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

Ransomware: Expanding into the Industrial Internet

The Dark Side of the Industrial Internet

Ransomware attacks are no longer just a threat for IT companies, but are rapidly creeping in and causing damage to the world of industrial infrastructure.

With a 300-percent increase from 2015 to 2016, ransomware attacks are amounting to over 4,000 daily, making it the fastest growing malware threat according to the FBI.

Ransomware blocks access to data within a computer system or network until a sum of money is paid, often in the online currency bitcoin.

Our partners at CyberX, a cybersecurity company focusing on OT networks and industrial infrastructures, reported that KillDisk malware has evolved into ransomware, transitioning from destroying data to encrypting it and then demanding a bitcoin ransom for the data to be returned to the user.

IT Locked Up, OT Wide Open

Disk-wiping malware previously used in cyber attacks responsible for disruptions within the Ukrainian power grid has found its way into the industrial domain.

In this incident, a control center worker for the power grid noted that his cursor started controlling circuit breakers on his screen, when he wasn’t touching it.

After changing the operator’s passwords and locking him out of the system, the hackers took an entire substation offline, which escalated to shutting down many more as he helplessly watched.

Much like what resulted in the Ukraine, this malware is being distributed through office email attachments, resulting in hard-drives and network-mapped folders becoming encrypted and information stolen as a result.

Industrial networks are commonly targeted due to the economic incentive, as well as the problematic situation it creates for companies. Not only does it put the data at risk, but can cause damage to production.RedDoorMailer

This is a prime example of companies locking their information technology (IT), but leaving their operational technology (OT) systems too exposed.

Download the free Cyber Security for OT guide from Gray Matter Systems and read more about securing the OT side.

Preventing Cyber Attacks

So what’s the most effective method of protection?

Prevention. Protecting SCADA networks is key to fighting cyber attacks.

By performing risk assessments on OT networks for vulnerable HMIs, Industrial Firewalls, PLCs and IIoT devices, vulnerabilities in the network are easily identified and fixed.

Had the power grid workers been required to log into the SCADA and data acquisition networks by using two-factor identification, this may have been prevented.

By creating the correct policies in place within OT systems, organizations can better ensure systems to be worked on safely and securely.

Take the Cyber Challenge

How much do you know, or not know, about your own OT systems?

Take our Industrial Internet Cyber Security quiz and gain valuable insight into your own operations and strategies.

Take the Challenge

Our Top Ten Greatest Hits from 2016

1. Your Front Door is Bolted, but the Back Window is Wide Open: OT Cyber Security Webinar

You’ve set up a firewall. Hired a CISO. Bought Palo Alto.

Maybe you’ve even added an assessment from a large consulting group. Those action items and checked boxes are giving you a sense of security, a plan. But the problem is, it’s a false sense of security. You still haven’t protected your operational technology and that’s a huge problem.

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, curtains billowing in the wind– leaving it vulnerable to outside threats.

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

Watch this on-demand webinar to hear two operational technology experts from the Gray Matter team address the major vulnerabilities and how to overcome them.

Watch the Webinar

2. 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.

Read More

3. The Road Map You Need Before a SCADA Update

Imagine agreeing to a road trip with a driver who refuses to use directions.

No GPS, no folded-up paper map, and certainly no stops to ask for directions, just an open road stretching out into a giant question mark.

“I’ll wing it,” the driver might say. “We can figure it out as we go along.” 

Chances are, you’re not going on this one.

You wouldn’t agree to an aimless road trip, and you wouldn’t trust your surgeon to improvise an operation. You wouldn’t want your operators on the plant floor to just wing it.

So why risk a SCADA upgrade by skipping the system assessment?

Read More

4. What’s Your Industrial Cyber Security Score?

A client in operational technology recently told us their rate of cyber incidents was 200 attacks per month three years ago – now it’s 2,000 attacks in four hours. To get ahead in cyber security, the first step is finding out what you don’t know.

This 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.

Nobody has all the answers, but you can gain valuable insight into your own operations and strategies. Take our cyber challenge and you’ll receive your own knowledge level based on your score.

Are you up to the challenge?

Take the Challenge

5. The Cyber Security Guide for Operational Technology

The expansion of the Industrial Internet is leading to the need for specialized cyber security tools to protect operational technology.

Securing your information technology (IT) is a good and important step in business, but don’t forget about locking up the systems we rely on most in manufacturing, energy and water – the operational technology.

Billions of sensors are being rolled out rapidly as the Industrial Internet expands. The devices for operational technology are very different than those found on information technology networks and they need specialized technology to protect them. 

Download the guide for a comprehensive understanding of security in the OT world including top vulnerabilities. The guide walks you through the first steps in knowing what’s on your network and has specific advice about the assessment process from our top cyber security consultants.

Download the Guide

6. Gray Matter Systems Talks Technology on TechVibe Radio

Gray Matter Systems CEO, Jim Gillespie, appeared on the TechVibe podcast on Sept. 9, 2016 to talk about Gray Matter’s role in the emerging technology scene in Pittsburgh.

7. What Pokemon Go Taught Me About Augmented Reality For Industrial Environments

Gone are the days of playing a Game Boy by streetlight on family car trips. Today’s budding gamers will never know the struggle of frantically searching for new AA batteries to play the newest game, just bought with carefully saved allowances and chore money.

In fact, with Nintendo’s newest advancement in gaming technology, mothers everywhere will soon be pushing their kids to “go outside and play video games.” I am, of course, referring to the gaming company’s newest fad, Pokémon Go, which has taken seasoned and new gamers alike by storm.

The game relies on augmented reality, or AR, a sect of technology that employs the physical world as a base for overlaid, digital images. Pokémon Go, however, represents more than just a technological advance applicable to those who “gotta catch ‘em all!”

In a recent article from GE Reports, Marco Annunziata, Chief Economist and Executive Director of Global Market Insight at GE, surmises the gaming application’s role concerning how we think about big data and the industry.

Read More

8. Digitizing Standard Operating Procedures to Ensure Safety, Security & Compliance at Orlando Utilities Commission 

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the water/wastewater industry or not, imagine the intense smell from an overly chlorinated pool on a hot summer day. The kind of smell that burns your nose and turns your eyes red.

Now multiply that reaction by 5,000 and that only begins to illustrate the potential danger water operators can face when dealing with chlorine leaks or spills in a utility.

For municipalities across the country that deal with potentially hazardous chemicals on such a frequent basis, like Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), keeping operators safe is the top priority. 

Today’s forward-thinking utilities like OUC are using technology to keep their operators safe in these kind of situations. That technology, in the form of sophisticated software, is also helping utilities improve operations.

Download the White Paper

9. Trout Fishing and Automation: They Have More in Common Than You Think

The first thing one notices about trout fishing in western Pennsylvania on a clear April morning is the stunning, unnerving calm.

It’s a serenity that commands respect. It forces grown men to creep along its pathways like children sneaking downstairs on Christmas morning. If they talk, they only do so in a whisper.

There’s a lot of art in fishing—especially fly-fishing—but there’s a fair amount of science involved too. 

Knowing the best time of day and what bait to use can mean the difference between winning and losing.

While it might sound simplistic, that’s pretty much the way applying automation and technology to oil and gas operations works. The more data an operator collects on its surroundings and the better it knows the environment, the better chance it has of being successful.

Read More

10. Oil Insider Top Three Issues in the Boardroom 

Pricing in the oil and gas industry is extremely volatile.

It’s leaving industry decision makers with little time to lose. They need the right technology, in the right place, immediately. Their people have to be better at their jobs today than they were yesterday. Every decision counts and if one move is a few days late, it could cost millions.

Gray Matter Systems CEO, Jim Gillespie is familiar with helping oil and gas executives to solve the biggest problems facing their companies. He says the first issue circulating in oil and gas boardrooms everywhere is getting data from many different sources all on one display. It’s commonly referred to as the “single pane of glass.”

Read More

When Someone Believes in You, Everything Changes: Gray Matter Systems Thanks Steve Rubin

Let’s Go For It

Recently I took my son Max, who’s about to graduate from high school, on a college trip to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It caused me to flash back to a very important person in our lives and how Gray Matter Systems got its start.

It was 1991 in Pittsburgh and Carson Drake and I had big plans.

A revolution was underway as personal computers were shaking things up on the factory floor. Just as big data, the Cloud, mobile and the Internet of Things are disrupting everything now, it was an exciting, but unsettling time.

Business owners, managers and workers were frightened about what this meant for their jobs, but we were excited because we knew operational technology was the future. It was time for us to leave the comfort zone of working for a company to start our own company.

When Someone Believes in You, Everything Changes

When two people start a company they need money, but more than that they need the type of support that helps you make fast, innovative decisions and inspires you to carry the heavy weight of success or failure. Steve Rubin gave us both.

Steve believed in Carson and I with a passion that got Gray Matter Systems off the ground and running. He built one of the most successful industrial automation software companies from his basement. He knew there was a need for a wide-ranging computer control system that could do many things at once. That’s why he created The FIX (fully integrated control system) and took industrial automation to a whole new level. We helped bring that technology to people in manufacturing, energy, and many other industries.

My son, Max Gillespie standing outside the Rubin Campus Center

My son, Max Gillespie standing outside the Rubin Campus Center

Steve’s company, Intellution, was later bought by Emerson Electric Company, and finally by General Electric. The rest is Fortune 500 history. Steve Rubin passed away in 2015 from complications related to ALS.

Steve’s enthusiasm and passion extended beyond his work. One very special place to him was Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he received his computer science degree and later served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The Rubin Campus Center is now where students meet, debate and innovate. He cared deeply about students and wanted a space for them to grow.

At Gray Matter Systems we honor Steve’s dedication to customers. One year he flew his own plane to speak at our annual conference, sharing his insights with customers and devoting his time to their needs.

We also honor his sense of adventure and fun. Steve was a huge baseball fan and couldn’t have been happier when former Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner, Kevin McClatchy, presented him with a jersey during a Gray Matter Systems user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, pictured here.

Most of all, we honor his incredible business values of fairness and honesty.

Steve Rubin at a Gray Matter user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium

Steve Rubin at a Gray Matter user group meeting at Three Rivers Stadium

Two Becomes Four, Four Becomes Fifty

We’ve come a long way since Steve helped us get started.

At first it was just the two of us. But we soon added a few others and found our home in Sewickley, a walkable suburb of Pittsburgh. Working in the house on Thorn Street made us feel like a family. And that’s who we are.

Sewickley is a special place bookmarked in our history. But it was time to turn the page and transition into a bigger space for our growing company.

Now we have a state-of-the-art headquarters in Pittsburgh, more than 50 employees and we’re growing fast. We also expanded our territory in the Gulf region to include Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Western Tennessee and Southeastern New Mexico.

The World is Waking Up to What We’ve Been Doing

We help some of the biggest companies in water/wastewater, oil and gas, and manufacturing use operational technology to get faster, leaner and smarter. Thanks to Steve, we have the opportunity to solve some of today’s toughest, data-driven challenges.

These days, everyone is talking about big data, the Cloud, the Industrial Internet of Things and predictive analytics.

We couldn’t be more thrilled. We’ve been ready for this for a long time. Our team of experienced engineers, technical consultants and leaders translate all the hype around these concepts into real value for our customers.

We feel good about where we are and where we’re going and that’s all because someone believed in us. We wish we had said this sooner—thanks, Steve.

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