On Water & Wastewater

The Ignition Effect

9 min video  /  7 minute read

Like two rivers merging, Ignition converges IT and OT for high-tech H2O utilities. Hear how Ignition is helping the water/wastewater industry find its flow with a refreshing platform approach that standardizes data and simplifies complex operational processes.


Rob Raffaele: American Water is the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility in the US. We employ about 6,500 people and serve 14 million customers across our geographic footprint. We also proudly serve the military by performing water and wastewater duties on 16 bases across the US. So we started having architectural and strategy conversations about how we would start to converge IT and OT. We also looked at what do we need to do to standardize our plants and our processes. When we started looking at the challenges we face from a plant and standardization standpoint, we really wanted to look at a platform approach. A lot of the software and technology that's out there in the industry today is piecemeal, and it really didn't fit the way we run and do business and the way we support our water and wastewater facilities.

Rob Raffaele: A few years ago, right around the COVID pandemic, we started looking into ways to standardize our operational technology, and we came upon the Ignition platform. The pandemic was really eye-opening for us. We thought we were doing a good job from a standardization and processes standpoint, but when we couldn't put people in the facilities and when we couldn't work remotely as easily as we thought we could, we really realized the need for standardization and more consistency across our footprint was there.

Rob Raffaele: So at that point, we made a real business, hard-line decision to say we are going to be as consistent and as standardized across the board as possible. We needed every system to look and feel similar, so as we worry about, can we work remotely? Can we work in a mobile fashion? People get the same sense no matter where they're at, and no matter what plant they're working in. So our journey started really two-fold. We wanted to build an enterprise portal that would satisfy all of the corporate or business needs for operational data, and at the same time, we wanted to standardize the HMI/SCADA systems that are in the plant.

Rob Raffaele: So we ran it really in two parallel tracks, and we continue doing that, and now we're seeing the fruits of that, where we have consistent operational systems at the plant level, and we bring that data up into a centralized portal for anybody to access, whether they need to see water quality data or engineering data, chemical or power usage, so it really continues to mature for our business. I've been in IT for almost 27, 28 years, and I've been doing architecture for probably 20 of those.

Rob Raffaele: This is fundamentally what I think is a shift and really a game changer in the industry. And traditionally, being a hands-on person, I had to go really back and relook at how this technology would adopt for us. It made me relearn a lot of things that I thought I knew, and it allowed us to invest in people, build a team, and really get them excited and trained up on Ignition, and they're off and moving. It also allowed us now to take that knowledge and spread it out through the rest of our controls and automation community, and bring a more sort of IT focus to people who traditionally did not have a lot of IT background.

Rob Raffaele: So we're all learning at the same time and we're learning from different avenues and really excited to bring that knowledge together. We had ACC and Flexware as our primary and preferred, but we're so large and we cover so much territory that naturally two integrators couldn't do all the work for us. So sometimes, when the states or when the local operations wants to use an integrator that they're comfortable with and have used for a long time, we have to bring them into our collective fold.

Rob Raffaele: We sit down and have a conversation with them, we gauge their understanding of Ignition as it stands today. Some of them have Ignition experience, some of them have never touched it before, and it's really okay. We have a great set of processes, we have weekly sort of knowledge-sharing meetings, and then we share our standards, and our templates, and the way we have chosen to do things. We also bring them into our collaboration suite with our other integrators with ACC and Flexware, with the other partners that we've onboarded, and we really let them sort of work together and share ideas and keep those standards moving, and they get trained up and they sort of blend right into the fold. So it's really been fruitful for both our existing integrators and our new integrators who are interested in learning and interested in the way we're doing things, and they've really sunk their teeth into Ignition and the ecosystem we've built.

Rob Raffaele: I think for our staff, it's been really well adopted because it's blended technologies. It's allowed traditionally controls or operational technology people to learn new information or IT technologies, and it's allowed IT people to learn more operational technologies. It's really started to drive us into a converged model, and getting people who were usually more sort of separated by what they worked on all together at the same table. As critical infrastructure in the water and wastewater sector, cybersecurity is first always on our mind, how do we do things more securely? How do we meet the evolving cybersecurity performance guidelines that have come down from the government? We think Ignition is key to that. We think that bringing more standardization helps us there, we like to see the fact that Ignition is built on modern technologies and modern security principles.

Rob Raffaele: And we employ all of that now to help really bolster our cybersecurity profile. When it comes to efficiency for water and processes, just the pure fact that we're starting to standardize the view of the data. A lot of times in the past, whether it was chemical or power usage or treatment plant data, that stuff sat out there in islands, and now we're becoming more efficient because we're able to standardize that data. We're able to bring it up through one platform and visualize it on an enterprise portal for everybody to have access to. If you look at operational technology in the water and wastewater sector, it's traditionally been very closed off, partly because this sector is so fragmented. We are definitely excited to help bring that forward.

Rob Raffaele: We do see other water and wastewater utilities asking about Ignition, having conversations with us about how we continue to progress in that space, and we think Ignition is valuable because, unlike power and gas, these sections, they didn't have a lot of support in the past. They didn't have the capability to bring a lot of technology, and Ignition makes that really, really easy. We're having conversations with partner utilities about what we have deployed with Ignition and what we'll continue to do. We're happy to always help share that information to make the utility sector better, and we really see the water and wastewater sector growing under Ignition, and we think that's a catalyst to help them out.

Rob Raffaele: In short, I think Ignition is a game changer for this industry. We had a lot of strategic conversations with the competition in the operational technology space, and as a strategist in technology, I always sort of use one tactic. When I bring up a competitor in a strategy conversation, if it takes the air out of the room, I know we're on to something. And that was exactly what happened when we started mentioning Ignition to some of the competition as we sat down and talked about what we want to do in the future. Immediately, we knew we were on the right track.

Rob Raffaele: We think Ignition is absolutely the right system or ecosystem for not just the water and wastewater sector, but for all the utility sectors, and we're excited to help continue to foster that, grow that relationship, grow those partnerships with other system integrators and the Ignition community. We continue to move forward with Ignition, and quite frankly, we are heavy and we are all in. We will continue to build out and standardize our plants across our footprint, and we'll always look for more metrics and data that we can bring into our enterprise portal. We start to think about, and we'll wanna try to visualize things like, how can we be more efficient with energy usage, with chemical usage, and really start to look at the analytics of that data and what it speaks to us as a business.

Posted on December 4, 2023