The island city of Richmond, British Columbia, has a problem. The city, which sits in the middle of the Fraser River, is flat as a pancake. If the river rises too high, the city’s 160,000 residents could be washed out to sea. The first line of protection against that fate is a system of 180 pumping stations that work around the clock every day of the year, pumping water off the island back into the river.
For years, Richmond city workers employed a simple method of monitoring the pump stations: They drove around town in pickup trucks and looked at them. If the red light atop the pump was flashing, they knew something was amiss. If the light wasn’t flashing, the worker would move on to the next pump.
Edward Hung, the city’s IT manager, knew the process was labor-intensive, to say the least. He knew that a better solution would be to have the pumps automatically report their status to a central computer. And he knew that an even better solution would be a Web-based application to analyze the data and make it available on an intranet that could be accessed from computers all over town.
Hung worried that the cost of building such an application was beyond the reach of his meager municipal budget, but making sense of the data was a priority?he had to do it. Hung put the project out to bid, and New York City-based business intelligence company Information Builders said it could do it for less than $100,000.
As it turned out, that was a good decision. As the project got under way, Information Builders pointed out that for a few dollars more, Richmond could buy handheld devices so that the critical pump information could be received by city workers at any time, any place. Hung was able to keep the project under $100,000 and give his engineers access to real-time information about the status of the pumps.
The city was able to use wireless devices without breaking the bank because Hung and his team kept the project simple. Instead of integrating all the city’s ERP and workflow applications with the new pump-monitoring program, they pushed only the data from the pump systems.
Today, Richmond’s five city engineers can receive constant updates on the status of the pumping system, and especially in the spring, the entire town can rest easier.