As published on swan-forum.com
Joshua Cantone, CEO – Optimatics
Optimatics is changing the trajectory of public utility economics, powering outcome-driven analytics strategies that achieve new levels of operational and community impact. With Optimatics, infrastructure leaders leverage an intelligent platform combined with their engineering judgment to explore the full range of options and tackle complex decision-making with confidence. Optimatics drives infrastructure strategies for more than 75 million citizens across 300 utilities and 3 continents. Engineers at their core, the team’s real-world expertise, heritage of innovation and proven IP has made them a trusted strategic partner around the globe.
The US is often called out on its ageing infrastructure, and many times receives poor scoring (e.g., the ASCE report card). As investments are directed toward rebuilding American infrastructure, why is it important to prioritise smart, data-driven solutions for water and wastewater utilities?
Put simply, the US can’t afford to replace its ageing infrastructure with the same antiquated methods. US utilities face an unparalleled challenge to balance affordability, equitability and level of service. Traditional approaches to planning and prioritising the renewal of assets rely primarily on engineering judgement and manual trial and error. If utilities want to manage multiple objectives, be more transparent in their approach to planning, and ensure they are getting the best value for every dollar invested they will need to utilise smarter, data-driven approaches. Such approaches leverage the latest computing power, artificial intelligence, and allow engineers to leverage their judgement to develop more efficient and cost-effective strategies.
Optimatics’ project with SWAN utility Member, WSSC was a 2021 recipient of the Smart 50 Awards honouring the 50 most transformative smart projects each year. What are the top 3 trends you feel that utilities should be paying attention to with regard to embracing innovation within the industry?
WSSC has a unique approach to embracing innovation, investing each year in piloting new technologies (through business cases) that solve problems they identified within their utility. This provides an opportunity to engage with innovators and to assess the costs and benefits of the technology. There are many new technologies evolving in the water and wastewater industry and utilities need to create mechanisms for procuring and sourcing new innovations. The problem facing WSSC was not a unique one: How to efficiently package their water main replacement program? The difficulty, however, is having to balance community impact, costs, level of service, and risk. Utilities are being asked to solve more complex problems that are non-linear and require multiple objectives to be balanced. It is clear that utilities face greater scrutiny over their decisions from their stakeholders, being transparent about their decision-making approaches are going to be paramount for them moving forward.
Optimatics is part of the Suez family and has a formal partnership with SWAN Member, ESRI. What is the value of partnerships for Optimatics in the smart water ecosystem?
Partnerships have been a key part of the evolution of Optimatics in the industry. Most importantly, new technology companies need partners to help them validate and test their innovation. Suez has been a great partner in allowing Optimatics to test new use cases within their business units and operations across the world. This has paved the way to ensure Optimizer is well tested and ready for use by other utilities. It is also important to help utilities understand how they can integrate technologies from multiple vendors in a way that is efficient and without duplicating effort. Our partnership with ESRI has allowed us to provide a seamless way for mapping and presenting results from Optimizer, which ensures utilities are able to leverage the investments already made in their ESRI software. Finally, these partnerships provide a mechanism for spreading the word about new innovations. Established companies have large customer bases that can connect new companies with utilities without the need for significant investment in sales resources.
Can you describe how Optimatics collaborates with universities and taps into academic research for commercial outcomes?
Optimatics has a long history of working with universities, having originated from a PhD project by one of our employees Laurie Murphy at the University of Adelaide in Australia. We continue to maintain relationships with the University of Adelaide, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and others in the UK and Europe. Some of that collaboration involves helping to educate and train engineers on optimisation and commercial applications in the water industry and opportunities for collaborative research. By maintaining relationships with these universities, Optimatics is able to build on the research and make it commercially viable and available to the utility engineering community.
Young professionals are growing up in the digital age, but the water and wastewater sectors don’t always stand out as obvious career choices. How can we engage more young professionals to join the water workforce?
Young professionals are going to be a key part of the evolution of the water industry and how utilities embrace digital transformation. Most importantly, I believe the industry needs to show it is willing to adopt and invest in new innovative technologies. There are still many barriers to innovation in the water industry, one being a risk aversion to change. If consultants and utilities continue to block or avoid innovation, young engineers are going to choose career paths in other industries where they can leverage the latest technologies and learnings from university. The other thing we can do is to highlight the importance of the water and wastewater sectors and the vital resource we provide and protect. Young engineers certainly want to be empowered and feel like they are making a difference.