Technology and Me:
Our Love/Hate Relationship
By Mark Eddington
I arrived home the other night to witness my three children (2, 5, and 7) and wife (38) in a literal
tug of war over our “family” I-PAD. While I too love Temple Run® as much as the next guy,
it was at this point I realized technology really does have us all by the tail. This should not be
any type of surprise to me, having recently experienced the implementation of a GIS and major
upgrades to SCADA at our WWTP, but the visual of my family crystalized the whole matter.
Don’t get me wrong, I love reminiscing with all you other old coots about our first beeper or
bag phone, or the times before our spouses had a virtual fence linked to our cell phones. You
remember those days, when we could actually get “lost” for an afternoon without having to
come up with some explanation revolving around bad cell coverage, a dead battery, or that ringer
that never got turned up after a big-time important meeting. The question becomes, where does
today’s technology leave those of us who know just enough to get ourselves in trouble?
Certainly, we have options. We could go back to school and get a computer science degree, No.
We could hire a full time IT guy to talk to me like I’m five and make me feel stupid on a daily
basis…Big No. I suppose we could just hire an IT consultant that tells me I’m stupid without
me even realizing it and get upset when I call him after hours, or say, before 9 am to come in and
handle our server that just died (IF YOU DON’T WANT ME TO CALL OR TEXT YOU THEN
DON’T GIVE ME YOUR DAMN CELL PHONE NUMBER!) Wow, I really didn’t intend
this piece to turn into a rant, but as a wise man once said, “if your only tool is a hammer every
problem looks like a nail”.
Now that we have all that out of the way, I can get serious. I have, begrudgingly, resigned
myself to the reality that technology is not going anywhere but forward and if we don’t try to
adapt we will be left at the station muttering about the “good old days”. The conclusion is we
can do more with less, and as frustrating as technology can be at times, it is a vehicle to that end.
In the past two years our District has, implemented a GIS, improved our SCADA and automation
to attain remote access, given each and every District employee an email account (now if I can
just get them to check it regularly), and installed various flow monitoring equipment to transmit
data directly back to our SQL server. These improvements have come with capital cost as well
as recurring operation and maintenance costs, but they have also revolutionized how we perform
our job. It has allowed us to eliminate our night shift and bring two operators on to our day shift,
essentially allowing us to increase production without hiring. Our ability to collect and process
data, better utilize manpower, and provide enhanced services to our customers. We have found
it much easier to access historical information through the GIS database rather than combing
through countless spreadsheets as was common practice in the past. Don’t get me wrong, these
improvements were not painless and our decision makers did need a great deal of convincing to
make the capital expenditures, but they are working and our staff has answered the bell showing
commitment to these changes.
The Illinois Section of CSWEA created an IT Committee in 2012 to better address the growing
need of our members to stay current with this emerging field. As many of you may be aware,
CSWEA, Fox Valley Operators Association, the Illinois Section of AWWA, and the College of
McHenry County hosted the first annual Midwest Water and Wastewater Technology Technical
Conference (T-CON) last summer. This conference was attended by over 150 individuals and
centered on technology in the water and wastewater industry. This year’s T-CON is scheduled
on June 5th at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. If you use technology you
should find a way to attend this conference.