When North Queensland’s Mackay Regional Council looked at how to slow investment demands, they turned to smart meters.

In doing they found it changed the community’s culture of water use.

David Brooker, the chief operating officer for water and waste, explains how the authority started on its IoT journey.

“We tried to improve our cost of doing business and keep control of exploding costs to provide services," he said.

Brooker and his team discovered they didn’t really understand how their network worked.

Traditionally, the focus of monitoring in the water industry has been on the major assets; the pumping stations, reservoirs and treatment plants. 

To understand their customers and assets better, Mackay turned to Sydney-based Taggle Systems to deploy an automatic meter reading network to monitor usage by the region’s 36,000 water users.

Chris Andrews, who was Taggle’s CEO at the time of their contract with Mackay, sees the IoT as an opportunity for utility companies to overcome perennial problems of overcapitalising their networks by giving operators more insight into usage patterns.

“When you see this data it changes the way you do business,” Andrews said.

For Mackay, this meant saving costs in being able to accurately predict water usage as the organisation went from reading the region’s meters twice a year to collecting 850,000 data points each day.

That data load though can be intimidating for those in charge, Andrews warns.

"The IoT delivers big returns for large organisations but this creates dilemmas for managers,' he said.

“The management teams fundamentally aren’t set up to manage that information. 

"One of the things in implementing a project like this is to get the project to deliver more than data but also realistic business outcomes. This requires a lot of training for managers and engineers for what it means to have this data.”

Andrews recommends organisations have a proper business case for rolling out an IoT project.

"A lot of these projects are being dubbed failures because they don’t get the management follow through on the data that’s being created," he said.

For Mackay, however, success wasn’t a problem.

“As we started to improve on our management practices we found there was a better way to manage capital.” Brooker said.

Brooker also found giving customers visibility into their water usage through an online portal changed the community’s attitude to water consumption.

"We’re creating a cultural change in water use, which is the big thing that has an impact on our capital costs," he said.

“We’re now transforming how costs work in the water business. We’re realising what it means now to empower customers about their water use.”

Brooker is now deploying the sensors across other assets to improve environmental flows and identify leaks. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.