For companies with numerous buildings and installations spread out over a wide geographical area, water use malfunctions can be hard to pinpoint. When a specific device or installation is broken, leaking, or wasting water, the company may have only a general sense that something is going wrong. That is where APANA comes in. Its Internet of things (IoT) hardware and intelligent water management software uses big data and machine learning to identify anomalous water use patterns and provide specific suggestions about what may be going wrong. Information like this helps a building, a company, or an entire city to quickly respond to problems, increase efficiency, and manage its water use. In this interview, Matt Rose, the chief executive officer (CEO) of APANA, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about how APANA’s technology works and how it is revolutionizing water management.
Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Matt Rose: I am the CEO of APANA, a company that provides intelligent water management platforms for commercial, industrial, and smart city use. I have been involved in the past with new product development for hardware and software in the healthcare and utility industries, and I’ve applied those skills to lead the development of the systems that we have today.
APANA’s roots go back to work our founder, Frank Burns, did 25 years ago. He designed and built wastewater treatment plants for buildings that didn’t have access to municipal sewer systems, mainly retail buildings like Walmart or Costco stores in remote places. Ten years ago, Frank asked me to help him automate, monitor, and provide remote control capabilities for these sequencing batch reactor wastewater plants. After we sensorized and automated the plants, we noticed that there was generally a greater volume of effluent going into the wastewater plants than the designers had predicted. We then had to tell the owners that they could either build a bigger plant or we would need to come up with a system to manage their water use. Our customers asked us to develop water management tools, and that’s how APANA was born. We started with two pilots in Mexico City, which succeeded in reducing water consumption by over 30 percent. We have continued to expand our products and services over the last 4 years.
Joshua Dill: Tell us about APANA today.
Matt Rose: Today, we consider ourselves a leader in the emerging market of water management platforms in the commercial and industrial space. Many leading customers are focusing on utility efficiency, digitization, and conservation efforts to increase company value and stay ahead of competition. We provide an end-to-end solution in water to meet bottom line and sustainability goals.
We have 16 employees today and intend to expand rapidly. We just closed a series B funding round of $11 million; our lead strategic investor is Kurita Water Industries from Japan. We will use the funding for growth and the continued expansion of our IoT products and the further development of our analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning capabilities. We are also beginning to expand into the smart cities market.
Two years ago, we received a series A investment with Kurita as the lead. Kurita has been an excellent partner and has begun channeling our Intelligent Water Management Platform within its customer base in Japan.
Joshua Dill: Do you make both the software and the hardware?
Matt Rose: Yes. We make IoT hardware using low-power, wide-area (LPWA) radio technology to connect water meters to networks and we also build the analytics stack to process the data. It is important for us to control both the front and back ends of the solution to be effective at a high level. However, we do not make meters or sensors. We use off-the-shelf smart water meters that employ modern automatic meter reading protocols.
Joshua Dill: How does LPWA technology work and why is it important?
Matt Rose: LPWA technology focuses on lowering power consumption for battery-powered IoT radio communications. Data integrity is also a key requirement. We use LoRa and narrowband-IoT/M1 technology in our IoT products that use a battery.
LPWA technology allows us to build a device smaller than a hockey puck that can perform edge calculations and stream water meter data to a network once every minute for 10 years, powered only by a battery. Another great thing about LPWA technology is its easy deployment. Any plumber can survey the environment and install our high- resolution IoT hardware for a fraction of the cost of previous solutions.
In addition, we’ve found that LPWA technology is effective in difficult radio frequency (RF) environments, which helps with data-packet integrity. IoT hardware design is challenging because water meters are in difficult places such as vaults in parking lots, inside walls, or in equipment on roofs. To solve this, we hired a team of ex-military drone circuit board designers. They had the perfect skill set for our business: high-level experience in low-power technology, radios, and ruggedization. With their help, we have been able to create an IoT suite that can connect water flow meters to networks in difficult RF environments.
Joshua Dill: How does your Intelligent Water Management Platform work?
Matt Rose: An enterprise may have hundreds of buildings that are spread out geographically. We install water meters in specific places and connect the meters to the internet using our IoT hardware. They stream data to the cloud at intervals anywhere from seconds to a minute in length. The frequency depends on how water is consumed onsite. Our system analyzes the real-time data and determines normal use patterns while also scanning for waste patterns. When waste patterns are identified, we’re able to send actionable information to our customers with a statistically based list of likely causes for the anomaly our platform is detecting. Whereas technicians in the past might have been told, “This large building is using 10 times as much water today as it did yesterday—go find the problem,” we provide specific information on the anomaly and a checklist for technicians to follow in order to find the source of the waste.
Our services also provide risk management for equipment that consumes water. The water consumption pattern shown by the equipment is an indicator of its overall performance. By catching anomalies in real time, we can extend the lifespans of certain pieces of capital equipment. If a scaling condition is observed early, it can be dealt with early. If too much water is going through the system or if more chemicals are being used than should be, we are able to stop it before the problem compounds.
Joshua Dill: What are some of the most common problems and sources of waste that your clients are trying to deal with?
Matt Rose: The most common problems we detect are failures in equipment that consumes water, including cooling towers, evaporative condensers, landscape irrigation installations, ice machines, food processing machines, and other types of commercial or industrial equipment. We catch failures of all sorts, including leaks, broken irrigation heads, stuck valves, and things being left on.
We can provide information as a business intelligence tool on whether an operation is running efficiently, especially when we have comparable data on other plants. This also provides accountability for performance by equipment service providers. Catching sudden leaks in plumbing is only a small part of what we do.
Joshua Dill: How do you analyze the data that your meters record?
Matt Rose: We are a private network, so we don’t touch company networks. Our data is transferred to the cloud, where it is processed in real time by analytic engines to produce a sort of EKG profile of how the building or asset is consuming water. Normal patterns become obvious and abnormal patterns stick out. When we recognize abnormal patterns, we classify them and determine probable causes. For example, if an ice machine fails in the middle of the night, it leaves a distinct pattern, which is detected after a certain threshold. We then provide the customer with a detailed checklist on what to check in order to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.
Joshua Dill: Who are your customers?
Matt Rose: Our customers are traditionally enterprises that have multiple buildings across a large geographical range. Our biggest customer is Costco Wholesale. Our Intelligent Water Management Platform is within all their North American facilities. We also give them reports on how their overall enterprise is performing, the outliers, and how we can help them achieve their targets. MGM Resorts is another customer. We have many modules within the Bellagio Hotel and we provide insights across many different areas. Fetzer Winery is another valued customer. It uses our platform as a business intelligence tool for its operational processes. We have also just announced that Walmart will be expanding its use of our technology to 14 of its stores.
Joshua Dill: What is the process of installation like for a new customer?
Matt Rose: We have a network of regional plumbers who are trained to perform a site visit to determine where to place a water flow meter. After approval, the plumber installs the meters and our IoT hardware. Once the platform is online, we conduct online training for the staff and verify alert notification and reporting preferences. It’s an automated service from that point on. Some customers use it as a security system for water; others view it as an intelligence tool.
Joshua Dill: How many countries are you currently active in?
Matt Rose: We’re in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and the United States, and we’re beginning the process of getting certified in Australia.
Joshua Dill: How do you find your new customers?
Matt Rose: We have a direct sales force that works to find industrial and commercial customers who are seeking expansion of their energy efficiency programs to include water or meet digitization and sustainability goals. We also find customers through conferences. With our series B funding, we’re beginning to actively seek channel partners and potential strategic partners in order to expand our technology within existing customer bases.
Joshua Dill: Are there any installations or companies that you’re not yet working with, but you think would be especially well suited to your technology?
Matt Rose: We’re starting to get into the smart city realm with two cities. Questions we are trying to answer with our pilot programs include whether we can monitor all the evaporative cooling systems within a city in order to create a water efficiency initiative and whether the city can incentivize commercial and industrial customers to install the necessary equipment.
We have a study with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California regarding the value of our cooling- tower and evaporative-condenser monitoring. As far as specific customers or enterprises go, we are continuing
to find manufacturers, malls, and other enterprises where water is being consumed in a complicated environment. We can provide visibility and value to their operations. Many malls are looking at our platform to charge tenants for their actual consumption instead of covering water
use under their triple net leases. We’re able to provide granular information on water use and to detect waste and inefficiencies within those environments, which can lower costs for everybody.
We are working with a couple of cities on proofs of concept. There is a lot of leakage within their distribution systems. Our technology could provide performance management or validation and identify where failures
are occurring. Another big thing is extending the life
of large city assets. If a city decides to do a commercial and industrial water savings initiative, that can keep a wastewater treatment plant going for several more years before it needs an upgrade. We think there’s a huge market opportunity at the city level.
We’re truly an IoT solution for water that can be applied to cities. There’s so much hype in the smart city business, and so much stuff that really doesn’t work in the water space. Connecting water assets to networks is hard. We have solved that problem using LPWA technology. It is a game changer in that it makes effective smart water programs more viable from a cost and value perspective.
Today, less than 1 percent of commercial and industrial buildings manage water. We envision that in 10 years,
90 percent of commercial and industrial buildings will have a water management platform installed. Our goal is to be the gold standard.