutions are key to operational excellence across industries.

To Innovate is to Collaborate

Trillions reminds us that while we’re making our way through a new era, we must step back, regroup and discuss what it could mean for not only our business but also our lives. We must collaborate to get there.

This is what our annual user group meeting in Put-in-Bay, Ohio has always meant to us. For more than 20 years, we’vemickeymailer hosted professionals from manufacturing, water/wastewater, energy and more to inspire conversation, spotlight challenges and propose innovative solutions.

Join us this year at PIB 2016 to collaborate with folks who have some of the same problems you experience daily and hear first-hand Mickey McManus tame the complexity of the digital age.

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