Saturday, March 31, 2018

Work-life balance or blend?

In my job I travel a lot. I work on projects across different time zones. I like coffee.
About a year ago we moved to Houston and, although I’m officially based in our Houston office, I often work from home. It’s a habit I picked up in Kansas but now I’m in Houston with a reasonably long commute when the traffic is bad - as it often is in Houston - it’s tough for me to drag my butt to the office. Add to that the fact that my wife set me up with a nice office at home and bought a fancy Nespresso machine and the commute really loses it’s appeal. Did I mention I like coffee?

I could write a blog on the pros and cons of working from home versus the office but it’s pretty clear where I stand on the issue... I thought instead it would be worthwhile discussing the thorny issue of managing your time when you’re a remote worker.

Balancing Act

One approach to managing your time when working from home is to “clock in” and “clock out” at the same time you would if you were heading into the office. This takes some discipline but hey, you already saved the hour commute into work and the hour back, so it’s worth the effort. There are two major benefits to this approach
  1. You’re in sync with the office
  2. You get to balance work time with home time better. 
I think the first benefit is self-evident but perhaps the latter needs a little unpacking. One of the big dangers with working from home is that you never stop working.  Your 9 to 5 becomes an 8 to 8 (am to pm that is) and your work to life balance gets way out of whack. The stress from commuting is replaced by plain old over-working stress. I've been there, done that, got the T-shirt, when I was based in an office, so I certainly don't want to repeat that mistake when working from home.

Now I should back up and mention that I've never been one for watching the clock. One of my early bosses once said that if you're the kind of employee that's always watching the clock then you're not the kind of employee he wanted.  I appreciate some flexibility in the hours I'm working.  Poop engineers generally work on multiple projects, billing their time to several each week using the beloved timesheet (ah, second only to expense forms as the most hated business tool in existence), and the mystical project numbers. As long as I do 40 hours of useful work in the week it doesn't really matter how that was completed, within reason.

House Blend

I think it was my current boss that I first heard use the expression "work-life blend" and it resonated with me. As I mentioned previously in this post, poop engineers work on multiple projects.  This means my workload varies quite widely.  There are days where I have deadlines to meet but still someone needs a piece of advice or help that was unscheduled.  On those days it's not unusual to have to work into the evenings.  As someone who works with colleagues around the world, it's also common for me to have a conference call in the evenings. In parallel with this I may have obligations with family and friends or my church. My wife takes it pretty easy on me with "honey-do's" but still I have a few.  How do you manage that with a fixed, evenly balanced work day? The answer is, you don't.  So you have the option of just being a workaholic, e-mail junkie - been there and still don't like the T-shirt - or seek a different approach.

Enter the "work-life blend." The gist of this approach is that you don't compartmentalize your life into work time and private time, but you blend the two. I found a nice article on Forbes by Ron Ashkenas titled "Forget Work-Life Balance: It's Time for Work-Life Blend" which is about perfect for this blog!!!  He discusses how we should acknowledge how work intrudes into our personal lives in the connected world in which we now live and rather than fighting it, look for ways to integrate the two and manage it.  The two implications he highlights are (1) less guilt for working outside of traditional hours and (2) the need for greater flexibility in how and when we work.

Bringing it Home

So what do I do?  To be honest it's a bit of both... the work-life balanced-blend!! The backbone of what I try to do is to balance the time I spend in work so that I don't slip back into my bad workaholic habits.  I make a conscious effort to disconnect from work at the weekends. If I have an evening or late night call overseas I'll sleep in the next morning, or take some downtime at some other time. But there are times when I have to let the work and private stuff blend and then I appreciate the flexibility my firm gives me to be able to do that. It's give and take. It works.

Oh, and I drink plenty of coffee.  Did I mention I like coffee? ;)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A legacy of disruptive innovation

In Australia last month, I picked up a copy of the magazine "The Monthly." I confess I'd never heard of it before, but one article in particular caught my eye: Tablet or Toilet?. In the essay, historian James Boyce makes the case that maybe the current revolutions based on computer technology aren't as transformative as we think, but more mundane inventions (e.g. the toilet!) have had a much bigger impact on human life over the past 150 years. I recommend you read his article. It's pretty compelling!

In my world of civil and environmental engineering design there is a lot going on now with new ideas, tools and automation to make our designs quicker, cheaper and hopefully better. I thought it would be fun to think about some of the innovations that have shaped engineering over the past 150 years.  I'm not an expert on engineering history, so I'll be leaning heavily on my old buddies Google and Wikipedia for help (hey, maybe I should use the Encyclopedia Britannica for nostalia!). Here goes...


OK, so I thought I'd look back in history and find that the theodolite - mainstay of surveyors throughout the 20th Century - would have been a relatively new invention, but according to Wikipedia it was invented by a fella called Leonard Digges in the 1500's!  Now according to Encyclopedia Britannica their use for surveying didn't really take off until the invention of log tables in 1620, but what the heck! I guess these disruptive inventions are WAY older than I thought. Maybe it's time for a new disrupter...

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) aka "drones" are in the news a lot these days. In my own firm, we actually have a group focused on inspections using drones. Pretty cool stuff. Their application for surveying is a no-brainer.  They can produce accurate surveys in a fraction of the time.  Here's one example.

The other cool innovation is LIDAR/laser scanning which enables existing structures to be captured in digital format and translated straight into models and drawings. Now couple this with UAVs and we're in Sci-Fi land already!


Aha, now this time I am in the 150-year window.  Back in the 19th Century the advent of blueprints enabled engineers and architects to make copies of drawings more easily and with greater accuracy. To make these drawings, though, required massive teams of draftsmen in their drawing offices.

Fast forward to the end of the 20th Century and Computer Aided Design (CAD) emerges on the scene to make the production and reproduction of drawings simpler (bye-bye drawing office, hello CAD-Tech).  The next step was to produce 3-D "models" instead of simple drawings, from which drawings and other information can be pulled.
Finally, we can now link these models to all sorts of engineering, costing and other design information in "Building Information Modeling" (BIM). Bippty-boppity, BIM! One model to rule them all!

Process Design

And now to my fun area of design: selecting and sizing wastewater treatment processes.  Wastewater treatment technologies are roughly 150 years old, so it's interesting to think about how process design has changed over the years. Even up until recently, hand-calculations to size major process units were not uncommon.  Certainly spreadsheets enabled these calculations to be done more efficiently and effectively through the 80's and 90's.  There are many examples and even books written on the topic!

One of the major limitations of spreadsheet calculations for poop plants (sorry, I mean water resource recovery facilities - tough to break old habits), is that treatment facilities are quite dynamic, with fluctuations in flows and waste constituents over daily, weekly and seasonal patterns.  It's tough to do spreadsheet calculations on dynamic systems.
New kid on the block:
A major breakthrough in the tools used to design these dynamic facilities is process simulation.  I could go on for pages and pages about process simulators because they're one of my specialties.  Instead, maybe I should put in a plug for one or other of the books I helped to pull together on the topic (no royalties for me though, bah!). From innovative tools in the 1990's process simulators such as GPS-XBioWin and SIMBA have now become the mainstay for all our design work.

Future Disruption

OK, no self-respecting blog on innovation and disruption can resist taking a wild stab in the dark on future trends, so here goes!

Big data?  Hmm, not sure: we have a lot of bad dataAnalytics? For design...not really.  Artificial intelligence?  Ooh, now you're talking. So, starting from a UAV scanning an area, or existing treatment plant, to producing a BIM model seems like a pretty short couple of steps. The pieces and parts are there already; we just need the smarts and rules to link them up.  But wait, we need super-smart process engineers to run the simulations, right?  For now, yes.  But even this piece can be automated (we're not as smart as we seem). To see the future, check out this cool tool developed by Organica. My understanding is that it's not fully automated yet, but not far off.  The day may come when I can hang up my slide rule, burn my log tables and let robo-engineer do all the hard work!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Patent paralysis

OK, so I may have a different perspective on patents than others. This is due largely to the fact that a couple of the professionals that had the most influence on my growth as a poop engineer had a less than positive view of patents.  To protect the innocent and to avoid accusations of slander I’m not going to name names, but one individual had his idea stolen by a large firm who then patented it and tried to stop him using his own idea. Thankfully it mostly failed and time has healed most of the wounds.  The other individual was an innovator beyond compare and his ethos was to keep developing new ideas and applications to stay ahead of the game. He didn’t have the time or inclination to “waste” money on patents.

At this point I should also give the background that my little world is mostly the design and upgrading of publicly-owned poop plants.

So, with this background, let me set out why I think patents can be a bad thing.

Why I don't like patents...

1. They stifle innovation

The very purpose of a patent is not to enable someone to produce something, but to prevent anyone else from doing it except you in order to have an advantage. If you patent an idea, no-one else is going to do it, and in our little poop-plant world that stifles acceptance and further development. In other realms where you’re mass-producing consumer goods or medicines I can see this is OK and fair, but in my space it’s really tough to get anyone to innovate, so patenting an idea can kill it pretty fast. I don’t think many equipment vendors get this.

2. POTWs can’t specify “one-of-a-kind” technology

Hand-in-hand with stifling innovation, or partly the cause, are the rules that prevent most public utilities from specifying unique technologies. This makes it VERY difficult to do anything new. On the other hand, having just 2 or 3 vendors competing in the same space can be a major boost. I actually spend quite some time comparing technologies and my job is made a whole lot easier if there is more than one of a type.

3. No-one likes lawyers

Now don't get me wrong, there are many fine and upstanding lawyers in the world, many of whom have been good friends of mine over the years. And we definitely need lawyers to help us uphold the law.  BUT in the litigious culture of the Western World (sorry, I mean where the "rule of law" prevails, yawn), as soon as you threaten to bring in lawyers, we all get a bit weird. Engineers in particular get very uneasy around lawyers and their word games.  Heck, we're straightforward thinking, problem solvers. Please don't try to trip us up with what we mean when use certain words or opinions.  I've read a couple of patents and the language in them is awful lawyer-speak, seemingly preventing anyone from doing anything anywhere, ever. 

Overcoming Patent Paralysis

OK, so I've bad-mouthed one of the main mechanisms for encouraging and protecting inventions since the 16th Century, so do I have any suggestions for a better way forward?  I'm not a lawyer (phew, you say), so perhaps I'm not qualified to comment, but here are a few ideas for alternative ways of driving innovation through new ideas and inventions without using patents to stop it...

A. Stay ahead of the game

I mentioned this already, but early in my career I worked for a company that developed some amazing online instrumentation including online respirometry which, to this day, no-one has ever come close to matching.  I didn't appreciate it at the time but the ideas produced in that small firm were way ahead of their time and I believe that they only patented one mechanical item out of all the ideas and innovations they produced.  The ethos of my boss was to just keep ahead of the game. It turns out he's still 20 years ahead of the game!

B. Go open source

This is a radical idea, but one used by Elon Musk.  Don't prevent others from using your ideas, but let them have a go too, then compete to win.  Particularly if your ideas are radical and maybe in a whole new domain of their own.  Opening up your ideas to others will help spur research and more ideas from which you and the others will all benefit. Isn't this how research is supposed to be done? Rather than hiding your ideas or locking them down so no-one else can develop them further, consider opening the black box and learning from your competitors.

C. Copyright, don't patent

Did I mention I'm no lawyer, so I probably can't comment fully on this, but there are protections under law for published materials and ideas that are covered by copyright.  I think there are some weird loopholes in US patent law that allow you to pinch ideas for the 1st year after they're published if you have good lawyers (the experience of my other colleague I mentioned earlier), but still, if you have an idea and publish it, then you have some protections, I think.  Doing this, plus considering the "open source" approach is really what research should be about, I think. But only if you want to encourage innovation!

OK, so equipment vendors and those of you who've patented a gazillion inventions, let me know why I'm off base as usual!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Value-based Approach to Innovation

Innovation is a very popular topic these days. A quick Google search on the word "innovation" shows that the use of the word over time has gone through the roof in the back half of the 20th Century until now:
Use over time for: innovation
I've read in many places (such as here) that the word innovation hasn't always had the positive connotation it has today, but in previous centuries was a derogatory term akin to the idea of "winging it" where you had to improvise because you hadn't planned properly or hadn't thought things through.

In the modern use of the term it's really supplanted the word "invention" to simply mean "coming up with something new." To be honest I prefer the word "invention" in the engineering world because it carries the idea of actually planning something, but hey, we don't always get to choose the buzzwords doing the rounds these days!

Innovation = Risk?

I love new ideas and new technologies, and, in my own poop-treatment world, I'm bowled over by the number of initiatives, businesses and people driving innovation. However, what I don't see is a lot of discussion on handling the risks associated with innovation, or - more specifically - a way of gauging whether the risk of the innovation is worth it in the long run.  I don't want to be a party-pooper when it comes to innovation, but I also hate to see us innovating just for the sake of innovation.

The Concept of Value

I've been through a number of "value engineering" (VE) exercises, both as the evaluator and also as the recipient of the evaluation.  It can be a frustrating process but I think it's a worthwhile exercise.

A fundamental concept in VE, is that value is quality over cost, or benefit over cost. So in principle you can improve the top line of quality or benefit and increase value with the same cost, or marginal cost increase, or simply look to reduce costs whilst trying to maintain the desired quality.  In the equation, we can use actual currency for each of the parameters if the quality can be quantified in monetary terms to give value in actual dollars, euros etc. More often though, quality is a non-currency improvement (e.g. more flow can be treated) or even a non-numerical benefit (e.g. more reliable, or more flexible).
So this equation can be used to assess value quantitatively or qualitatively.

Innovation Value

So, how about extending the concept of value to innovation i.e. an "Innovation Value" in which we see the value we get from innovation in terms of improved quality and/or lower cost, but include a term that takes account of risk too?  The equation would be something like:

This gives us now a way to conceptualize the extra value we get from innovating whilst also acknowledging and maybe even quantifying risk factors.

If the innovative idea has low or no risk, then Risk = 1.0 and we assess the idea the same way as any VE idea.

If the innovative idea has a high risk, then Risk > 1.0 and we can crank that factor up according to some scale that takes into account the risk profile.

I guess we can also think about innovation as a way to reduce risk, in which case Risk < 1.0 i.e. the innovative idea is less risky than the status quo.

Quantifying Risk - Conventional Approach

Risk is commonly assessed using a matrix of severity (or consequence) versus likelihood:
In this matrix, items in the "Acceptable" range can be scored with the Risk at or near 1.0, then items in the yellow range have increasingly larger Risk values from, say, 1.1 up to 1.5, and then items in the red zone can have larger multipliers of 2 or 3, or perhaps are simply designated "not acceptable," depending on the appetite for risk?   

It might look something like this...

Quantifying Technology Innovation Risk

Now the conventional approach to quantifying risk is subjective but very flexible.  In thinking about poop treatment and technology innovations, I can think of three factors that might influence how we score risk: Deviation from the Norm; Development Level; and Complexity.

1. Deviation from the Norm

How far does the innovation deviate from the "norm"? If the technology is simply an adaptation of an established technology or a simple add-on to something existing, then perhaps the risk is pretty low (Say a 1.0 - 1.2 in our matrix). However if this is a very different approach, using fundamentally different ideas and perhaps very different technologies that haven't been used in this particular application before, then it might be pertinent to use a higher risk factor (1.5 - 2.0).

2. Development Level

At what stage of development is the technology? The US government and others commonly use the "Technology Readiness Level" (TRL) to define how ready a technology is to full-scale application. Here's the version used by NASA:

So, if we have a technology that's already at TRL 9, we give it a risk factor near 1.0, but lower TRL values have increasing risk factors.

3. Complexity

Finally, is the innovation more or less complex (more to go wrong) than the conventional solution? If it has more parts and pieces that can go wrong, or relies on something more complex in order to make it work, then it should have a higher risk factor.  Conversely, if the innovation is inherently less complex than the conventional system, then it wouldn't be crazy to apply a factor of less than 1.0!

Pulling it all together

So, like a good engineer, let's take that simple equation, add in all my factors and come up with something way more complicated... well, maybe not too much more complicated (score me down on my innovation!) to give something like...

Hmm, I dunno, perhaps it needs a few exponents added to each factor to make it needlessly more complicated?!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pondering on Corporate Growth vs Growing an Extended Family Business

I should start with the disclaimer that I do not have an MBA, and I'm no expert on business development.  However I have worked in several different offices around the world and have my ears open to what goes on in the business side of what I do for a living.

I've been reflecting upon the assimilation of engineering firms by larger firms, especially the takeover of CH2M by Jacobs that happened this past couple of weeks. In our growth-driven economy firms seek increased profits for shareholders, private or public, which drives certain behaviors.  One way to grow your stock price is through mergers and acquisitions. If done right, it benefits the stock holders in a big way.  However there will undoubtedly be some collateral damage as the now merged firm seeks to reduce overhead costs and keep the stock price up.  I've heard it said that a good merger is where 1+1 = 3 through synergies between the two original firms. I think that's unrealistic and you actually get 1+1 = 1.5 which is still better for either of the original "1" but less value than the sum of the two.  Then from that position of 1.5, you can continue to build your firm (with the added bonus of having removed one of your opponents!) Elementary math tells you 1+1 = 2, at best, so I think it's wishful thinking or downright dishonest to claim otherwise! In these mergers there will be financial winners for sure but there will necessarily be losers in terms of people losing their jobs and increased uncertainty for those remaining.

But I'm losing the train of my thought and the intent of this blog...

Something I've observed in many smaller businesses, particularly those that engage multiple family members, is that driving profits up is important but it is the means to an end and not an end in itself. The ultimate goal seems to be to create a better life for the owners, employees and their families. Now, you still have to work hard and make profits, but that's not the end goal.  Somewhere along the line, as they get bigger, these "mom and pop" firms lose their way and the means (profits) to the end (family health) becomes the end in itself and often the original end, suffers.  I wonder if there's a way to grow a firm but keep the attitude and focus on the health and vitality of the employees and the families it supports? Or perhaps the growth-driven economy doesn't allow that?

I love working for Black & Veatch.  Most of all I love working with the people in the firm. It does feel like an extended family in many ways. Whenever we hire someone new, or we do surveys of why it's a great place to work, the most common comment is that we have great people.  I'm not saying that as a means to inspire greater investment or growth of our stock prices. I'm saying that in and of itself.  Let's value people first, with an eye to keeping the money rolling in as a vibrant and financially profitable firm.  Do I need to make a legal disclaimer that these thoughts are my own and not those of my firm...? Or maybe the shift in business away from a trust-based model to a litigious one, could be my next topic for blogging! Did I mention I don't have an MBA? And yes, I know I'm naive!

Anyone else as naive as me?!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Reflections on WEFTEC 2016

I've just returned from the latest WEFTEC held in New Orleans. It was a great opportunity for me to catch up with colleagues and friends that I've gotten to know over the years. I went to my first WEFTEC in 1999 and except for one year when I was stuck on assignment in Singapore I'm pretty sure I've been to every WEFTEC since then. So I could blog about catching up with old friends, but instead I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what was NEW for me this year.  So here goes...

New Perspectives

Joe Whitworth
The opening session included an interesting presentation from Joe Whitworth of The Freshwater Trust.  It was refreshing to see someone who identifies themselves as an environmentalist wanting to work collaboratively rather than the typical obstructionist approach of well-meaning but naive and short-sighted groups. The majority of the people I work with want to protect and improve the environment and so you'd think that the likes of the Sierra Club and other environmental NGO's would be our advocates in improving treatment, but my own observation is that they're sue-happy and prevent real progress by pushing everything into the interminably slow US legal system.  When I was a kid doing environmental studies, the US EPA was held up as a great example of how to improve the environment through science-based investigation and laws.  Unfortunately the good things started in the 1980's now seem to be stagnating in the courts where the "process" is more important than actually doing what's best for the environment.

My good friend and visionary in the field of water, Dr Sudhir Murthy gave an excellent presentation on research and innovation for water utilities, though I have to say that Bernhard Wett stole the show in his introduction to Sudhir by describing him as "non-linear"! Not sure why that tickled me so much, but maybe it's because he's such an intriguing and interesting fella that's impossible to label him. Nice one Bernie!

Poop-talk radio!

New Experience

Thanks to I had the opportunity to do a radio interview on the topic of Big Data. I wasn't quite sure what to expect going in to the interview but it actually good fun. Big Data, the Internet of Things, Smart Utilities and the like, are hot topics that are gaining a lot of interest with a whole bunch of people. See my previous blog for more info...

New Responsibilities

This year I took over the reins of the Municipal Resource Recovery Design Committee (MRRDC).  This is one of the largest committees of WEF and is tasked with upholding the quality of design for treatment facilities. Amongst many things, we are heavy involved in the iconic "Manual of Practice #8" or MOP8, which is used extensively in North America for treatment plant design. We also help develop other technical documents and workshops for WEFTEC.  My predecessor, Dr Art Umble, did an excellent job as the previous chair, ending up being recognized as a Fellow of WEF.  I jokingly said that my main job was to not screw up the good things he started! Hopefully I'll do a little better than that.

New Technologies

No self-respecting poop engineer could blog without mentioning the cool technologies in the exhibit hall. Aerobic Granular Sludge (AGS) is causing quite a buzz in the poop-treatment industry and my firm is in the mix teaming with Royal HaskoningDHV, the developers of the Nereda process. Another technology causing a stir is GE's new "Zeelung" membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) process which, on paper, can give up to 100% oxygen transfer efficiency (OTE) and in practice is giving at least 50%.  This is a game-changing technology in my book as it at least doubles the energy efficiency. Watch this space for more (or check out the video below)!

New Cullinary Delights!

Oh boy, if you're ever in New Orleans, you must try the Trinity restaurant. In a city known for good food, this has to be one that's near the top of the pile.  (Which reminds me, I must go to TripAdvisor and leave a review - 6 stars out of 5, I'm thinking). We had a dinner with a client group on Monday evening at which I had a crab-filled beignet for starter, a fabulous pork shank for main and possibly the best desert I've ever had to finish (some kind of macadamia nut desert with a subtle caramel sauce and mango - I can't even begin to describe it adequately!). On Wednesday night I was invited out by the good folks at S::CAN for a dinner and to my delight, they picked the same restaurant!  This time I was able to try their lamb chops which I swear had chocolate in the sauce (some kind of molĂ© perhaps?) - it was equally awesome!

So another WEFTEC is done.  I think it was one of the best for me personally and hopefully for the 20,000 others who attended.  Let's see if WEFTEC 2017 in Chicago can top it!  

Friday, September 9, 2016

Get M.A.D. to be smart!

In a couple of weeks I'm heading off to WEFTEC, the major annual North American conference for poop engineers like myself. This year I'll be participating in a breakfast meeting where we'll discuss my firm's offerings for smart analytics which sits under the umbrella of our Smart Integrated Infrastructure group.

For the breakfast meeting I persuaded my colleagues to take their lead from a recent book produced by Pernille Ingildsen and Gustaf Olsson, called "Smart Utilities: Complexity Made Simple". Their excellent book uses a very simple but useful mnemonic to help us get our minds our the most important aspects of instrumentation and control in the water industry.  Quite simply it is M.A.D.!

M is for Measure

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly we need to focus on the measurements.  What do we need to measure (and where)?  How do we measure it? And what confidence do we have in that measurement?  It might seem simple to say we need to be measuring the right parameters in the right place but in my experience this is the place where we've fallen down over the years, particularly when it comes to measurements in the extremely fouling environment of wastewater.  All too often people have taken standard environmental monitors for water, streams or rivers or - worse still - lab instruments, and plonked them into poop water hoping they'll work.  Unfortunately wastewater is not forgiving.  In the late 1980's and early 1990's my old boss Dr John Watts did some great work in looking at the need for good calibration and validation in order to trust your data.  Unfortunately he didn't publish much internationally, but here is one paper on the topic. More recently Oliver Grievson in his review of activated sludge instrumentation to celebrate 100 years of AS gave a nod to John's work in producing an online respirometer (and I'm still waiting for someone to produce something nearly as good - maybe the ASP-CON?)

A is for Analyze

The focus of a lot of the buzz right now is on "smart analytics" and the ability of software developed in the Internet age to handle "big data." That's all pretty cool.  I always joke about wastewater having a problem with "crap data" rather than big data, but assuming we can figure out the "M" of measure, then there are now plenty of sophisticated tools to help us manage and analyze our data. All the big guys in IT are getting into this space, including the now famous Watson at IBM and now Microsoft with their PowerBI (I need to find time to play with that sometime as it looks pretty cool).

D is for Decide

OK, we have lovely measurements, producing pretty graphical representations of our big data... now what?  This will be the fun part. Right now, most systems I've seen, leave the decide step to the operator or plant engineer.  They have the expert knowledge which, coupled with insights from the advanced data analytics, are a powerful combination to help optimize a plant.  The step beyond this is to add in automated control actions based on the input from the smart analytics.  This is sort of like the jump to an autonomous vehicle which makes many people nervous but ultimately will give us the best performance overall.

Further Reading

I heartily recommend Pernille and Gustaf's book for anyone considering smart analytics.  As an introduction to it, you might also read Pernille's blog, "Why are "Smart Water Utilities" not already here?"

So, if you want to be smart... get MAD!