Data visualisation is an important tool in the effective application of data streams for informed decision-making. Data visualisation can assist water utilities in their operational management, stakeholder consultations and strategic decisions. On 7 February, participants in the Hydroinformatics Platform, which was established in the framework of the Joint Research Programme for and with the water utilities, discussed the different possibilities and wishes in this field. A number of tools currently under development offer interesting prospects. The quality of the data and of the models employed is decisive for the usefulness of the data visualisation, and an optimal application demands tools that are intuitive, interactive, real-time and portable.
The Hydroinformatics Platform meets four times a year. The group of approximately 20 staff members from water utilities and KWR is active in the field of hydroinformatics: water-oriented ICT applications at water utilities and other companies. The Hydroinformatics Platform was established in the framework of the Joint Research Programme for and with the water utilities. On 7 February the group discussed the subject of data and system visualisation. On the basis of developments taking place at the companies, KWR and in the outside world, the group examined the possibilities and opportunities presented to the water utilities. Experts from Nelen & Schuurmans were invited to share their experience in the visualisation of data, processes and systems. An overview of the findings follows below.
Bring data to life
Data visualisation has been around for millennia. Think of the first geographic maps which were created as early as 500 BCE. Today, almost everything revolves around data, but data is still only really brought to life when the information and the data interconnections are visualised in an accessible manner. The last few decades have seen numerous developments in this area, both concerning presentation (see for instance Hans Rosling), but also techniques like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Data analytics and data visualisation are now commonplace. Today’s software packages make the visualisation of data and statistical analyses increasingly easy: we have reached the point where we can combine the virtual world with the real world. But it’s not only a matter of visualising the data: the visualisation of the underlying question is just as important for purposes of informed decision-making. For whom do you want to visualise something? To what end? And what should the visualisation offer?
Current applications: dashboards
Data visualisation is a powerful instrument. Water utilities can for instance monitor data by means of a dashboard: a tool that collects and displays information related for example to essential customer requirements and/or operational performance. Dashboards present a rapid overview of the process or product performance. The use of a dashboard to quickly and easily visualise flow volumes, before and after the replacement of water meters, makes it possible to rapidly identify any significant variations. The tool also allows the user to quickly zoom in on specific periods or visualise particular ranges. This provides insight into the data. The currently available dashboard tools still have bugs and are therefore not yet ripe for water practice; moreover, we still have a lot to learn about how these tools can be applied to support processes within the water utilities. Data visualisation can for instance support communications within the company: a dashboard with a geographic map is a valuable tool for both the people in the field as well as the account manager.
Intuitive, interactive, real-time and portable
Data visualisation can help both experts and non-experts comprehend hydrodynamic systems in a changing environment. This requires tools for data visualisation that are intuitive, interactive, real-time and portable. Take, for instance, the response to a flooding event. Municipalities, Water Authorities and citizens are all concerned, and they must work together on solutions. The same applies in the case of systems that are inter-connected – for example, when flooding is caused by a burst drinking water main.
Good data for good simulations
There is increasingly more and better data available on the physical living environment; one might even say that there is an abundance of data. It is however becoming more and more difficult to quickly convert these data into relevant information. Apart from the tools and techniques, the models have also to be of appropriate standard.
Water utilities recognise the power of good visualisation of data and systems and want to respond proactively to these developments. The participants in the platform are enthusiastic about the examples of data visualisation presented at the meeting and envisage new application opportunities, for instance, in the analysis of the impact of pipe fractures at high-risk locations, or in the modelling of groundwater levels to communicate with nature managers or other stakeholders. They also expect that the growing availability of good visualisation tools will change the type of questions put by stakeholders to the water utilities.