Fast and Furious.
That’s a pretty good way to describe the track of innovation the trenchless world has experienced when it comes to sewer inspection and its software. The progression of software abilities and speed have revolutionized the way municipalities today approach the maintenance and treatment of their underground pipes.
Near the top of the ladder in sewer inspection software circles is WinCan, whose North American customer base continues to grow. Formerly known as Pipeline Analytics, this Pittsburgh-based sewer inspection software company continues to look toward the future of what it can deliver to customers seeking rehabilitation and maintenance solutions for their systems.
“We’re a wastewater software company. We don’t make the [CCTV] cameras. We don’t make the equipment and we don’t venture into other niches outside wastewater,” says WinCan general manager Mike Russin. “That is our bread and butter. Our company focus is on innovation, flexibility and great customer service.”
Sewer inspection software is a constantly evolving niche of the trenchless industry. It plays a huge role in mining rich data from the ground so that municipalities can set a course of action to address their systems’ needs. Originating in Switzerland, WinCan software has been a part of this market since the late 1990s.
“Our global brand revenue is the largest in the industry,” says Russin, who has been part of the sewer inspection market for 20 years as both a client and vendor. “In the United States, we had our best year ever in 2017. We have grown 20 percent over each of the last three years. The revenue we are earning is being invested back into our infrastructure to support our ever-growing customer base.”
While the company’s core focus is providing data collection software to its customers, it also has an eye on the future. Not satisfied with a product that merely collects the inspection data, WinCan wants to help customers analyze that data, as well as take their next steps in using that data to their system’s benefit.
“We want to be able to help our customers find their problems, visualize them and predict the best maintenance or rehabilitation strategy. Then we assign a cost to that strategy, and track those costs so cities can be as fiscally responsible in repairing or maintaining their systems,” Russin says. He describes the sewer inspection software market in the United States as “the most competitive in the world.”
“Trenchless is not just a U.S.-based technology. It’s worldwide. We must be able to serve customers around the world,” Russin says. “To do that, we must be innovative. Next to our global reach, I believe our innovation and flexibility are what make us successful.”
WinCan software was originally developed in Switzerland in 1993 by Allesandro Caldera. Caldera recognized an opportunity emerging in the sewer inspection market and built a business plan to address it by releasing the industry’s first windows based inspection software. In its early years, the company focused on deploying the software to regional markets, building its base outward. In its first 10 years, WinCan established satellite offices in Germany and the United Kingdom and undertook building a sales channel among inspection hardware dealers across Europe. In 1996, WinCan established a beachhead in the United States with a master distributor that coordinated all sales and support through both direct and dealer networks.
However, in 2009, a sudden change in distribution and the ongoing U.S. financial crisis forced WinCan to rescale the North American market. WinCan switched to Pipeline Analytics as its master distributor. Pipeline Analytics quickly grew from a team of two to today’s roster of 12 supporting these multi-layered distribution channels across the United States. In 2015, WinCan acquired Pipeline Analytics, renaming it WinCan LLC to reflect the singular global brand and company.
In recent years, WinCan opened an office in Japan, as well as a second development facility in Poland.
“Becoming part of the global WinCan team also helped reinforce our hardware neutrality,” Russin says. “We support all the [camera] hardware manufacturers, which is so important. We can go into any inspection truck and integrate our software with their inspection units, including even the more advanced technologies like digital side-scanning, lateral launch, manhole scanners, laser profiling, geospatial probes and HD video-based systems.”
WinCan headquarters have remained in the Steel City and its 12 employees are located all over the country offering regional sales, support and training. Russin says western Pennsylvania was the logical spot for this as WinCan has a large customer base there that includes Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Allegheny County Sanitary Authority and the 90-plus surrounding communities.
“From 1996 through 2009, there was a large amount of WinCan sold here” Russin says. “We inherited many of these accounts, but also aggressively grew the customer base across North and South America.”
When WinCan software was first brought to the United States in 1996, it was called WinCan v7. In 2002, it was replaced and upgraded with WinCan v8. Today, the platform is WinCan VX, which was introduced in 2014, marked an evolution toward advanced analytics and more flexibility for the end user. WinCan ProTouch for touchscreens was launched in 2013 and WinCan Web for cloud based storage and sharing of inspection data launched in 2015.
“WinCan v8 was a very good piece of software for that time, but we could see that flexibility would become critical to supporting the technological advances we were seeing in both hardware and software,” Russin says. “VX hosts bigger data and allows us to scale up to any global standard. We have more than 35 different standards globally with language translations to handle those standards.”
With WinCan v8, we learned about our customers’ needs for big data and advanced analytics,” Russin says. “When we released VX in 2014, it allowed us to go on the offensive court major metropolitan accounts. We have a flexible, innovative product that does things others simply don’t do. We caught the industry by surprise with it when we rolled it out at the 2014 [WWETT] show. It was a brand-new program built on a totally different paradigm.”
The impact of inspection software on the trenchless industry has been tremendous, allowing owners and municipalities to quickly and comprehensively inspect their underground systems in minimally invasive ways. But Russin says WinCan is looking beyond just providing customers with the tools to see what their pipes are doing: WinCan wants to help them analyze that data to determine a course of maintenance and/or rehabilitative action.
“With all the trenchless activity we see, we knew we had to get into the data decision and cloud-storage space,” Russin says. “For us, being able to plan with the data and offer secured cloud storage are key components on the trenchless side.”
Russin explains that for many municipalities, they’ve collected data via camera inspections but have not dissected or analyzed what that information means. “Contractors and cities are spending millions of dollars gathering data out of the ground. That data, in many cases, is sitting on a shelf, nobody’s looking at it, nobody’s asking, ‘How can we fix this and what different strategies are out there for us?’ Our goal is to change that by making inspection data more accessible online, and by improving the tools available for decision making.”
“It’s frustrating when I see data loss because clients spend a lot of money to collect it and they usually have to turn around and go back to the contractor to have them do it again, spending more money to capture what they already had,” Russin says. “We want to be able to provide our customers that security with WinCan Web, which takes all that critical data they mine from the ground and store securely in the cloud for them.”
Russin has seen the gamut when it comes to changes in the recording, delivery and storage of sewer inspection data. “Any vendor will tell you technology is constantly changing and as an industry leading software developer, we have to be ahead of those changes to meet the needs of our customers. Updates, programming standards, different technology — that’s what is really driving the market.”
Yesterday it was all done on desktop computers, today it’s about smart phones and smart devices for instantaneous results. “More and more users want data entry and reporting capability embedded right into the inspection devices or tablets they use every day,” Russin says.
He marvels at how far sewer inspections have come during his time in the industry: from VHS tapes to DVDs to USB drives to web links. The speed at which customers can receive delivery of their data is remarkable, Russin says. What used to take weeks to prepare and deliver, now happens instantaneously with a click of a link. He sees more innovations on the horizon that will push the trenchless market even further.
Russin shares this old school memory of the inspection software market’s early days: “Years ago, I had to drive [the inspection report and VHS tapes] to the client. If the client was four hours away, I’d prep all the data and then get in my car and drive it to them, drop the box off and drive the four hours back. Now I can prepare that same data and [electronically] send a link. Today it’s all at their fingertips.”