How do Microsoft Partners earn coveted IMPACT Awards? Innovative work, that’s how! Take what Sierra Systems did for Pure Technologies. Their award-winning machine learning solution leveraging Python and the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit helps Pure Technologies mitigate oil and water spills by reducing the time required to process the inspection of a 10km pipeline section by a staggering 99.3 percent!


The SmartBall®

You don’t have to a life scientist or an environmentalist to appreciate the value and necessity of conservation. Reducing and avoiding waste makes both ethical and business sense, especially in the pipeline business. Not surprisingly, energy and utility companies operating pipelines invest in all kinds of technology to help them identify leaks and mitigate damage through preemptive action.


The SmartBall®

Take SmartBall—an ingenious free-swimming sensor ball created by Pure Technologies. Once placed into a pipeline, this sensor ball uses high-fidelity microphone to record audio data as it travels. While certainly amazing, the original solution required a lot of manual work. The recordings were copied to the lab and listened to by technicians, trained to interpret the sounds to identify leaks and assess their severity.


The challenge

The problem is how long that took. The tedious manual classification process required an average analysis time of approximately five hours per kilometer—of 50 hours of manual effort for an average 10 km pipeline section. Recognizing the opportunity to accelerate the review of this data using machine learning, Pure Technologies tasked Sierra Systems with reducing this workload and improving efficiencies.


Machine learning

Yes! Machine learning uses models to identify items or complete tasks without explicit programming. By changing parameters, engineers can train the models to be faster, more accurate, or identify different data. This rapid development process is the core of machine learning.


The solution

Microsoft Partner Sierra Systems developed a deep learning artificial intelligence system trained to recognized and classify audio patterns of leaks. The system accurately identifies leaks 150 times faster than a person can. And it can scale to process multiple pipelines in parallel, resulting in exponential gains in efficiency.


AI to the rescue

Data collected by SmartBall now feeds into a model developed using Python and the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, a premier, commercial-grade deep learning toolkit. The machine learning model uses the latest in visual classification techniques and convolutional neural networks to review the data and distinguish leaks from non-leaks. And, due to its compact size, the model runs on devices out in the field.


Dramatic benefits

The machine learning model delivered a 99.3% reduction in the time required to process the inspection of a 10km pipeline section, enabling faster response times and increased inspection frequency due to lower costs. Operators can execute repair orders in hours instead of weeks. And that’s just what it does now! The ML model forms the genesis of a larger model that can further classify audio anomalies and issues.

“The Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud, and Data Analytics are essential for business responsiveness. Sierra Systems is leveraging Microsoft Azure intelligent Cloud services, Machine Learning (ML), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to develop new and transforming solutions for our clients to better their business.” – Pat Kaiser, COO, Sierra Systems


Why it matters

This project demonstrates how open source machine learning can solve real problems and make things safer and better for everyone. Drastically reducing processing costs by automating the analysis of large, dense amounts of technical data may not sound that exciting, but the benefit is much more than the bottom line.


Good news for cities

Operators, including cash-strapped municipalities and provinces, should welcome the opportunity to mitigate the degradation of the critical infrastructure they manage, like waterlines and sewage systems. With this clever technology, they can now inspect, monitor, and manage everything. They can mitigate deterioration while maximizing capital budgets for rehabilitation and replacement programs.



For their remarkable achievement, Sierra Systems earned the Canadian Microsoft IMPACT Awards 2017 for the Data and Advanced Analytics Innovation Award. They received their award in Washington, DC, as part of Microsoft’s Inspire Conference. This year, Sierra Systems is a finalist for an IMPACT Award for Citizenship and Community. The IMPACT Awards, now in their fifteenth year, celebrate outstanding achievements across Microsoft’s community of partners.

“From a client perspective, winning an IMPACT award enabled lots of conversations. When they’ve seen we’ve won an IMPACT, they expect that we might win it again and take that journey with them.” – Paul Twigg, VP Technology, Sierra Systems


A cultural commitment

In recent years, the leadership at Sierra Systems made a cultural commitment to innovation that has translated into great success. One example? In collaboration with their HR and marketing team, they developed an internal proof-of-concept program that encourages employees to submit and run with promising ideas. This kind of creativity has helped turn Sierra Systems into a hotbed of technical innovation.

“Winning the IMPACT shows that we’ve got some of the smartest minds in Canada working for us and that we empower those minds with the latest technology. Our people now truly believe that we can innovate and make a difference.” – Paul Twigg, VP Technology, Sierra Systems


About Sierra Systems

Sierra Systems transforms forward-thinking organizations through award winning and innovative solutions. Our teams have over 50 years of success and a reputation for maximizing our clients’ IT investment using transformative solutions. Consider people, process, and technology. Visit for more.


About IMPACT Awards

Every year, Microsoft Canada hosts the IMPACT Awards to celebrate innovation in technology recognizing the outstanding work our partners do to deliver virtually seamless solutions to customers. The IMPACT Awards highlight the excellence and innovation within our Canadian Partner community. Visit the IMPACT homepage for more.