Tignis TV: Steve Allbee Interview

Author: Jon Herlocker


Welcome to Tignis TV.  Our host Jon Herlocker—industry-leading technologist, former DARPA researcher, and Founder of Tignis—brings you conversations with people working at the intersection of physics, machines and data. Tignis TV explores topics from the leading edge of technology to the plant floor, and everywhere in-between.

Today’s episode features Steve Allbee, retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Project Director, author of “The Gap Report,” and asset management thought leader. The interview explores Allbee’s work at the EPA, and the critical role of asset management in the water and wastewater treatment industry. Allbee shares how data-driven decision making, digital twins, and machine learning help ensure long-term infrastructure sustainability.

Dealing with service requirements and sustaining water systems is extremely important to the health and wellness of cities. Allbee discusses the consequences of falling behind and how our aging infrastructure for drinking water and wastewater is a massive environmental challenge. Practicing sound approaches to guiding the lifecycle of investment in pipes and plants is crucial.

At the EPA, Allbee studied asset management expertise from around the world for best practices in making our water supply sustainable for the long-term. A fundamental goal was to help put local utilities in a position to make good choices. Allbee discusses the EPA’s broad-based education program regarding asset management, the use of data and information, and guidance on how to ask the right questions. He notes that a key aspect of success is helping organizations adopt coordinated—rather than siloed—ways of thinking about building resilient water systems.

On the topic of digital twins and other technology, Allbee emphasizes the importance of data-driven decision making, and how evaluating scenarios in a realistic digital environment enables water and wastewater treatment facilities to make the best decisions for communities. He also emphasizes the importance of helping facilities determine which assets are critical, and what happens when they fail.

Allbee explores how best to capture the wealth of expertise of an aging workforce—historic knowledge and deep hands-on experience—and how to share it with the organization as a whole. He observed that that organizations should always be in the process of succession planning—helping the next generation of workers look at systems and approaches, and how to improve them.

Highlighting the importance of data-driven decisions, Allbee emphasizes that investment in decision making and information—and the digital approach to analytics—pays for itself orders of magnitude over making big mistakes.

Knowing how to deploy people and resources at large water treatment plants is very challenging and high-tech work. Sound data-driven decisions bring together many data sources and capabilities—from sensors, networking, and data processing, to machine learning technology. Allbee emphasizes that sophisticated analytics are necessary for dealing with the major challenges we face today and in the future.