M2M APPS: What are the main challenges facing water and waste management organizations? What are their remote monitoring needs, and what is the impact if those monitoring solutions fail?
TOM WARD: Water and waste management organizations are currently faced with shrinking budgets and decreasing manpower, but also an increasing infrastructure to support, requiring both cost- and resource-efficient monitoring solutions. Their monitoring needs vary and depend on the local management’s objective and style; however, at a minimum, municipalities are now expected to provide 24/7 monitoring and response to remotely located, critical systems. What happens when a sewage pumping station near a creek or river fails, and the monitoring system fails to notify the on-call operator? Sewage can overflow into the creeks, rivers and basements where we all live and play.
M2M APPS: How is OmniSite using M2M technology to uniquely address these challenges? What benefits does it offer?
TOM WARD: OmniSite uses the Internet and cellular networks to deliver easy-to-use, low-cost solutions which rival the functionality of traditional SCADA systems, which are typically only affordable to larger organizations. OmniSite’s feature-set, in some cases, exceeds the functionality of many traditional systems and can be purchased and deployed for a fraction of the cost and manpower. OmniSite’s products bridge the gap between a low-cost, feature-poor traditional phone dialer and a high-cost, feature-rich SCADA system. We do this by supplying a hybrid solution which has SCADA-style features at a phone dialer price. The OmniSite RTU is an application-specific device made specifically for the needs of a wastewater operator. Every aspect of it is made to make the field installation fast and efficient. Unlike a custom SCADA system which can take weeks or months to program and install, an OmniSite RTU can be installed and wired in 2-4 hours, and then completely programmed over the web in about 30 minutes. There is no need to purchase computers or custom software. Any PC which can access the Internet from anywhere in the world can access a private, secure website and fully monitor and configure their equipment. The OmniSite webserver houses the GuardDog web interface which is the portal for customers to view and also configure their RTUs. OmniSite is very proud of the GuardDog as a tremendous amount of thought has been applied to making an interface in which someone with literally no computer or programming experience can completely navigate and configure the system in literally minutes with very little instruction or training. Setup consists of only two steps – creating a “call out” list of people to contact when an alarm occurs, and defining what alarms were connected to each input channel on each RTU. This is done using simple fill-in-the blank entry, and once complete the system is ready to use. All other screens will automatically populate for the client, and there is no additional setup required. When an alarm occurs, operators are notified according to their callout list setup, and notifications can be any mix of text message, email or computer-simulated voice call to any cellular or landline phone. Of course, there is also a free iPhone app for download which makes equipment monitoring a breeze.
M2M APPS: How has OmniSite adapted its hardware and service offering in response to technological advances?
TOM WARD: Since we have a web-based portal for our customers to view their equipment and machinery, all our customers benefit when we roll-out website and cellular upgrades. As advances in technology become available to us, we can almost instantly make them available to our clients via the web. OmniSite does “mashups” with other Internet leaders to provide “best-of-class” features at a minimum total life cost. For example, when we “mashed” with Yahoo, all our customers can instantly benefit from Yahoo maps which can identify the location of all their field RTUs, and also supply driving directions, satellite views, street views, etc. This feature alone is literally not available on even the most expensive SCADA, but is available to all OmniSite customers for an almost free price. Our iPhone app is available for download now, and we have an Android application rolling out sometime in 2012. Again, as these cool features roll-out, customers can take advantage of them for free. In the past, a vendor would hold a customer “hostage” and force them to pay large fees for such services. Since OmniSite maintains such a large subscriber base, our development fees are spread across thousands of customers, and then all benefit at once. This strategy also allows us to support just one software platform as everyone is on the same platform.
M2M APPS: Have you seen a significant uptake in this type of technology from municipalities? Are there any adoption hurdles to overcome?
TOM WARD: When OmniSite started in 1999, we sold 47 units the whole year. Today we sell about 70 units per month strictly to municipalities in the USA. There has been an increase in adoption rate in just the last two years, and we expect that to continue almost exponentially as new, younger plant operators are hired and old hardware becomes obsolete. As a rule of thumb, plant operators over the age of 55 are 10 times less likely to buy these new technologies compared to a younger operator. Accordingly, younger operators select our devices as their first choice.
M2M APPS: Where are OmniSite solutions being deployed? Are a wide range of cities, both large and small, implementing this technology?
TOM WARD: We have over 1,200 government municipalities in the U.S. using our technology, which works great for both large and small plants. Regardless of the size of the facility, our solution saves time and money. With the current state of the economy, those are features in high demand.
M2M APPS: At the municipal level, who is responsible for making the decision to implement a solution such as OmniSite for water and waste management?
TOM WARD: This depends on the municipality. This is a highly segmented market. There is not a “one size fits all” solution to making a municipal sale. It takes leg-work to determine the buyer and decision-maker which can fluctuate from one organization to the next.
M2M APPS: What resonates with these decision-makers when it comes to choosing a waste management solution?
TOM WARD: They are conservative decision-makers, so they like to do trials, get testimonials from existing users, and typically work with proven performers. That is also why it has taken OmniSite so long to penetrate this market against entrenched technologies.
M2M APPS: To what extent do you see this technology having an impact in developing countries? What opportunities could you imagine?
TOM WARD: We are now expanding into developing countries where cellular and satellite are the only communication technologies. Compare this to the U.S. where users have many technology alternatives. So in short, the new wireless technologies are the selection of choice in these countries, and don’t play backseat to entrenched hard-wired technologies. We frankly see these developing countries as our highest-growth areas over the next few years where they make quicker decisions, as no comparison to another communications method has to be made.