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Creating a Smarter Utility with Geo-Centric Planning

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Planning is reemerging as a driving force, not just for understanding an asset in a place or location, but for modeling how to take action to manage it based on environmental factors. This is possible with the increasing access to geospatial data such as satellites, LiDAR, weather, and IoT devices. By combining these data with internal asset data, utilities can now accurately devise integrated plans to better serve their customers and shareholders. 

To do this effectively, understanding place, as well as scenarios for possible futures, is critical. New solutions are changing the role and scope of utility planning by building on the foundation established by GIS by adding smart analysis, geospatial data, and built-in scenario planning. 

What has Changed

The geospatial industry is rapidly moving from tools in a platform (or toolbox) to solutions. GIS is designed for entering and managing geospatial data. Users in many fields benefit from the wealth of geospatial data now available globally. But, the adoption of geospatial intelligence is hampered by high cost and a level of expertise needed to build solutions in GIS. For utilities, GIS is especially limiting by the size and currency of the data it can handle. 

With most planners needing a few powerful geospatial capabilities married with deep location data. By using location as an integration framework, extremely large data can be combined with asset data to build a fast, flexible and powerful planning solution. 

Data as a Service - The availability of geospatial data is a big development enabling smarter scenario-based planning. Location-aware data is growing at a tremendous rate. Geospatial infrastructure data, sensors, drones, and satellite data, is easier to obtain and use. Designing smart data layers that tell a story and can be consumed by focused applications is driving new and smarter decisions. Making data interactive, and available as a service, opens up a new world of opportunities for planners. Information now can be easily consumed not as raw files but as intelligent geospatially aware knowledge. The planner can now spend time modeling and designing new possibilities instead of learning Python!

Scenario Planning - Core to many of today’s trends, scenarios enable the user and the system to play out the consequences of a planned outage or factoring in changing environmental conditions for a wildfire risk analysis. In GIS systems, scenarios are cumbersome and involve scripting, database adjustments, and often batch processing of analysis with big data sets. But by combining modern software design, smart datasets and cloud platforms, running and analyzing scenarios are easy. The planner now has a simple but powerful solution that empowers planning and does not burden the process with complicated scripts and tools. 

Designed for Planners - GIS is designed for GIS professionals. These experts build and maintain databases of geospatial features for their organization. The next revolution of geospatial intelligence is occurring as solutions are built that leverage this geospatial data. These solutions are designed for the non-GIS expert in mind. By creating solutions using the power of geospatial analysis, and availability afforded by the cloud and the internet, the role of the planner in designing the future is growing tremendously. Moving planning from annual paper maps to the driving regulatory agencies, community and societal discussions on how to make a smarter utility is revolutionary. From where to locate charging stations to how best create resilient networks, utility planners are taking their expertise to a much broader audience. 

The Future of Planning

Any organization with geospatially located assets incorporates some type of planning in their management process. Utilities need to understand and plan for the geospatial consequences of decisions. By using smart geospatial data layers and robust scenario planning tools, organizations can ensure that all stakeholders have an equal playing field in understanding the options, recommendations, and outcomes. Now discussions can be focused on what is best for the organization and its customers, not what data source, tool or algorithm is being used. In other words, planners can be planners no matter what discipline, organization or field they specialize in. The need to plan and envision the future is powering new solutions. After all the best way to predict the future is to build it. 

Linda Stevens's picture

Thank Linda for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 17, 2019 9:35 pm GMT

By using smart geospatial data layers and robust scenario planning tools, organizations can ensure that all stakeholders have an equal playing field in understanding the options, recommendations, and outcomes.

This seems like it should be common sense, but I assume there are too many utilities that are not taking heed of this advice. What's stopping them? Is it the time or resources it takes? Lack of knowledge?

Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Oct 17, 2019 10:27 pm GMT

Data is typically in siloed systems and difficult to integrate. In addition, geospatial data is big.... extremely big so existing systems cannot handle the volume.  Adding time into the equation for scenario planning increases the data volume.  New hardware platforms are helping (for example GPU-powered systems) and big data innovations are starting to notice geospatial data as a key component to integrating information. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 18, 2019 12:57 pm GMT

Thanks for the response, Linda-- so it sounds like it's not an issue of resistance from the utilities themselves, but rather just the enormity of the task ahead that keeps progress slow?

Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Oct 18, 2019 5:49 pm GMT

Definitely a difficult problem and technology is just now becoming available that can handle extremely large geospatial datasets. This new approach to geospatial will open up new opportunities for companies and allow much better planning. 

Pat  Hohl's picture
Pat Hohl on Oct 22, 2019 5:13 pm GMT

Thanks Linda - great post. You are correct, utility planning has to come up to the next level. We need to move beyond the static, worst-case,  "peak-day" approach to more dynamic planning models that include much richer data. 

Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Oct 23, 2019 10:23 pm GMT

Hi Pat!  Exactly. I was just talking with a friend about how peak days were the biggest concern for utilities. Utilities now have the data and tools available to manage their networks much more effectively.


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