Strength In Numbers

Doug Strempek engaged innovation to improve water information systems and enhance resources as IT coordinator in Norridge, Ill.
Strength In Numbers
While not a water operator by profession, Doug Strempek put his IT skills to work to improve operations in the Village of Norridge.

What Doug Strempek doesn’t know about water systems, he makes up for with his ability to integrate technological advancements in his community.

“I’m not a water guy, but what I do helps advance the systems and increases efficiencies,” says Strempek, IT coordinator for the village of Norridge, Ill. For 14 years, Strempek has focused on improving the village’s computer systems to enhance efficiencies in water management, while meeting customer needs and adapting to technology changes and advancements.

He also learns from others through service, by heading a state AWWA section technology committee, and through his work with a consortium of Illinois communities sharing knowledge and resources on geographic information systems (GIS).

Quick start

Norridge, a community of 14,500, receives its water from nearby Chicago and delivers an average of 1.5 mgd to residents and businesses. The village operates three storage facilities — one water tower and two above-ground storage tanks — with 2.25 million gallons total capacity.

In 1999, Strempek did part-time administrative work for the village before beginning studies for his MBA degree at Dominican University in River Forest. The village hired him as IT coordinator the following year. “Basically, I was looking at a startup in terms of the computer systems,” he says. “I was able to chart projects, coordinate the implementation, put it all into action and then manage all upgrades. It is very satisfying to see how far we’ve come with putting new, more efficient systems in place.”

Strempek quickly identified computer systems and programs in need of upgrades or complete overhauls. His first two goals were to update the billing process and the village’s administration software, both seriously outdated. Those projects were key to enhancing water department services. He viewed the challenges as opportunities.

Strempek first targeted the billing system, an outdated postcard system with significant inefficiencies. He was instrumental in the launch of a new invoicing system and remote meter reading. The village then added a point-of-sale (POS) register that enables electronic uploading of information and real-time delivery of that information. POS systems store information, and the software can be programmed to create detailed reports, track inventory, improve the accuracy of information and grow with the business.

The system helps the Norridge water department track customer payments, respond to inquiries and access account information. “Before the POS, administrative staff manually performed these time-consuming tasks, some of which required rekeying of information that could lead to data entry errors,” says Strempek. “The new system was a significant time-saver and increased our administrative staff’s efficiency.”

The village also has a SCADA system that allows water department staff members to monitor water pumping stations, water storage and the security system in real time from any location using smartphones.

The new system also helped Norridge move toward a paperless environment. “We worked to reduce time waste, like walking around with actual books to reference information,” Strempek says. “We now access the computer system to locate information and can assist customers quickly.”

Updating systems

Strempek’s second significant project was updating the software used in the water department and across other departments. He took off-the-shelf software and customized it for specific needs including tracking inventory and monitoring usage. The village had an automatic meter reading (AMR) system in place for more than a decade, but with the software upgrade, the water department could access the information in real time and identify problems early. In several cases, leaks or malfunctions in unoccupied buildings were flagged when the meters began showing irregular usage. The water department notified the building owners and the problems were corrected quickly, saving energy and resources.

Strempek finds numerous benefits in two-way communication for water monitoring. “With customers who have high usage, you can set the reading to occur more frequently,” he says. “We also work with customers to monitor water usage if their property will be vacant for an extended period. We’ve been successful in identifying usage spikes or other problems and alerting customers.”

Before long, Strempek extended his influence beyond village borders. Co-worker Joe Spain, a member of the Illinois Section American Water Works Association (ISAWWA), invited him to join the group’s technology committee (T-CON), thus exposing him to the water industry and enabling him to learn more about the water department.

After attending a meeting, Strempek liked what he saw and joined the committee, becoming its only “non-water” person. He quickly understood the dynamic between technology and the water system operations. “I was the only exclusive IT person on a technology committee for an industry in which I had a lot to learn,” he recalls. “It was a great learning experience for all of us. It’s a two-way street where we share a lot of information, and the education is invaluable.”

He now chairs the committee, which hosts an annual conference and meets monthly. “They are a very productive group of people coming together and working toward common goals,” he says. Serving the committee helps him stay on top of trends. He shares his successes with members and applies what he learns from them to new projects in Norridge.

Shifting technology

The village’s AMR system will soon go through a software upgrade, and meanwhile Strempek is involved in another major initiative. In 2007, Norridge became part of the GIS Consortium (GISC) of 23 Illinois municipalities working to develop GIS solutions. The communities involved have broad backgrounds in GIS technologies and share an objective: to achieve the full benefits of GIS by maximizing value while reducing cost and risk.
Norridge, the smallest community in the group, joined after independently working on GIS with an engineering firm. The village recognized the advantages of a fully integrated GIS program in which it shares costs and resources with its neighbors.

“Hiring a GIS resource for Norridge would not have been cost-effective,” says Strempek, who represents the village on the consortium. “As part of the consortium, we have power in numbers and scale.” Norridge is working on a project to interface GIS with the AMR. By tying all systems together — from meter reading to billing to sharing of police department information — the village will be able to access more data and provide better information. Strempek anticipates this will lead to greater communication between departments.

“If the meter transmission unit isn’t relaying information, the system will try to plot other units in the surrounding areas to identify any common issues,” Strempek says. “It may be a simple interference in the area like a pile of leaves or new construction that is blocking the signal. Tying GIS into all the systems — from the water department to the police department to administrative tasks — offers the village one common location from which we can retrieve data and solve issues. It will eliminate the need for multiple databases.”  

Earned recognition

For his work on behalf of Norridge and the T-CON committee, the ISAWWA honored Strempek with its 2013 Young Professional Excellence Award, acknowledging commitment to the organization and the water profession.

Strempek is simply glad to be able to help a community he loves. He considers it important for smaller communities to share information instead of going it alone. “If you’re doing an upgrade, learn from other communities,” he says. “Do surveys. Ask other people who have done what you’re looking to do. Approach the organizations and committees that are there to help you.”

Strempek says Norridge has the advantage of learning from the growing pains of its larger neighbors: “We learn to adapt what they did and what fits for us.” The technologies he put in place have brought efficiencies that position Norridge to succeed in the 21st century.


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