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April 15, 2024
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Upande Limited: Using sensors to track underground water and sanitation

In the absence of credible statistics indicating levels of recurrent water shortage facing Kenya, estimates by WASREB state that poor management practices and illegal usage contribute to the national average of 42% of treated water supply being lost, not being paid for. The financial implications and amounts of revenue lost in production, sale and supply chain of clean water is mind-boggling as unofficial accounts point towards the cost wastage adding up to billions of shillings annually. Furthermore, the losses escalate in terms of potential pipe leakages, owing to lack of mechanisms to monitor the underground flow.
Data driven decisions
“This scenario triggers situations of unfair competition for access to clean drinking water, some of which ends up being used in car wash outlets and for irrigation at the expense of growing demand for public consumption,” notes Mark de Blois, Upande Limited’s Chief Executive Officer. Listed among Kenya’s leading private social enterprises, Upande Limited was established in 2009 with the sole objective to offer its clientele a rather unique package: – smart, reliable, transformative, data driven decisions using locally developed cloud based solutions. Since inception, Upande has been running operations in collaboration with local and international partner agencies within the water supply/resources, sanitation, agriculture and climate information services sector.
Internet of Things
Upande’s team comprises a group of in GIS, water, sanitation, internet mapping experts, environmental and social academics, software developers and business practitioners. The firm’s professional expertise revolves around the provision of an array of monitoring solutions that model and track daily conditions in the physical world. These range from setting up field based sensors, gateways, efficient software, developing databases and user interfaces that allow customers to interact with their data the way they would prefer. Upande uses a technology called Internet of Things (IoT) to be able to get live readings from the field to the office, from anywhere in the world. Hundreds of different types of sensors are available on the market, which can be tailored for end user’s needs, whether it is in water supply, water resources, sanitation, agriculture, logistics, etc. Applications are developed using a process called User Centric Design (UCD) where the end user is at the center of the application throughout.
Map based information
“We came into operations in an era when harmonization between water production and distribution were far from perfect. The statistics in existing databases differed vastly with the actual situation on the ground. Water is an asset but rampant anomalies and discrepancies in billing system, tampering or theft of meters means so many resources are going to waste,” reiterates Mr. de Blois.
Upande’s innovative smart approach to utility management, notes the CEO, focus largely on automation, accurate data management and real time view of hydraulic data, enabling clients to leverage on gathered information.
“This way we offer transformative solutions that not only improve water utility’s operational efficiencies and revenues, but also the ability to monitor, reduce water losses, enhance customer service orientation, capacity to add value on capital investments and regulatory requirements,” adds Mr. de Blois in an exclusive Water Magazine interview. “We strive to help our clientele and companies we work with manage water resources through map-based data equipped to identify where losses are incurred or options to increase efficiency.”  In the past, water companies for instance, made use of old, faded maps to track down pipes laid out over expansive tracts of land. Consequently, the field teams entrusted with maintenance went out to physically inspect underground pipes in order to monitor consumers’ water usage, or seek to repair potentially faulty pipes.
“At Upande, we have simplified the process and laid out intelligent data system, which using an online platform can remotely map out where drainage pipes are located without physical maps. This also means that at short notice, information collected is accessible to the client”, explains Mr. de Blois.
Automated text alerts
A decade later on, the Nairobi–based firm has diversified its data focussed services, adding to clientele packages supplementary and innovative products accruing from time tried experience within the water sector.  These include Washmis.com [Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Management Information System] tailored for utilities; Vipimo.io [the IoT – Internet of Things platform] which was spun off from Washmis to facilitate IoT sensors across any sector, particularly agriculture, climate and logistics. With efficiency ranked high on Upande’s mandate, the wireless and sensor-based Vipimo zeroes in measurements, with physical devices connected to the internet easily keeping check remotely on varied functions. The system can collect data for water, power, temperatures, moisture, humidity, GPS tracking, with automated alerts sent to client via push notifications, texts or email. Why Vipimo? Mr. de Blois singles out the product’s multiple benefits, which range from continuous real time facilities performance at one’s fingertips to ensuring peace of mind hinged on ability to monitor crucial data. Upande’s core products guarantee smart, affordable, efficient support and live data from the field to any device, delivered as robust and easy-to-use solutions.
Indeed, a growing pool of the firm’s customers, particularly water utility providers have expressed glowing testimonials for innovative wireless and smart sensors used to monitor water, power or temperature levels.
Some of the success stories include the Murang’a Water & Sanitation Company [MUWASCO], which in 2017 enlisted on Upande’s Washmis Collect App used to gather water consumers’ usage patterns and data on billings in Maragwa Sub-County, a low income area in Central Kenya.
Smart meter reading
According the MUWASCO’s Managing Director, Engineer Daniel Ng’ang’a, the resultant analysis of collected data enabled the company to identify and even curtail illegal connections, faulty water meters and also reduce non-revenue generating water supply. Notably, paid up billings also spiralled from Kshs. 300,000 to Kshs. 1,300,000 in monthly revenues upon implementation of varied corrective remedial actions on the basis of data emanating from the GIS exercise. “In addition, the main water treatment plant was fitted with smart meter reading software that collects and sends in 24/7 readings. This enables utility companies map out, understand data-based water demand patterns within their respective networks,” explains Mr. de Blois. The Water Sanitation Hygiene Management Information System (Washmis) can best be described as a set of integrated products, which so far have transformed the ability of water utility companies to undertake smart data driven decisions in an efficient and cost effective manner.
Armed with a strong background in Ecology, Geographical Information Systems [GIS] and over two decades of hand’s-on experience, Upande founder’s vision to develop transformative, innovative and sustainable everyday water resources management solutions, has achieved tangible gains.
Water flow levels
“More specifically, by collecting, transmitting, analysing and visualizing hydraulic data, the Washmis software turns information to insights revolving around water flow, pressure or levels. The multiple sensors and apps deployed across a specific water distribution system, also identify quality (chlorine and pH) and customer data for clientele’s benefit,” notes the CEO, a social entrepreneur passionate about data mapping.
On a typical case scenario, the wireless sensors placed strategically along water pipelines, are programmed to indicate water flow levels, trigger alerts whenever usage fluctuates and on instances of leakages. “The system monitors the amount of water supplied from storage tanks as it flows to individual, metered consumers – this amounts to significant gains that cut back on cases of fraud. Likewise leakages can be pin-pointed and promptly fixed, saving on possible wastage of water,” he adds. A series of Washmis pilot projects have so far been rolled out for WSPs in Nairobi, Ruiru-Juja, Oloolaiser, Kisumu, Naivasha, Nakuru, Nanyuki, Murang’a, Kericho and Malindi. Upande is also involved in a ground-breaking partnership engagement with Mozambique’s Administration of Water and Sanitation Infrastructure [AIAS] government agency.
Upande has also offered its smart solutions to the private sector including a recent project with an International School in Nairobi.
Intergrated remote sensors
The project entailed providing smart sensors for monitoring water supply and consumption in the various sectors of the school.
It also entailed providing smart level sensors to monitor levels in their reservoirs and onsite sanitation plant.
The social enterprise has offered water utility service providers’ data analysis and mapping of over 300,000 households to establish any potential or existing meter connections through Customer Identification Surveys. The firm also deploys KPI, flow, level, pressure sensors and a WebGIS platform that consumes investment data collected using a mobile app. This data is populated on a dashboard to aid in operations monitoring exercise.
The integrated Washmis system entails making use of remote sensors to acquire and transmit data server based processing and data storage. All the information gathered is then fed into an interactive web portal tailored to facilitate real time visualization of data streams – thus serving as an ideal online decision support system for water utility companies.
Washmis building blocks
Monitoring Sensors for water volumes/flows, levels, pressure, pH and chlorine
Dashboard Module:
Water levels, volumes, flows, pressure, pH and chlorine at targeted points within the network are visually displayed on a dashboard with dynamic interactive charts. This enables the user to remotely monitor Minimum Night flows, average daily consumption, average pressures, tank/reservoir water levels from their desktop, tablet or mobile device
Alert Module:
SMS/Email alerts are generated and sent to the technical team when pre-defined level, volume (leakages), flow or pressure thresholds are exceeded or not met.
Job Card App:
A smartphone based job card app for assigning and tracking tasks within the water utility; among them jobs emanating from utility operations and customer complaints. This web overview gives the percentage and turnaround times for various job categories. Fieldwork documented electronically means more accurate data and higher labour productivity.
Washmis Collect App:
A smartphone based app that collects water and sanitation data i.e. service area, housing, customer connection and meter details. Other common uses are project surveys, customer identification and satisfaction surveys.
Although Upande’s private secclientele are primarily based in Kenya, the firm has extended its products and technology-driven services in several African countries – including Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and beyond the continent in Moldova, Netherlands and United Kingdom.

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