The Norwegian municipality of Lillestrøm has 87,500 residents and is located at the confluence of three rivers (Glomma, Nitelva, and Leira) creating the largest inland delta in Northern Europe, surrounded by the nature reserve Øyeren.
To the environmental engineers at Lillestrøm municipality, water presents both a wealth of recreation opportunities and a challenge to protect waterways, manage wastewater, and keep the inhabitants, human and wildlife, safe from the effects of flooding.
The municipality already had the infrastructure in place to manage water flows and related equipment. Teams would operate based on weather forecasts and emerging environmental conditions to start and stop pumps, open gates, fix equipment, and gather data. However, the whole process was reactive and the information they had to work with was often imprecise, uncoordinated, and sometimes too late to be useful.
Asgeir Hagen, a civil engineer and his colleague Erlend Berg, an enterprise architect who both work for Lillestrøm municipality, realised the problem was as much about water as it was about data. In the past, they partnered with third-party organisations to provide environmental data for a waste management project. How the process was costly and the information they gathered had a limited use life with no broader application beyond that specific project. Berg, summarising the problem and key features of their desired solution said, “We would get a short period of data, which cost us a lot of money. Then after a while, we had to do the same exercise again.”
Asgeir, a civil engineer at Lillestrøm municipality (Norway)
They needed a better way of collecting and analysing more broadly useful data; a stream of up-to-date information that would provide a live picture of conditions throughout the region and a flexible, adaptable, means of sorting and analysing that data to support actionable interpretations and informed decisions.
Berg said, “What we needed was a continuous flow of real-time data that made it possible for us to see trends and predict upcoming events both for the purpose of taking actions as a municipality and for informing or providing warnings for the citizens of Lillestrøm."
Turning data into action
Built on Microsoft Azure, InfoTiles aggregates real-time streamed data from Azure IoT (internet of things) sensors throughout complex monitoring networks, connects maintenance equipment, integrates control systems, and uses open-source connectors to collect and share data with previously siloed environments.
The InfoTiles platform can ingest data from any source and readily add, remove, or configure other data sources. Hagen and Berg incorporated a database to map and track key features in the Lillestrøm water and wastewater network, such as water temperatures and flows, and the current status of some three million meters of pipe.
It is important for the municipality to maintain its existing infrastructure for citizens and it currently replaces 2% of pipes on average each year due to damage. However, by remotely monitoring and predicting which pipes or pumps need replacing engineers can make more informed and proactive decisions before sending workers on-site. This saves time and money by identifying the problem immediately and dispatching the right crews with the information they need.
Fixing a single pipe leak of 500 millilitres per second can prevent a recurring monthly loss in the range of €2,600. With Norway experiencing an average water loss through leaky pipes of 30-40%, the savings could be substantial.
InfoTiles’ innovative digital analytics platform spans the water value chain, applying real-time analytics and machine learning for water management.
Through using InfoTiles, engineering teams can track other variables such as air pollution and can even add data from traffic sensors to better understand the impact of flooding or other emergencies, feeding the analysis back into traffic management. Hagen said, “We’ve got ultrasound sensors to measure the height of the rivers and also measure air pollution. We also have gas detectors and temperature sensors on water pumps to monitor and manage the 3 million meters of pipe. All the data is fed back into InfoTiles for us to make calculations, focus effort for the greatest return, and take action.”
Lillestrøm municipality director of digitalisation, Torbjørn Pedersen, adds, “This project has created valuable insight through incremental but smart investments. It provides justification and evidence for the IoT concept and shows how important digital competence is in all parts of the organization.”
With the InfoTiles platform, engineering works are targeted with greater accuracy, meaning smarter decisions on maintenance and repairs can be made and priorities better identified. The engineering team has seen a boost in the effectiveness and efficiency of its operations and, in turn, an improvement in the safety and well-being of the citizens of Lillestrøm.
The proactive interventions made possible by the platform save citizens time and money, too. For example, rising waters that threaten to flood a bridge can make a major traffic route impassable. The early warning signs from flow and level sensors upstream, combined with weather sensors and predictive traffic algorithms, enable workers to reroute traffic ahead of time with signage and adjust signalling. This avoids excessively long round trips from closed roads that had plagued drivers and, most importantly emergency services, in the past.
Lillestrøm is a young, modern, municipality that features a strong communications infrastructure, including Norway’s first 5G wireless network, which has proved to be a big advantage in deploying and operating the InfoTiles solution.
The InfoTiles environment is largely technology and network-agnostic, meaning it does not have ties or preferences to specific mobile networks or providers, but 5G provides agility, helping support the widespread and rapid deployment of sensors and telemetry devices across many contexts and scenarios.
For example, one of the most popular pages on the municipality’s website is river and lake bathing temperatures. Berg realised that working with the InfoTiles software could automate and improve that experience with up-to-the-minute bathing conditions, water quality, and temperature data, “Last spring, we onboarded nine sensors for measuring the temperature in the recreational areas with bathing facilities. We inputted that data through the InfoTiles platform and presented the information immediately on the citizen portal,” said Berg.
Collaborations through securely sharing information
This instant access to data is good for bathers but it also pointed the municipality to a broader demand for easy access to a wealth of data for a wide range of users and scenarios. The municipality needed a single platform that featured powerful, adaptable, interfaces that could help turn raw data into focused, accessible, and actionable information.
We didn’t have to use one platform for the data, a second for visualisation, and a third for making sense of it all. With the InfoTiles solution built on Azure, we have an end-to-end solution from IoT sensors to visualisation; the act-on-fact principle is closer to us than ever before.
Erlend Berg, Enterprise Architect / Municipality of Lillestrøm
With the InfoTiles platform collecting and coordinating data, it helps to free workers from their desks and act more effectively and responsively by using mobile devices in the field.
In any such large-scale data operation, security is an issue, but Berg was reassured that input from InfoTiles can be managed through existing security policies and procedures, “A concern for us was the potential security risks of sending this data outside of our own servers. We were encouraged that access to all of this information within the InfoTiles solution is controlled by our own Azure Active Directory, which is completely within our control.”
Hagen and Berg are excited about the future and the mutually beneficial potential of sharing data with other municipalities that adopt such systems. “I think this platform has a lot of great potential due to the underlying Microsoft Azure technology, along with the clever features InfoTiles has built into it. In Norway, we have a great tradition of sharing information and knowledge among all the municipalities,” said Hagen.
Johnny Alexander Gunneng, chief executive of InfoTiles, knows that InfoTiles’ tight interoperation with Microsoft technologies brings benefits across the board, both from the perspective as the developer and for InfoTiles customers who can better consume and share information and data.
“Our solution works seamlessly with the Microsoft stack. So, for instance, when users log on, they use their Microsoft account. When they want to share information, they use Microsoft Teams. They use Azure IoT to gather data, and Power BI to visualise it and share it with other departments at Lillestrøm municipality as well as supporting citizens in other municipalities. As everything is hosted on Azure, it is 100 percent Microsoft,” Gunneng said.
Contributing to a sustainable future
Lillestrøm municipality’s primary commitment is to its citizens and their living environment. In the process of solving local problems with the InfoTiles platform, the municipality can now make an exemplary contribution to the United Nations Sustainable City program (U4SSC). This initiative measures sustainability efforts around the globe to help fulfil a mission to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Now that engineers in Lillestrøm are feeding live data into the U4SSC programme, it can compare the municipality’s performance against other regions and cities throughout the world. The partnership with InfoTiles has helped the municipality answer the United Nation’s call to contribute its data and experience for global benefit.
This project has created valuable insight through small, but smart investments. It provides justification for the IoT concept and shows how important digital competence is in all parts of the organization.
Torbjørn Pedersen, Director of Digitalization / Lillestrøm municipality
Find more information on the municipality of Lillestrøm.
This chronicle is written in partnership with Microsoft and also published on Microsoft Customer Stories.