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Data-driven water works maximize limited resources

March 16, 2023

Facing inflation and workforce shortage, local governments and water districts are modernizing IT. But are they taking a results-driven strategy to protect clean water?

A results-driven strategy prioritizes analysis. It focuses on key indicators to determine if decisions and operations will meet short- and long-term goals under conditions of limited funding and personnel.

Costly data management

Data and dashboards are essential. However they have been under-utilized due to poor investments in efficient data management. Excel spreadsheets and Access databases are relatively free IT tools with costly tradeoffs: They lack information security tools like audit trails. Without a well-designed data management system, data quality control requires excessive labor hours. Downstream data users can have low data confidence levels in approved datasets. Eventually they lack technical support as in-house system architects either leave the agency or third-party consultants lack a core competence in IT.

Efficient data management

Over decades of partnering with organizations to modernize water data management systems, KISTERS understands the critical role of effective information use. What have we learned since KISTERS pivoted from a consulting engineering firm to a water & environmental IT developer? First, the demand for effective use of information is louder than ever. Second, good data hygiene and high data confidence levels are too readily assumed. Third, non-revenue generating departments are waiting longer before IT resources address their needs.

Data as an investment

Long-term data management has increasing returns. Close working relationships with the public sector have shown us that sustainability results from slow but deliberate pacing and value-generating investments.

Not all investment in data capacity is equal. Internal talent and a culture uncovers insights outweigh IT tools especially if shiny tools go unused. A few questions help to build analytical capacity in addition to motivate and retain employees:

  • What level(s) of internal data literacy will increase daily and weekly use of data and time-series applications to produce a healthy flow of insight?
  • How can these data be integrated with other datasets such as GIS, field notes, and satellite to identify intersectional trends in operations or over geographies?
  • What improvements or progress in quality of life can be shared with the public that customer service is a priority?

As local, county and state governments increase their commitment to data and results-driven service, sewer and water departments may face less resistance for capital projects and reasonable rate increases.