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Episode #38: ‘Enhancing Utility Coordination Through Improved GeoSpatial Data Tracking’ with Gord Reynolds, Infrastructure Ontario [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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  • Jun 29, 2021 12:00 pm GMT
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This week’s episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast dives into the world of infrastructure, and specifically the management of assets found underground that transport our water, gas, and electrons. Asset management at the utility is big and serious business, having lasted in some cases for a century or longer buried deep underneath the ground. Accurately tracking those assets and keeping such records updated in real time is far more complex and underappreciated even for people who may work at a utility. This is why the market for talent in utility asset management is exploding, with GIS technologies and related systems enjoying high demand and advancement into increasing sophistication.

To give a good overview of this topic, host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester welcome to the podcast Gord Reynolds, Vice President of Commercial Advisory and Strategy at Infrastructure Ontario. Gord leads a variety of initiatives to improve utility coordination across Canada, including support of two recently passed provincial Acts to streamline the coordination of utility assets to deliver transit projects and broadband on time and within budget across Ontario. One specific aspect of these regulations is the process of setting up a government entity, the Office of Utility Coordination, an asset management platform that will transform how utility work is conducted and tracked moving forward. Gord will provide an overview of what this office does and how it’s changing the world of infrastructure asset management.

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Thanks to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

 

Key Links

Gord Reynold’s Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/gord-reynolds-2 

Metrolinx to launch new Office of Utility Coordination: https://energycentral.com/c/um/metrolinx-launch-new-office-utility-coordination-constructconnectcom

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price: 

Welcome Power Perspectives podcast on Energy Central. On the show, we bring leading minds in the utility industry in to tell us what they're thinking and how they're preparing our energy system for tomorrow.

 

Jason Price: 

Today, we're going to talk about infrastructure, and specifically, the management of assets found underground that transport our water, gas, and electrons. Asset management at the utility is big and serious business. We're talking about 100-year-old infrastructure often buried deep underground. Keeping track of what's going on across the grid is far more complex and underappreciated even from people who may work at a utility, this is why the market for talent and utility asset management is exploding. GIS technologies and related systems are high in demand and growing increasingly sophisticated.

 

Jason Price: 

Today's guest is at the forefront of harnessing these asset management programs to improve the coordination of utility work in Ontario, Canada. But before we introduce our guests, I'd like to also bring in the producer of this podcast, Matt Chester, and I am Jason Price of Western Rose, serving as your podcast host and Energy Central community ambassador coming to you from New York City. Today, we're going underground to understand the infrastructure of utility systems. Matt, are you ready to dig in?

Matt Chester:
I definitely am, Jason. We've had some guests talk about GIS before, but not so much from the underground perspective. So I'm looking forward to seeing what it looks like from down there.

Jason Price:
Likewise. As we know, across North America and indeed across the world at large, it is common practice for utility assets to be housed underground to protect the equipment from outside forces and to preserve sightlines. But what is also unfortunately common is that the maps tracking these assets for utilities are often incorrect. And that's if such maps even exist at all in the first place.

Jason Price:
Oftentimes, utility pipes, cables and other infrastructure will get relocated during the construction, repairs, and renovations, but the records aren't updated to reflect these new locations. What follows, predictably, is digging or drilling in the presence of unidentified, unmarked, unmapped, or even incorrectly located assets.

Jason Price:
Utility simply cannot afford to waste excavation time and money in this way, and worse, doing so can cause expensive damage, result in utility outages, and worst of all, poses potential risk of personal injury or even death. So tracking these assets isn't just good business practice, but indeed it can be a matter of public safety.

Jason Price:
In response to these concerns, the government of Ontario launched several key initiatives to improve the identification and tracking of utility assets in an effort to improve the delivery of its priority provincial transit projects that depend on this information.

Jason Price:
Years of deliberation and multiple acts of legislation and other key initiatives finally allowed for the creation of an office to organize and manage its assets to allow for the building of a regional public transit system.

Jason Price:
Few people were as intimate of this process from beginning to where we are today than our next guest. And we are lucky enough for him to spend time with us today. But before we introduce our esteemed guests and dive deeper into this exciting topic, I'd like to thank our sponsors who make this show possible, and let us bring insightful discussions from the best minds in the industry to our listeners.

Jason Price:
To West Monroe. West Monroe works with the nation's largest electric gas and water utilities in their telecommunication, grid modernization, and digital and workforce transformations. West Monroe brings a multidisciplinary team that blends utility operations and technology expertise to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advisory on transportation electricity, ADMS deployments, and DER and cybersecurity.

Jason Price:
To Esri. Esri is an international supplier of geographic information, GIS software, Web GIS, and geo-database management applications.

Jason Price:
To Guidehouse. Formerly Navigant Research. A premium market research and advisory firm covering the global energy transformation.

Jason Price:
To Anterix. Anterix focuses on delivering transformative broadband that enables the modernization of critical infrastructure for the energy, transportation, logistics, and other sectors of our economy.

Jason Price:
And to ScottMadden. ScottMadden is a management consulting firm serving clients across the energy utility ecosystem, areas of focus include transmission and distribution, the grid edge, generation, energy markets, rates and regulations, corporate sustainability, and corporate services. The firm helps clients develop and implement strategies, improve critical operations, reorganize departments and entire companies, and implement merit initiatives.

Jason Price:
And now on today's guest, Gord Reynolds. Gord is currently the vice-president of commercial advisory and strategy at Infrastructure Ontario, where he leads a variety of initiatives to improve utility coordination across Canada.

Jason Price:
Prior to this, Gord was managing director of Cap Gemini's Canadian utilities practice and the global innovation leader for the power and utility sector. He was also a member of Cap Gemini's global sector council, and spent eight years as the global lead for Cap Gemini's smart energy services and digital utilities transformation initiatives for the energy, utility, and chemical sector.

Jason Price:
Right now, Gord is supporting two recently passed provincial acts to streamline the coordination of utility assets to deliver transit projects in broadband on time and within budget across Ontario.

Jason Price:
One aspect of this work is setting up a government entity, the office of utility coordination, an asset management platform that will transform how utility work is conducted and tracked moving forward.

Jason Price:
There's a lot of great stuff to unpack here, so let's get started. Gord Reynolds, welcome to today's episode of Energy Central's power perspectives.


Gord Reynolds:
Hey Jason, thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Jason Price:
Gord, give us a taste of your background that made you uniquely qualified to run the office.

Gord Reynolds:
Well, thanks for that. So look, I started, at the beginning of my career. On the tools. And so I have a firsthand appreciation for the infrastructure that we build across Canada and across North America, how it gets built, and how difficult it is to often find it, especially in times of need.

Gord Reynolds:
I was also very fortunate that I got to be intimately involved in the building of much of that infrastructure when technologies like directional drilling and subsurface utility engineering using vacuum excavation really started to become popular in our industry. And learned how important it was for us to have good mapping and even better technology to allow us to find this infrastructure without damaging it.

Jason Price:
Fantastic. So tell us more about the provincial legislation. Can you tell us a little bit more about the acts that launched this work?

Gord Reynolds:
Yeah, that's a great question, Jason. So the Ontario government, not unlike many other governments around the country, and truthfully, both nations, recognized that getting big linear infrastructure built often is made more difficult by the infrastructure that we already have in place.

Gord Reynolds:
So whether this be highways or whether this be public transit or broadband, all of the infrastructure that we have in place that we rely on today also makes it more difficult for the very same infrastructure that we need to improve or new infrastructure that we need to build.

Gord Reynolds:
And so the Ontario government sought advice from industry on how best to work with industry to get these projects built more quickly with fewer issues. And they introduced the building transit faster act. I know it's a catchy name. We're not marketers, but we're really good at building big infrastructure projects, and this piece of legislation here in Ontario, really critically deals with principally five issues that we face as an industry. Developing and controlling corridors that we build in, the ability to enter lands, to assemble lands for building, and to deal with all of the municipal services and the right of ways that they occupy. But the fifth provision, and the one we want to talk about today, really our focus is the coordination with utility companies that own this infrastructure that lights and heats and allows us to communicate with each other.

Jason Price:
Great. So the coordination of utilities is a significant issue for Ontario in the projects you deliver. You mentioned schedule cost has major implications. So what sort of impacts do you see enhanced coordination having on these factors?

Gord Reynolds:
Our biggest impact is that we're limited in the flexibility for how we deliver innovative solutions with our existing approval processes. And the legislation allows us to work with our partners and empower them to provide us the key information that we need to identify this infrastructure and work with them to find it, to develop protective treatments for it, or to relocate it, if need be, in a way so that it does not become a critical path item for the project and cause delays, or drive additional processes that drive up cost or complexity needlessly.

Jason Price:
All right. But projects of this scale require a lot of coordination. So how are you bringing all these relevant parties together, and how are you ensuring compliance to new ways of working? And is there any conflict among the different stakeholder groups?

Gord Reynolds:
So part of what we're doing that's a little bit different is we're working as a coordination agency across literally hundreds of stakeholders in the landscape that we need to deal with. So we have municipalities, what we call upper and lower tier municipalities. So like regional governments or county governments. We have local municipalities who are closest to residents, and taxpayers who want their critical services protected. We have utilities, large investor owned utilities and small municipally-owned utilities. We also have telecommunications companies, and natural gas distributors. We have rail organizations and pipelines.

Gord Reynolds:
And then of course we have all the organizations that are responsible for conservation and the protections of lands and the protection of indigenous people and their lands. And all of these stakeholders need to be brought together and they need to all have the same information from which to make decisions. And it needs to be made available to them in a way where they can easily consume it and make good decisions.

Gord Reynolds:
And so we've developed an approach and a platform that's not just technology, and it's not just a know-how. We've brought all of these stakeholders together as individuals who have individual responsibilities, but to work together in a coordinated fashion to help us manage all of these constraints to getting this critical infrastructure built.

Jason Price:
All right. And it's called the office of utility coordination. I mean, for all our listeners who are south of the Canadian border, what is the equivalent office that comes close to what you're running?

Gord Reynolds:
Look, this issue is not a new one. Jason, if I think back long before you and I were around, in the 40s, in the 50s, principally around California and some of the states that were growing very quickly, there was a recognition that building good, highly infrastructure had its complexities. There was infrastructure that was there that would cause them problems.

Gord Reynolds:
And as we moved into the 70s and then into the 80s, we recognized that there was techniques that we could bring to these projects that would allow for more effective coordination amongst the parties. Many of these methods actually became enshrined in how the federal government in the U.S.-funded projects. And today, many of those means and methods are compulsory. They come with funding.

Gord Reynolds:
So for example, techniques like subsurface utility engineering are now mandated on many projects. But subsurface utility engineering in and of itself has its limitations, and many organizations, whether they be DOTs or whether they be utilities themselves, set up utility coordination offices or schemes to support their various projects.

Gord Reynolds:
Now, not exactly the same as Ontario, but what Ontario in Canada has done is they've passed legislation that compels participation in the scheme, because many of them are voluntary, and many of them, while they have significant benefits or perhaps penalties for falling outside of the rules, the scheme that we've developed really incense cooperation.

Gord Reynolds:
And of course there are backstop measures to make sure that where we have bad actors, that there's means and methods for us to ensure good performance. But what we've seen in the year and a half that we've been at this with the office of utility coordination, is that infrastructure owners want to do the right thing. They recognize the importance of this infrastructure on the communities that they serve, and not unlike every state in the US and every utility and every DOT. People start off with the best of intentions, but often diverging interests or the complexities of our respective organizations prevent us from coordinating effectively.

Gord Reynolds:
And so what the OUC or the Office of Utility Coordination is unique with, is that it has legislation that backstops it, but is a central coordinating agency that has dedicated resources and dedicated tools, including an electronic spatial platform that allows us to collect and share data on not just the existing infrastructure but all the planned infrastructure that we're going to build. Whether they be tunnels or overhead guide ways for subway infrastructure, so that everyone gets to see exactly what's happening at the same time.

Gord Reynolds:
It's really like one version of truth through one window. And it's this coordination method that we've found gives much more visibility to people early, so that whether you're a utility company or a municipality, you understand the potential impact on your infrastructure on your shareholders, on your stakeholders, on your communities. And that you can plan effectively to work with us to get this transit infrastructure built. Or in the case of broadband, as you've mentioned at the top of the call, is that broadband is becoming, especially with the pandemic, a really critical issue.

Gord Reynolds:
So while transit's important, and roads are important, keeping everyone connected has become such a vital part of our communities these days. That broadband is just as difficult to build and has many complexities. And we're using the same approach to get our broadband program built here in Ontario as well.

Jason Price:
Do you feel that such an office is applicable in other provinces in Canada? And have you thought about your next act in life? I understand that there's a big infrastructure bill in North America, wouldn't there be some application to your skillset downside?

Gord Reynolds:
Well, we certainly hope that what we're doing here in Ontario isn't just something that people do because they're compelled to do it because of a law. We hope, and this is what we're seeing from industry, is that there's a lot of benefits that don't just accrue to the new infrastructure builder, in this case, the government of Ontario, those benefits are accruing to all of the infrastructure owners themselves. Whether they be reduced one call notifications, or whether they be reduced strikes on their infrastructure, or damages on their infrastructure, whether they be the cost that they have to incur to engineer or build either protections of their infrastructure or to relocate their infrastructure. These benefits are accruing to everyone. And people are starting to see this.

Gord Reynolds:
So we are hearing from other geographies already that there's an interest in understanding how did we set up the office of utility coordination, and how did we get this legislation implemented? And would it be applicable to my geography or my project? And to support that, we've retained the services of an independent third party organization to help us with some research. It's a local university that has an expertise in infrastructure projects. And for a number of years, they've been looking at how effective subsurface utility engineering has been to these types of construction projects.

Gord Reynolds:
So they've looked at the work that's been done by organizations like Purdue and others, to see for every dollar spent on the front end, collecting better data sooner and sharing that data in a coordinated fashion to feed into not only the construction activities, but the planning activities and the design activities, and to avoid conflicts early, and to help people develop treatments or relocation schemes that reduce costs and complexity and inconvenience to the communities, but also reduce the risk of damage to the infrastructure itself.

Gord Reynolds:
And that this research, which is both qualitative and quantitative, will allow us to support other geographies, not just in Canada. We've had inquiries from the United Kingdom and Australia, and of course the United States, where geographies are looking at the good work that they're doing to improve coordination amongst their critical stakeholders that are interested to learn how they can improve on that.

Gord Reynolds:
And so certainly we're eager to share those learned lessons and the work products that we've developed, because if the industry benefits from this as a whole, it isn't just about us compelling this, the industry will drive those leading practices forward themselves, and we all stand to benefit.
 

Jason Price:
It's a fascinating topic, Gord, no doubt. Well, Gord, now it's time for a change of pace. Our lightning round. We're going to ask you a few questions designed to let our listeners get to know you a bit more on a personal level. And your responses should be just one word or one phrase. So are you ready?

Gord Reynolds:
I am.

Jason Price:
All right. Last book or article you read that really made you think?

Gord Reynolds:
John Grisham, The Guardians

Jason Price:
Name your guilty pleasure, TV show or movie?

Gord Reynolds:
Movie, To Live and Die in LA.

Jason Price:
First purchase if you won the lottery?

Gord Reynolds:
Oh geez. I think it would be a new motorcycle. Yeah. That would be it, Jason. It would be a new motorcycle.

Jason Price:
What's your dream vacation?

Gord Reynolds:
Well, these days in Canada we're still curtailed from travel because of the pandemic. So any vacation would be a dream vacation at this point. But I'm particularly fond of Southern California, love the San Diego area. I think that would have to be it right now.

Jason Price:
Fantastic. And what inspires you?

Gord Reynolds:
I'm principally inspired by the work that my colleagues do to help us improve everything that we do in the industry today. And I'm really grateful that I've been blessed with four young men, who are my children, and three of them have decided to enter the trades. And they are starting to appreciate the complexity of the industry. Of course, growing up and watching their dad get involved and not really understanding as a kid, but being able to watch my colleagues and watch my children become colleagues is really what inspires me, and to see how excited get about the things that I got excited about when I started out in the trades, in the utility industry. That's really exciting for me.

Jason Price:
Yeah. I'm sure it's very special too. Now that you've let us know a little bit more about you, I will let you close out the podcast with some forward-looking focus. So with all of these potential uses of enhancement asset management, what are you most excited for in the coming years?

Gord Reynolds:
Well, we're really excited by how other geographies are using means and methods like subsurface utility engineering, improved spatial tools like Esri GIS and other platforms like that, that have really become very powerful and allow us to collect, consume, and reconcile a tremendous amount of data very quickly and very accurately.

Gord Reynolds::
And through the schemes like we've been talking about here, the office of utility coordination and other geographies that have had similar successes, whether they be United Kingdom or some of the states that have compelled organizations to come together, but have also found ways to inspire them.

Gord Reynolds:
And as this becomes a leading practice across our industry, we can reduce the dependency on this difference that we have and get to a place where industry is not damaging infrastructure because we're not taking care. I think about all the times that we locate the same infrastructure over and over again, and we collect that infrastructure data and we use it for a purpose and we let it go.

Gord Reynolds:
There are just literally billions of dollars spent in North America every year collecting spatial information, and we rarely use that information to improve our records or to allow us to perform better on these projects that we build for our communities.

Gord Reynolds:
And I really get excited about the thought that we start to use this technology and we start to use these means and methods, and that we really start collaborating as an industry, and we're able to build this critical infrastructure, whether it's highways, whether it's transit, whether it's broadband. These projects are going to improve the quality of life for everybody. And we can do it in a way that it's faster and less expensive.

Gord Reynolds:
I think about the cost per mile for us to build highways and transit, and how much of that is because of conflicting infrastructure, and how much of that cost is about finding that infrastructure and protecting it or moving it, and all of the data that we collect along the way and how valuable and rich that data is, and whether we're really using it effectively.

Gord Reynolds:
I get excited thinking about there is a way to do better. There is a way to improve these outcomes, to protect people, and to improve communities. And that's what I think is most exciting, not just about what we're doing here in Ontario to build subways, but I see my peers around the world with similar initiatives. And I think when we come together and share what works for us, and we're able to improve on it locally, that we continue to all learn and all benefit together. And we will get to a place where we can get out of this analog age that we're principally locked in in this industry and really take advantage of the digital age as many other industries have.

Jason Price:
What's also exciting, Gord, is that we have an opportunity to speak with people like you who are boots on the ground, giving it to us in first person. So thank you so much for sharing this information with us. Unfortunately we're out of time, but again, your insight is incredibly valuable. And I know that our listeners are going to appreciate every ounce of wisdom that you've shared with us today.

Jason Price:
So we will be watching these exciting initiatives unfold and are sure that in the coming years we'll be hearing from other jurisdictions who have adopted some of the transformational thinking that you've shared with us. So again, thank you for joining us today.

Gord Reynolds:
I've always wanted to say this, Jason, long-time listener, first-time caller. Thanks for having me.

Jason Price:
Thank you. Once again, I'm your host, Jason Price. Plug in and stay fully charged to the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com. And we'll see you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

As a reminder, the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is always looking for the authors of the most insightful articles and the members with most impactful voices within the Energy Central community to invite them to discuss further so we can dive even deeper into these compelling topics. Posting about twice per month, we'll seek to connect with professionals in the utility industry who are engaging in creative or innovative work that will be of interest to their colleagues and peers across the Energy Central community. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for our next episode! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

All new episodes of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:


Thanks once again to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsriAnterix, and ScottMadden

Discussions
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PJ Davis's picture
PJ Davis on Jun 29, 2021

Great interview Gord. This is a critical topic that is often hidden. Thanks for taking the time.

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