9 Q&A: Speaking of liquid assets, CitiLogics principal explains water management software Polaris

CINCINNATI - During the week of Sept. 23, WCPO and WVXU-FM partnered for the series, "Liquid Assets," a look at the regions untapped water resources. WVXU Reporter Tana Weingartner told the story of CitiLogics. Founded in 2009, the research and engineering company focuses on making the operation and management of urban water infrastructure systems more efficient.

Here, WCPO contributor Feoshia Davis talks with Jim Uber, one of three principals at CitiLogicss about its water management software Polaris. 

9 Questions for Jim Uber, CitiLogics

1. How did you come up with the idea for Polaris?
The ideas behind Polaris evolved out of engineering research into water system security that CitiLogics did for the U.S. EPA, the Department of Homeland Security and through the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering. Briefly, this research involved developing software that connects real-time water usage data with the drawings and the layouts of the system infrastructure. This connective software enables real-time modeling of a water system for the first time. This is the basis for the idea of Polaris.

2. How is your software better or different than what has been traditionally used in the industry?
This connective software that we developed for the EPA for water security reasons is called RTX (Real-Time eXtension). RTX enables, for the very first time, a real-time understanding of the largely underground and invisible infrastructure of the water through data analytics. That’s why we call Polaris a new class of predictive analytic tools. Previously this level of understanding was not possible.

In fact, U.S EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson proclaimed RTX software as a game changer in the water industry when she announced: 'Real-Time eXtension' software will demonstrate real time water-infrastructure monitoring to support the wide scope of utility decision-making needed to sustainably improve utility operations and enhance their security.

3. What would you say is the one most important feature of your software?
I would not say it is a feature per se, but what Polaris enables is for water utilities to use the huge amounts of operations data that they already collect in new ways that increase efficiency, improve water quality and add value to the system. By connecting real-time data to the drawings and models of the system infrastructure, we can better predict where pipe breaks may happen, create models for optimal energy use, train utility operators in simulated environments etc. We will even be able to recreate historical events like major water main breaks and simulate different strategies and tactics to resolve the problem. Predictive analytics is a powerful risk and asset management tool.

4. What cities are using your software now?
We have a long term test-bed for our software at the Northern Kentucky Water District and we have deployed our software at the Greater Cincinnati Water Works. As many more people in the area now know, as a result of your coverage, the Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Dayton area is an “innovation cluster” of the water technology sector.

Based on the positive results of our recent testing and implementation we will be rolling out our new class of predictive analytic tools to market in Q1 2014.

5. What is your biggest challenge in convincing a municipality to use Polaris?
In general, the biggest challenge to innovation in the water sector is risk-aversion. This is certainly understandable because the risks are so high. Imagine the downside if the water stopped flowing to downtown Cincinnati or Covington for two hours on a Monday morning. Our challenge and our big opportunity is showing that real-time predictive analytic tools can actually reduce risk through better assets management practices.

We think it is a pretty convincing argument, that based on changes in operations data and metered usage data, we can spot a big water main leak before it becomes a bigger water main break at 8:30 a.m. under Columbia Parkway. This we feel, is a reassuring argument to a risk-adverse industry.

6. Do you offer any other services besides Polaris?
CitiLogics is a software development, engineering services firm. Our focus for the next several years is to work closely with thought and market leaders in the water sector to build out this new class of predictive analytic tools. Through our collaborations and partnerships with water technology innovators, our goal is to change the water business. We will do that through solution-focused customer service. 

7. Are you planning to release any other software products soon, or any updates to Polaris?
Continually. As mentioned, the beauty of Polaris is based on the open-source RTX software connection. This opens up a whole new class of tools for the sector; not just tools that CitiLogics develops but that others can develop. There will be a wave of new tools and products and services that are possible and that are already in our heads. CitiLogics will drive the competition and the competition will drive CitiLogics.

8. Your company was part of UpTech, what were some of the ways UpTech helped the company mature?
UpTech did exactly what it said it would do, it invested in and accelerated our Big Idea. UpTech helped us better see the depth and the scope of the business development process, in addition to the product development process that had been our primary focus. Without UpTech we simply would not have committed the time and the resources to do both.

We will forever be appreciative for the hard-earned insights and support we have received from UpTech, NKU’s College of Informatics and the Northern Kentucky business community. It has been unprecedented. There is a saying that is frequently used at UpTech: there is nothing more fragile or more powerful than a new idea. We now know that to be true.

9. What's next for CitiLogics?
A year and a half ago we had our foot hovering over the brake pedal. Now we have our foot heavy on the gas. In two weeks we have a series of webinars scheduled with a select groups of thought-leaders and early adaptors in the water sector. Our goal is to have three to five new client implementations in early 2014 in addition to a full roll out of Polaris. We also plan to apply for Phase II of our SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant we received from the National Science Foundation earlier this year and the matching SBIR grant program from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Everybody, everywhere and every living thing depends on water. Our goal is to provide smart, innovative Predictive Analytic solutions to this universal need. 

Connect with WCPO contributor Feoshia Davis on Twitter: @feoshiawrites

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