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Solving global water challenges with Microsoft cloud technologies

By Customer Stories on April 14, 2016

Filed under Process Manufacturing & Resources

By 2030, the demand for fresh water is projected to outpace supply by almost 40 percent. Ecolab, a leading global provider of water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services, is helping companies worldwide operate more sustainably with the Microsoft cloud – including Azure and Dynamics CRM Online. Connected to thousands of sensors in facilities worldwide, the platform collects and analyzes real-time water usage data to improve efficiency and cut water, energy, and operational costs.

Ecolab and Microsoft address the worlds water shortage challenge
Watch Ecolab and Microsoft address the worlds water shortage challenge Watch Ecolab and Microsoft address the worlds water shortage challenge

We’ve been warned for decades to improve water management, and recent events such as the California drought are currently keeping the issue in the news. We take action at home by not watering our lawns and spending less time in the shower. But although personal conservation is a step forward, it’s only part of the solution. The morning cup of coffee after your three-minute shower took 55 gallons of water to produce. The shirt you’re wearing commanded another 700 gallons of water to create, and the car you drove to work required a staggering 39,090 gallons to build. Fortunately, Ecolab—a leading global provider of water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services—is on a mission to make changes that enable the goods and services we rely on every day to be produced and delivered with a lot less water.

Addressing the world’s water challenges

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The United Nations’ 2015 World Water Development Report predicts that by 2030 demand will outpace supply by almost 40 percent and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress from lack of fresh water. Under pressure to operate more sustainably, governments and industries worldwide are turning to Ecolab for help. The company protects vital resources by helping companies achieve net-zero water usage—producing goods with infinitely recycled water—and providing access to fresh water for more people.

With more than 47,000 employees working across 170 countries and multiple industries, Ecolab needed better solutions to collect data from more than 36,000 water systems in customer operations to provide deeper insight and deliver more value. “Our goal of helping customers reduce water usage requires that we capture real-time information from processes anywhere around the world,” says Christophe Beck, President, Nalco Water, an Ecolab company. “We need to be able to control processes remotely and deliver the intelligence that enables our service personnel in the field to manage those processes for optimal performance results.”

Improving insights and management through the cloud

Ecolab chose the Microsoft cloud to enhance its ability to deliver personalized services and drive innovation. The company is taking full advantage of the Microsoft Azure platform, including the Azure IoT Suite, to accelerate water scarcity solutions for global industries. The cloud platform also includes Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft Power BI, and Microsoft Office 365 to provide a seamless solution for collecting, analyzing, and sharing information across multiple locations worldwide.

Ecolab and Microsoft worked closely together to deliver water management solutions on a much larger scale, and at a much deeper level, than previously possible. “We’re touching most of the vital operations within a plant from pretreatment to production processes through waste water,” Beck says. “And then you have all of the steps of cooling and boiling water. Connecting and controlling all those operations within a plant to reduce water as a whole is the real challenge. That’s why we needed to work closely with Microsoft to leverage the right portfolio of technology solutions.”

The company wanted to drive change from two directions: gathering and analyzing data to improve production processes, and then using the aggregated data to demonstrate to customers that its solutions make sound business sense.

In a recent scenario, a company with 262 plants worldwide and more than 250,000 employees wanted to become water-neutral—or in other words, they wanted to recycle all of the water coming out of their plants back into the production process. But to make a new conservation plan feasible, Ecolab needs to show potential customers that the investment will be financially as well as environmentally sustainable, with a 100 percent return on investment.

It all starts with data. Inside production facilities, equipment based on Ecolab’s Nalco 3D TRASAR™ Technology sends data to a highly secure analytics and storage platform on Azure. The technology monitors and controls streams for water-intensive processes and collects and analyzes the data in real time. “Microsoft Azure and Azure IoT Suite have helped us get much closer to our ambition to help customers operate at water-neutral,” says Beck. “To get there, we need to collect and analyze massive amounts of information. Now, we can identify opportunities and gaps, provide the right solutions, and most importantly, manage our customers’ process so that they can get closer to net-zero water usage.”

The information Ecolab collects from 36,000 water systems in more than 100 countries, spread across five continents, provides actionable intelligence that can be used to benchmark performance and drive continuous improvement. Shared through the cloud, the data is accessible to Ecolab service personnel through mobile devices such as Microsoft Surface Pro.

Ecolab associates use the information to engage customers more proactively and make informed recommendations to improve processes. The company’s field personnel also can use the Microsoft solution to effectively quantify and communicate the return on investment a customer achieved through its water management program—and recommend areas where additional investment in services might drive even greater reduction in water, energy, and operational costs. “It’s really a ‘virtuous cycle’ with less water, better results, and much lower operating costs, everyone wins,” Beck says. “Because ultimately, our customers want to be good corporate citizens.”

Working together for a better future

Beck believes that the company’s solutions are successful because they’re been tailored to address the unique challenges of water management and the specific needs of customers—and also because they reflect Ecolab’s emphasis on services delivered in person by experts in the field. “The new Microsoft cloud technology has helped us get much better data, on-site and in real time where our people need it most,” says Beck. “We have 47,000 people serving a million customers locations around the world, from nuclear plants to vaccine factories. The right data at the right time is absolutely essential.”

In Microsoft, Ecolab has found a collaborator with a shared vision. “What truly impressed me with our Microsoft collaboration was that it was not about selling us a product,” Beck says. “It was about building something and addressing the world’s water challenge together.”

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