We talked with two of our colleagues at ITpipes—Cori Criss, founder and CEO, and Mark Grabowski, business development manager—about the future of water and wastewater management.
Q: You’ve been working with GIS and asset management for more than 30 years. Why did you choose this field and how did you get your start?
CORI: The field chose me. Most people don’t choose to work in the dirty water business but I had great mentors, clients, and friends helping and encouraging me. I worked at Hancor Pipe and then a division called Pipetech that performed pipeline rehab before rehab was a day-to-day occurrence. The inspectors would bring me inspection reports via printouts and videotape. I would wipe down the reports with antibacterial spray and paper towels before I would touch them. I knew there was a better solution.
After some networking at a No-Dig show in 1993, I was introduced to an international development company that we partnered with to design and supply pipe inspection software. The beginning was tough. People back then laughed about the idea of having a computer in a field inspection truck, run by someone who had never used a computer.
Eventually, our company became the leader for sewer inspection software and even larger than the development company. Al Rossmeisl and I founded ITpipes to focus on delivering software that is configurable, consumes Esri products, and offers bi-directional automations with enterprise systems like Cityworks. My team and I have never set our sights on being the biggest operation. Instead, we’ve continually focused on being the best by providing unparalleled service and innovative products.
Q: What does the future of water and wastewater management look like?
CORI: In the short-term, agencies are focused on “tightening up” their systems by detecting and fixing leaks in both water and wastewater infrastructure. In the long-term, many water utilities will be focused on water reuse. The U.S. has a very diverse geography, which means that water infrastructure costs vary greatly. For those in drought-stricken areas, for example, the costs of pumping or purchasing freshwater may become much greater than the cost of cleaning and treating wastewater. In order for water reuse to work, both water delivery and wastewater systems need to be functioning properly and routinely inspected.
Q: There is a renewed interest in updating water infrastructure in the U.S. How can utilities start preparing now?
MARK: Napoleon Bonaparte said that “war is 90 percent information”—this can be applied to water infrastructure. In order to manage your assets correctly, you must first understand them. Knowing exactly where your assets are and understanding their overall condition allows utilities to calculate the risk of failure versus the likelihood of failure, which helps create an efficient and effective maintenance plan.
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Q: When it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure, what is the biggest challenge that the U.S. faces?
MARK: It’s the age-old “out of sight, out of mind” dilemma. It is difficult for engineers and utility directors to convince elected officials and residents to invest significant amounts of money on infrastructure projects that will never be seen or properly appreciated—until the infrastructure fails. However, the ability to share wastewater data and information via Esri and Cityworks is proving to be instrumental in making the case.
Q: What is the biggest challenge with managing water and wastewater assets? How can organizations overcome them?
CORI: Many small- to medium-sized agencies have never done asset management because their systems have “always worked.” When system failures arise, these agencies often don’t know where to begin to fix them. ITpipes has been able to help these agencies set up standards, processes, and workflows that work for them. We are not afraid to be honest with potential clients and let them know if they are not ready to begin a pipe inspection program. In these cases, we try to guide them through their initial steps and offer recommendations of those who can help.
Q: Any tips or tricks to getting the most out of ITpipes and Cityworks integration?
MARK: The best approach is an automated bi-directional integration. This allows data entered into ITpipes to be automatically synced with Cityworks and ArcGIS. Make use of workflow automations to save your organization time. For example, anytime a pipe cleaning crew records a “roots, greater than 75 percent” observation, that can trigger an email and create a work order in Cityworks. We also recommend that utilities keep their legacy inspection data when upgrading software. This historical data can bring future insight and Cityworks—in conjunction with ITpipes—makes the tracking of legacy inspection data easier.
Q: What is one of the biggest mistakes organizations can make with their end users?
MARK: Lack of training. Organizations have a tendency to spend significant amounts of time and money demoing, investigating, and implementing a new system and then fail to properly train their users. ITpipes offers initial training and weekly online training sessions for both office and field users.
Clients can access our extensive library of knowledge-base articles available on our support site. In addition to that, we offer step-by-step tips and instructions to ensure that organizations are getting the most out of ITpipes.
Q: What technology are you currently geeking out over?
MARK: Panamorph video. Specialized cameras travel down the pipe and take 360-degree images that are stitched together to essentially create a Google Street View of the inside of a pipe or manhole. This allows for mass collection of data, and the coding can be done in the office or outsourced.
CORI: I love tech. Wearables for energy are devices that use your sweat to create power. Imagine powering your phone by holding it or your house by sleeping in it. Not only is this a major improvement in efficiency but also environmentally friendly. Another piece of technology I find interesting is Unreal Engine 5. This is an open real-time 3D creation tool primarily used by gamers, but in the future it will affect how simulated cities are designed and built.